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from the This Is Stupid files

November 3, 2009

Mebrahtom Keflezighi won the New York Marathon on Sunday. Here’s his picture:

Mebrahtom Keflezighi

You might notice he’s Black. He was born in Eritrea and

…immigrated to the United States at age 12, he is an American citizen and a product of American distance running programs at the youth, college and professional levels. (from New York Times, November 2)

The Times article seems to be all about some in the running world who are arguing amongst themselves. Some say Meb isn’t American, he’s just “another elite African runner”.  They claim this isn’t a “resurgence of American distance prowess.”  Others call those folks racist.

All you people arguing about whether Meb is African or American – y’all need to shut the hell up and get a hobby! You’ve got too much time and on your hands and not enough brain cells.**

Legal citizenship and genealogy are not the same thing.  Legally, he’s American. Genetically, he’s East African and saying so doesn’t make me a racist, it makes me a person who acknowledges science. If I refused to sit next to Meb on the subway because he’s dark skinned, now I’m a racist.

What the running world ought to be abuzz about is how he trained for the marathon. Why? Some genetic research has looked into whether possessing East African genes means you’ll be a superior distance runner. Doctors Robert A. Scott and Yannis P. Pitsilades published a study in October of 2006 which concluded:

…it is unjustified at present to regard the phenomenon of East African running success as genetically mediated; to justify doing so one must identify the genes that are important.  To do so also disregards the intense training regimens for which East African athletes are famous.

In English, they won’t say East African genes make great runners, but mostly because they haven’t found the magic genes yet. Also, the evidence suggest that the culture of East Africa and the strict training regimes many East African distance runners subject themselves to are at least as important as genetic heritage.

The fact remains that Meb is genetically East African and a US citizen who trained in America. Maybe  he won because of his genes and that win refutes the Scott-Pitsilades study. But nobody will know until we stop talking about who’s a Real American (I’m lookin’ at you, Sarah Palin, you amplified that mindset, you betcha!) and start looking at Meb’s training schedule and support group.

**On the other hand, folks hurling the racist epithet, well, they might have a point. The New York Times writer reminds us that Patrick Ewing is Jamaican and nobody fussed about his citizenship when he won.

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