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Monday, August 31, 2009

Ritz and the AR

From USA Today on Friday: “[Ritzenhein] became the fourth non-African to break 13:00 behind Kennedy, Germany's Dieter Baumann (12:54.70) and Australia's Craig Mottram (12:55.76).”

I understand the point that Dick Patrick was attempting to make here: that Ritz’s accomplishment was exceptional. But his facts are not right.

There are quite a few athletes who have transferred citizenship to Qatar and Bahrain, with the former Stephen Cherono first doing so in 2003. Two of them have broken 13:00. As far as the IAAF and IOC are concerned they are not African, but hardly anyone else would think so.

Mohammed Mourhit was a Moroccan until he married a Belgian woman in 1997, became a Belgian citizen, and began representing them internationally. He broke 13:00, but again he would commonly be considered an African, as he was so until age 27. Ditto for Bernard Lagat, who broke 13:00 several times after becoming a US citizen. Heck, the very term “African-American” means Lagat is both a US citizen and an African at the same time.

But Patrick missed Moukheld Al-Outaibi, a Saudi who ran 12:58.58 in 2005. It appears that he in no way is an African. While he could be a transplant like Saif Saeed Shaheen and others, I have found no proof of this. In fact, it’s highly unlikely, as he represented Saudi Arabia as early as 1999, well before the parade of “defections” to Qatar and Bahrain began. Also, his appearance (to the right of Mottram’s arm, behind Kipchoge) suggests otherwise as well.

Garry Hill responded thus:
I have no knowledge on Al-Outaibi's background but he could easily be African, as Saudi Arabia has a significant portion of immigrants. And as late as the '50s some 20% of the population was slaves (says Wiki) and one would assume that Africans feature prominently in that demographic. I do remember a signifcant "black" KSA membership on teams long before modern recruiting started up. So his parents could easily have been Africans.

Which takes the issue to another it where you grew up, or is it where you were born, or is it where your parents are from? Would Meb Keflezighi count as a non-African? He emigrated to the USA as a child. I’d ask if Barack Obama would count as a non-African, but it might invite the street-corner-screaming wingnuts to the discussion.

I get the whole point. White guys who look like me haven’t been too great at the 5k. But actually they were until the 1990s came around. 23 of the first 26 world records in the 5k were held by white guys. If you back up the target time to 13:00.50 you find the barrier-breaker was a white guy named David Moorcroft some 26 years ago, and he didn’t even rate as one of the top three runners in Britain in his day.

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