TWO of Jamaica's staple crops — the yam and green banana — are said to be partially responsible for the island's world sprinting domination, according to Professor Errol Morrison, president of the University of Technology (UTech).
Professor Morrison, who addressed the Observer's Monday Exchange yesterday, said also that the "cock bottom", more associated with the black race, is an added advantage in the rush to the finish line.
Prof Morrison, who has done extensive studies on why Jamaicans run so fast, dismissed the speed gene thought as just a myth and suggested that there are other factors at play related to the passion, discipline, hard work and talent that are derived from substances in yam and green bananas.
Said Professor Morrison: "This is a hypothesis. This is not gospel and fixed in stone. It is a hypothesis based on a lot of biochemical research and anatomical research and I will put it down as succinctly as this: Genetics, dietetics and athletics."
According to Prof Morrison, yam produces a substance called Hypo Steroids which acts as a stimulus, while green banana produces phytate, which is four times the concentration in the yellow yams and replenishes the energy supply.
"You can't just get up and eat tuber crops like yam and go and run. What is happening is it is a staple diet, so our young people who are using these staple crops are being exposed to these 'anabolic steroids' from very early and Jamaica is the only country with organised programmes from infancy; so you are putting up a stress and demand on these muscle groups which is being further pushed by these 'anabolic steroids' they are going to have an advantage and they are going to grow with that and by the time they are hitting the late teens you should be seeing some responsive muscle mass," explained Prof Morrison.
He added: "People don't know what green bananas do. Phytates replenish the energy supply in muscle called creatine phosphate. The hypothesis is grounded on sound biochemical principles and what we are saying is that the cycle is being passed on from very early on. So you not only have got the 'anabolic steroid' from early, you are also getting the stimulus from these phosphate substances that will give you the energy."
Prof Morrison explained that during the running of races a number of athletes on the world level are probably similar in speed, but they fade at different levels and that's when the quicker replenishing caused by the green bananas gives Jamaican athletes the edge.
"By 60 metres they start to fade and it is because we have the advantage of the replenishing of the phosphate that is allowing us to keep that momentum to the end of the race," said the UTech president.
But Jamaica's success is not all in the food, it has to do with the anatomy of the black race as against the white or Asiatic.
"What is that that makes the black Caribbean man and woman so good at sports and a lot of theories are abound," he pointed out.
"You ever looked at our black athletes compared to whites or the Asiatics, both lower and upper limbs, the relatively narrow hips, lean and thin and the power?" he asked.
"There is something called in our parlance, a cock bottom. The shape of the backbone and the hip is angled this way with the pelvis, and the front muscles afford high knee lift as opposed to when the back is more straight. That contributes to the kind of power when you drive that leg down, those are some of the genetics.
"The black compared to the whites and Asiatics have a narrower chest wall and they breathe a little faster and when they do that it is allowing for the quicker exchange of oxygen, which is also part of the quicker recovery that you see. That is one aspect," explained Prof Morrison, who has worked in tandem with the University of Glasgow, which is one of the leading researchers of genetics.
Morrison, who reminisced about the 1968 Olympic Games in high altitude Mexico City, pointed out how the black Americans surprisingly dominated the sprints and were tested because they were not supposed to be able to perform at that level.
"Almost all of those athletes have what you called AS disease, that is what you called sickle trait (not the full blown sickle cell disease) and they wondered what relevance that would have because they expected that at 10,000 feet in high altitude, they would start having blood problems, but they didn't.
"The point they were making is when you have AS compared to the normal AA, the haemoglobin takes up the oxygen less readily, but releases it even more readily. So while it may not be taken up a lot it releases it quickly," said Morrison.
He also threw out the notion of speed genes after years of extensive study in collaboration with a leading university on the issue.
"Then everybody has been saying this guy has a special gene that makes him run fast. To put it mildly, we have been working since 2006 with the University of Glascow, which has the leading group working on genetic assessment of world-class athletes comparing them with the general world population.
"They have studied about half a dozen different genes thought to have been associated with great performances in sports and we have found nothing in these athletes, including Herb McKenley (before he died), Usain Bolt and Asafa (Powell), and they have shown no difference from the background population, so this speed gene is a myth which they are still researching," he noted,
"But you can't knock research because you don't know what they might come up with at some point. My point is, the gene is really in the structure of those limbs. The major thing you want to concern yourself with is, a number of black people has that same thing, so why is it that they don't do well or as well.
"There is biochemistry, anatomy (genetics) and overall training in Jamaica which is second to none, so there is every reason why we should be doing well. It is not any buck up or drugs, as some people have said," Professor Morrison concluded.