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Today there are no top American black jockeys and very few of any ranking. This has happened in part because, as one trainer puts it, "they have become too big." It also happened because horse racing, a socially exclusive sport, at some point decided to exclude black riders from its hierarchy. Latin American jockeys are tops in thoroughbred racing now.
Despite Charlie Sifford, Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, golf and tennis have seen few outstanding black athletes—there is a marked shortage of country clubs in ghettos. Nor does the young black have a significant opportunity to learn skiing, sailing, swimming or hockey. Environmental factors have a great deal to do with excellence in sport.
But so do physical differences, and there is an increasing body of scientific opinion which suggests that physical differences in the races might well have enhanced the athletic potential of the Negro in certain events.
This is not so much a matter of height and weight as of body proportions. Researchers have found that the black American, on the average, tends to have a shorter trunk, a more slender pelvis, longer arms (especially forearms) and longer legs (especially from the knees down) than his white counterpart. His bones are denser, and therefore heavier, than those of whites. He has more muscle in the upper arms and legs, less in the calves. There is reason to believe that his fat distribution is patterned differently from that of the white man—leaner extremities but not much difference in the trunk. And there is a trifle of evidence—this aspect has been studied so little that it still is in the highly speculative state—that the black man's adrenal glands, a vital factor in many sports, are larger than the white man's.
At the Rome Olympics in 1960, and previously at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1958, Dr. J. M. Tanner measured, photographed and X-rayed 137 track and field athletes and a number of weight lifters and wrestlers. His findings were reported in The Physique of the Olympic Athlete (George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., London). They concluded that "Amongst competitors in both track and field events there were large significant racial differences in leg length, arm length and hip width."
Black sprinters, Tanner's team found, averaged 86.2 centimeters in leg length while white sprinters averaged 83. Similar differences were noted in arm length, but the sitting height of the blacks averaged 92.5 compared with the whites' 93.5. The blacks' hip width averaged 26.8 centimeters, and the whites', 28.5. "The ratio of leg length to sitting height for sprinters, 400-meter runners and high jumpers averaged 0.88, 0.92 and 0.93 in whites, and 0.93, 0.97 and 1.01 in Negroes," they reported. "Evidently the Negroes have longer limbs and narrower hips than the whites, even at approximately the same overall size. In the comparison of Negro and white weight lifters exactly the same three differences occurred."
Tanner's group also discovered a "distinct difference in the composition of the Negro calf compared with that of the white, in both sprinters and 400-meter men. The Negroes have wider bones and narrower muscles. In the 400-meter competitors, for example, the Negro tibia breadth averages 4.5 centimeters compared with the white's 4.2 cm.; in calf muscle breadth the Negroes average 7.4 cm. and the whites 7.9 cm. In fat also the Negroes are lower.
"In total arm circumference Negroes are just significantly greater than whites, and in total subcutaneous fat they are significantly less.
"Thus there are clearly racial differences in measurements, and we must not lump these different populations together," Tanner reported.
Without reference to race, the study found that 400-meter men are large and marathon men small. Middle-distance runners tend to have long legs, marathoners short legs. Like their white counterparts, black sprinters are also relatively short-legged compared with black middle-distance runners.