“Talent is something that is not only for Africans … For me, there are talented athletes like Africans in both [Italy and America]. The problem is, it’s difficult to find them. In Africa everybody goes running. Because if you become good, it is something for your life. And here everybody goes to do something else. But it is not that there is no talent.”
I enjoy reading about the best athletes and coaches in every event and sport. Even though the marathon and the hammer throw are worlds apart, you’d be surprised at how much they have in common. Last month I stumbled upon a great Running Times profile of legendarian Italian coach Renato Canova from several years ago. The above quote comes from that article, where he discussed a range of topics including why Western runners can’t seem to keep up with Africans. His words immediately made me think of the throwing events too.
We all know that American and European distance runners have been pushed off the podium by Africans over the past few decades. Coach Canova knows this first hand, having been on both sides of the change while coaching some of the top Italian and Kenyan runners. But after coaching both groups of athletes, he concludes that the main reason Africans are better is because everybody runs in Africa. When a culture creates a large talent pool and a greater incentive to succeed, then they will develop more stars. It’s a simple formula: east Africans dominate the running events because running is central to their culture. Jamaicans outperform other nations in the sprints for similar reasons. And the former Soviet nations lead the hammer throw because they learn the event younger and in greater numbers.
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