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New Doc Investigates Slavery's Role In Success Of African American And Caribbean Sprinters

by Courtney
July 5, 2012 11:36 AM
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Michael Johnson

Surely to inspire lots of debate... ahead of this summer's Olympics in London, a documentary airing tonight on Channel 4 in the UK asks why all the successful track and field sprinters can trace their ancestry back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The longer story reads:

In this landmark documentary, Olympian Michael Johnson embarks on a personal genealogical and scientific journey in a bid to understand if he and other world-class African American and Caribbean athletes are successful as a result of slavery. In this remarkable authored film he discovers some disturbing truths about the lives of his enslaved ancestors. From the mass murder of those on the slave ships to the nightmarish breeding programmes of the plantation owners, Johnson confronts this appalling history. He speaks to leading voices in the world of sport and science to examine the link between the trans-Atlantic slave trade and genetic selection. He investigates the role slavery may have played in altering the genomes of their descendants. He speaks to experts whose research has led them to conclude this has contributed to the success of African American and Caribbean sprinters.

Titled Michael Johnson: Survival of the Fastest, the doc will be broadcast tonight on Channel 4 UK. No word on whether American or Caribbean audiences will be able to see it anytime soon, especially since they are the focus of the work.

Watch the trailer below for a glimpse of what to expect:

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  • Ava | July 10, 2012 9:19 PMReply I getting this straight? So world class athletes who happen to be of African descent have their ancestors slave masters to thank for their success on the track and field, etc?? So you see...slavery was good for us after all! Um-okay. (I'm dripping with sarcasm in case I was somehow being unclear). Nice try'll still get your arses kicked in cricket and don't expect much in track and field either.

  • ALM | July 5, 2012 9:37 PMReply

    Could it just be that the winners train harder/better than the other runners?

  • BluTopaz | July 5, 2012 4:55 PMReply

    Too bad Jimmy the Greek is dead, they could have used one devout bigot's expertise. I wonder if they will use any of those old illustrations of profiles of Negroids vs. Caucasions, to prove the shape of African heads proves their inferiority.

  • Saul | July 5, 2012 4:08 PMReply

    You know slavery changed our bodies to be salt retainers! Perhaps it counts for something, just sayin

  • FilmGuy | July 5, 2012 1:17 PMReply

    Right, find another way to link anything brown people do to slavery. All the strength training and diet regimens have nothing to do with it. Their motivation to rise out of mediocre economic situations has nothing to do with it. If a black man today discovered the cure for all cancers, it would be said that slavery allowed him to do it. This is dookie.

  • bondgirl | July 5, 2012 1:58 PM

    "If a black man today discovered the cure for all cancers, it would be said that slavery allowed him to do it." LMAO Very true. I don't like it, because it buys into the theory that we were uncivilized savages until we came to this country, as if Africans didn't accomplish great feats before settling here. Plus, Kenyans (and recently Ethiopians) win the NY marathon like every year, and they weren't enslaved. I would be interested in seeing Johnson's historical background though; wish we could get it here.

  • anon | July 5, 2012 1:16 PMReply

    typical channel 4 always as to race bait and be controversial.
    if black people were allowed into sports like swimming tennis golf etc theyd probably do pretty well there they just want to pigeon hole bp into running coz you dont make ANY MONEY in athletics.

  • WOW | July 5, 2012 2:43 PM

    WOW! ALLOWED?! Where have you been? Have you heard of Tiger Woods? He is the #1 golfer in the world. His worth tops 300 million. The William Sisters (they're playing at Wimbledon as we speak)? Serena is in the finals. They're both millionaires. Athletes are some of the highest paid "performers" in the world. In fact, 3 black atheletes are in the 10. One is at the top. Track atheletes at the top of their game can make very good money. At some events, one can earn $50,000 for a victory. Many get appearance fees (thousands) for just showing up (win or lose). In the last summer olympics, their was approximately 3 black persons representing the USA. One received a Gold Medal.

  • Adam Scott Thompson | July 5, 2012 12:17 PMReply

    Why did it have to start with the trans-Atlantic slave trade? I think it's just in us, period. If we're the closest to the "original man," then it makes sense that we would still be built to run better than any other race. (A friend of mine believes it may also have to do with the fact that the majority of us have ample derrieres.) I'm spending my summer at the natatorium instead of the gym. All the white swimmers there swim lap after lap for an hour or more, but I just sprint -- going HAM for 10-12 total laps with a minute of rest ub between -- 30 minutes total and I'm out. This keeps me well-muscled with minimal bodyfat. The white swimmers are all either chunky or "skinny fat." One dude who plays recreational water polo asked how he could look more like me. I told him, "Go balls out in the water and quit with the slow-and-steady. That and watch your diet." I think they just prefer to train for endurance, though. To me, it just feels more natural to beast my way from one end of the pool to the other -- more primal.

  • Mandla | July 5, 2012 5:50 PM

    I have to also add that making slavery a direct link to track success is problematic. Although we can obviously state that the distribution of Africans throughout the islands and the Americas put us in those locales slavery has only a distributive role for those Africans whose ancestors were fast runners. Beginning with Africans from specific areas of the continent then the development of cultural environments for track in the U.S. and the Caribbean would be a more comprehensive and insightful doc.

  • Michaboa | July 5, 2012 3:38 PM

    @JMAC This is a Channel 4 doc, not BBC. Channel 4 tend not to be fond of quality documentaries.

  • Jmac | July 5, 2012 2:16 PM

    Agree. Don't get why slavery is the chosen starting point. It may just be inherited genetic features from groups that lived in the areas where most black African slaves were taken. And is Michael Johnson that stupid to think slavery itself gave him some sort of benefit to race. Good thing he had enslaved ancestors or he wouldn't have won any medals. BBC "docs" are such trash.

  • Carmichael Reid | July 5, 2012 11:44 AMReply

    "Michael Johnson pulled up like a b*tch, he's a chicken and he's afraid to lose. I'd race and beat him again." - Donovan Bailey (Jamaican) on Michael Johnson in Toronto

  • get these nets | July 5, 2012 2:54 PM

    yeah, that's when they tried to make track go mainstream and staged that 150 race..and Johnson faked a pulled hamstring. A straight beyotch move.....he was gonna lose and didn't want to face the press

    ..and oh by the way..

    Donovan Bailey is technically Canadian..that's who he runs for
    just like Ben Johnson is technically Canadian

    He was Jamaican when he won in 88, next day when they said he doped...EVERY person from JA told me that" Johnson is from Canada, mon."

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