One of the common beliefs is that much of Kenyan’s success at running longer distances is because of being exposed to altitude at birth. This is likely less of factor than many believe, there is a strong chance that chronic exposure to altitude would likely hinder athletic performance. When you look at Himalyian Sherpas compared to low altitude living caucasians, they found that the Sherapas actually has a lower aerobic capacity, mitochondial density and fiber size compared to the climbers. There are quite a few studies that have looked the contributions of living at altitude for repeated generations and its contribution to an increased VO2max. Kenyan’s don’t have much, if any advantage in VO2max capacity.
Nor do Kenyan's actually have no advantage in their fractional utilization, what they do have an advantage is in their running economy. They have naturally slender bodies and a low BMI allowing them to fatigue less easily.
The main reson kenyans dominate running is mostly culturally, and I really doubt circumsision has anything to do with it.... Sport sociologist have often wondered why blacks are over represented in some sports and under represented in others, African dominance is mostly dictated by how accessible and affordable a sport is. Like basketball where it was seen as an opportunity to break poverty and the ghetto, Kenyan’s see athletes like Kip Keino winning the Olympics as an opportunity to improve their life. And one of the beautiful things about running is, everyone can do it. The average kenyan international runner ran between 8-12km per day, since the age of 7 or 8.
It has to do with sport participation, most developed nations have access to many sport while in Kenya, the only sport people do is distance running.
I would also like to point out that most of the world is catching up to Kenya, they used represent 55% of the worlds fastest times, now its closer to 40%.
I think many of us romantize the idea of Africa as being wild and untamed, what life would have been like before great civilization, so the notion that Kenyan’s are superior athletes is potentially problematic because if can go as far as suggesting that on some level they are a different species. It discourages other races’ participation in sports but it also suggests and almost animalistic attribute to Kenyan’sEndFragment
Saltin, B., Larsen, H., Terrados, N., Bangsbo, J., Bak, C.K., Kim et al. (1995). Aerobic exercise capacity at sea level and at altitude in Kenyan boys, junior and senior runners compared with Scandinavian runners. Scandinvian Journal of Sports & Medicine, 5, 209-221.StartFragment
Saltin, B., Kim, C. K., Terrados, N., Lasen, H., Svedenhag, J., & Rolf, C. J., (1995a). Morphology, enzyme activities and buffer capacity in leg muscles of Kenyan and Scandinavian runners. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Spots, 5, 222-230.EndFragment StartFragment
Weston, A. W., Mbambo, Z., & Myburgh, K. H. (2000). Running economy of African and Caucasian distance runners. Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, 1130- 1134.EndFragment StartFragment
Saltin, B., Larsen, H., Terrados, N., Bangsbo, J., Bak, C.K., Kim et al. (1995). Aerobic exercise capacity at sea level and at altitude in Kenyan boys, junior and senior runners compared with Scandinavian runners. Scandinvian Journal of Sports & Medicine, 5, 209-221.
Saltin, B., Kim, C. K., Terrados, N., Lasen, H., Svedenhag, J., & Rolf, C. J., (1995a). Morphology, enzyme activities and buffer capacity in leg muscles of Kenyan and Scandinavian runners. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Spots, 5, 222-230.EndFragment
Larsen, H. B. (2003). Kenyan dominance in distance running. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 136 (1), 161-170.
Larsen, H. B., Nolan, N., Borch, C., & Sondergaard, H. (2005). Training response of adolescent Kenyan town and village boys to endurance running. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 15, 48-57. DOI: 10.1111/j.16000-0838.2004.00304.x
Hamilton, B. (2000). East African dominance: what is behind it? British Journal of Sports Medicine, 34, 391-394.EndFragment