Such research comparing black and white children is surprisingly limited, but the notion that the black child has a stronger early physical development is gaining support. Dr. Malina conducted a study in Philadelphia on children between the ages of 6 and 12 and found that blacks ran faster and were better in the standing broad jump, but there were no differences in throwing ability. Other studies have found that black children are stronger in gripping, pushing and pulling. Dr. Malina observes that one grim factor behind the apparent precocity of black children might well be the higher infant mortality rate among blacks—the weak die off. leaving the strong or more mature to survive.
But what of the measurable physical differences between blacks and whites that could affect their competitive performances? Since American blacks are generally linear in build, with longer arms and legs, a narrower pelvis and more slender calves, says Dr. Malina, they may have special advantages in some events. Mechanically speaking, a black athlete with legs identical to those of a white athlete would have a lighter, shorter and trimmer mass to propel. This implies a greater power-to-total-weight ratio at any given size. Such a ratio would be advantageous in events in which the body is propelled—the sprints and jumps, for example. These require relatively short bursts of muscular power rather than a prolonged expenditure of energy. (However, the greater weight and density of the black skeleton might tend to offset this advantage.)
Such things might indicate that the black should do well in the pole vault, as he does in the jumping events. As a matter of fact, Dr. Tanner, author of The Physique of the Olympic Athlete, wrote: "The pole vault, too, should be particularly attractive, as the length and power of the arms would add to the advantage already present in the weight relations; but here the American Negro does not particularly excel, perhaps only for reasons of tradition."
There is at least one sport in which the black appears to be at a physical disadvantage. No Negro has done really well at swimming. Perhaps because of the greater density of their bone and muscle, the distribution of their fat and their smaller lung capacity certain blacks have difficulty in learning to swim. Such individuals are what swimming coaches call "sinkers." The late Fred Lanoue, Georgia Tech swimming coach and author of Drown-proofing, A New Technique for Water Safety, notes that "the variables of the body as far as floating is concerned are fat. bone and muscle; and if the body is living, air."
"All fat floats," he wrote, "and, generally speaking but not always, the amount of fat present is what determines whether one floats or not. The location of concentrations of fat has a lot to do with the angle at which a person floats. All muscle sinks, even a $5 steak, though not quite so fast as a 60¢ steak because of the amount of fat in the former. All bones sink, and the harder the work the bone has had to do, the more dense it is and the faster it sinks. The only other variable that applies to people floating is the amount of air they can cram into their lungs. The difference between floating and sinking for a great many people is only a handful of air."
Lanoue reported that at predominantly white Georgia Tech, of some 1,000 freshmen put through a swimming program each year, no more than 2% were sinkers. On the other hand, Dr. James Haines, professor of physical education at predominantly black Morehouse College, found that he had a high percentage of sinkers. Invited to check the results, Lanoue confirmed that 30% of the Morehouse blacks were in the sinker classification. The difference between blacks and whites was statistically vast. Similar differences have been noted between white and black women swimmers.
The importance of buoyancy in competitive swimming has not, however, been clearly established. Chet Jastremski, who held all world records in the breaststroke, had "very poor buoyancy," according to James E. Counsilman, Indiana University and U.S. Olympic coach at Tokyo. He explains that buoyancy is just one of the variables among many that contribute to success in competitive swimming. "There is also coordination, strength, flexibility, organic capacity [endurance] and what we call power," he says. "Strength and power are different. Strength is how much resistance you can overcome at a given time. With power you bring in a time factor—not only the resistance you can overcome, but the time in which you can do it.
"I think power is the key to the black athlete's success. For instance, in 1968 the eight Olympic finalists in the 100-meter dash were all blacks. In the U.S. the black athletes dominate the sprints and don't do as well in the distances.
"The vertical jump is a good measure of power. Generally speaking, sprinters, high jumpers and pole vaulters have a high vertical jump. Distance runners have a low one. By high I mean 30 to 31 inches. Low is around 20. You find few sprinters at 20 inches. Distance runners are around 20.
"I believe that the black athlete has more white muscle fibers. Oversimplifying it, every muscle has two types of fibers—white fibers and red fibers. The white muscle fibers are adapted for speed of movement, otherwise power. The red muscle fibers are adapted for endurance. White muscle fibers enable you to jump high, throw a good knockout punch or anything that entails power. Red fibers enable you to run a long way.