Monday, February 20, 2006

Gumbel on the winter games

Gateway notes that Bryant Gumbel said this about the Winter Olympics:

      Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t care about them and won’t watch them... Try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the winter games look like a GOP convention.

He said that last week right before Shani Davis won the men’s 1000 meter speed skate event.  Now I don’t know why Bryant said that.  I can point to probably a few dozen sports in the Summer Olympics as well that have no association with ancient Greece.   Perhaps he was having a bad day.  Perhaps he just doesn’t like the winter Olympics and needed an excuse to say so.

But his statement reveals a belief of his that black athletes are naturally more athletic than other shades of people, and given the opportunity they would be far better than all those pasty skiers and skaters adorning Turin right now.  But different ethnicities of peoples do well at whatever sports tend to dominate the culture.  I would be willing to say, without any real science to back me up, that I could buy that Americans of African descent are build differently enough that they do excel at certain things, like running. 

However, most of the sports in the winter Olympics haven’t much to do with running.  The skill sets involved seem to cross ethnic and biological boundaries, and therefore physically these sports don’t give an advantage to one race of people or another.  Economics might have some small part.  After all skiing is pretty expensive.  It’s a pretty poor excuse for not showing up, but it might have something to do with why people from the urban reserve don’t make it up to the mountain much.

But I think that the real issue is that the sports are just not popular with black American just yet.  The entire pool of athletic people have not been tapped in that sense, but if Gumbel expects that blacks would somehow take over many of the winter games, he might be surprised.  Also, the number of blacks participating in the Olympics is not necessarily indicative of the percentage that have tried out for a spot.  Anyone have that number?

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