13 July 2010

Belly button determines sport success

Scientists have found the reason why black people dominate on the running track and white people in the swimming pool: it's in their belly-buttons, a study shows.


Scientists have found the reason why black people dominate on the running track and white people in the swimming pool: it's in their belly-buttons, a study shows.

What's important is not whether an athlete has an innie or an outie but where his or her navel is in relation to the rest of the body, says the study published in the International Journal of Design and Nature and Ecodynamics.

The navel is the centre of gravity of the body, and given two runners or swimmers of the same height, one black and one white, "what matters is not total height but the position of the belly-button, or centre of gravity," Duke University professor Andre Bejan, the lead author of the study, said.

"It so happens that in the architecture of the human body of West African-origin runners, the centre of gravity is significantly higher than in runners of European origin," which puts them at an advantage in sprints on the track, he said.

Black athletes have 'hidden height'

Individuals of West African-origin have longer legs than European-origin athletes, which means their belly-buttons are three centimetres higher than whites', said Bejan. That means the black athletes have a "hidden height" that is 3% greater than whites', which gives them a significant speed advantage on the track.

"Locomotion is essentially a continual process of falling forward, and mass that falls from a higher altitude, falls faster," Bejan explained.

In the pool, meanwhile, white people have the advantage because they have longer torsos, making their belly-buttons lower in the general scheme of body architecture. "Swimming is the art of surfing the wave created by the swimmer," said Bejan.

"The swimmer who makes the bigger wave is the faster swimmer, and a longer torso makes a bigger wave. Europeans have a 3% longer torso than West Africans, which gives them a 1.5% speed advantage in the pool," he said.

Asians have the same long torsos as Europeans, giving them the same potential to be record-breakers in the pool. But they often lose out to white people because white people are taller, said Bejan.

Many scientists have avoided studying why black people make better sprinters and white people better swimmers because of what the study calls the "obvious" race angle. But Bejan said the study he conducted with Edward Jones, a professor at Howard University in Washington, and Duke graduate
Jordan Charles, focused on the athletes' geographic origins and biology, not race, which the authors of the study call a "social construct".

Bejan is white, originally from Romania, and Jones is black, from South Carolina. They charted and analysed nearly 100 years of records in men's
and women's sprinting and 100-metres freestyle swimming for the study. - (Sapa, July 2010)




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