Thursday, May 2, 2019

White Lightning

When I heard that an 18-year old sprinter in Houston had recorded a new national high school record in the 100 meter dash this week I was expecting to hear that it was accomplished by a young man named Darius, DeShawn, DeAndre, Trevon or Terrell.

These were among the most popular names for African American baby boys born in the early 2000's.

Why would I assume that the 100 meter record high school record would be broken by a black athlete?

These are the 23 fastest men ever timed in the 100 meter dash. They are all black athletes. They also all trace their heredity to West Africa. There have only been a handful of white runners worldwide who have ever run a sub 10.00 meter dash.

Source: Wikipedia

That 18-year old in Houston ran a 9.98 last week. That time that would have qualified for the finals in the 2016 Olympics. Although it was aided by a 4.2 m/s wind, and therefore will not be considered the "official" high school record that sets 2.0 m/s as the maximum the wind can aid a run, it still would convert to a 10.07 non-wind aided time.

Here are the top 40 yard times at the recent NFL Combine. Every one of these athletes is black except for Andy Isabella.

We are accustomed to see black athletes dominate the positions in football where speed is most critical (running back, defensive back and wide receiver).

Knowing all of the above is why I assumed that the record had been set by a young, talented black athlete in Houston.

My brain could not have led me further astray.

The high school record was actually established by a young man named Matthew Boling. I can assure you that it does not appear that he traces his lineage to West Africa based on this picture of him.

It might be worthwhile remembering that name. You likely will hear more about him.

Credit: AP via The Daily Mail

Boling is not just a one-event standout. He also has the second fastest high school time in the 200 meters this year and also has the best long jump---26' 3.5". He high jumped 6'7'' as a sophomore and feels that the 400 meters could potentially be his best potential event. My guess is that the decathalon might also be in his future.

What is also interesting is that Matthew attends what I know to be an elite private Jesuit high school in suburban Houston---Strake Jesuit.

That is not the hardscrabble environment you would think that might be the incubator for the drive and desire that is required to attain this level of performance.

Is all of this talent inherited?

His father says he has no idea where Matthew's speed comes from.

“I would love to be able to claim that it’s genetic – but he just has a work ethic that I’ve never seen from anybody,” father Mark Boling told CBS News.

Matthew Boling with family the day he committed to a track and field
scholarship with University of Georgia

There undoubtedly is a good deal of genetic component at work here even if his own father does not know where it comes from. There is also no doubt that any type of innate running talent that Boling does possess is not solely responsible for this type of performance. I wrote about this previously in "Nature of Nurture?"

You do not get elite athletes and performances without 100 percent nature and 100 percent nurture. Without both great genes and great work effort you simply do not get elite performance.

What makes Matthew Boling tick? That is a question that I would really like to know more about. From the fast twitch muscles that he must have in his body to the strong-willed mind that directs everything he does with it. He appears to be what Malcolm Gladwell would call an "outlier."

As I wrote in "Nature or Nurture" which draws heavily on David Epstein's book, The Sports Gene.

The reality of the gene pool is that most of us have talents and potential that are little different than almost everyone else on the planet. What differentiates those that succeed versus those that do not is purpose, passion, perseverance...and practice.
As one scientist remarked in the book, when it comes to the gene pool the biggest gift that you can receive is the will to want do something.

All the best to this young man as he moves forward in life. May he move ever faster and teach us even more in the process on that path.

Our brains do lead us astray at times. However, they can also propel us to unimaginable places. Look no further than this video of Matthew's 9.98 race. (click here if your browser does not play the video below).

You should also know that Boling has already picked up a nickname---"White Lightning".

That nickname might have some legs if Matthew keeps running like this.

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