Olympic legend Michael Johnson says a ‘superior athletic gene’ in the descendants of West African slaves means black American and Caribbean sprinters will command the sport at the London Games.
The Olympic gold medallist and BBC commentator said: ‘Over the last few years, athletes of Afro- Caribbean and Afro-American descent have dominated athletics finals.
‘It’s a fact that hasn’t been discussed openly before. It’s a taboo subject in the States but it is what it is. Why shouldn’t we discuss it?’
Legacy: Michael Johnson, pictured right in Jamaica, says black American and Caribbean sprinters have a ‘superior athletic gene’
Reigning Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt was born in Trelawny Parish, Jamaica, where British Olympic boss Lord Coe’s plantation-owning ancestor George Hyde Park had 297 slaves.
Of the eight 100m finalists four years ago, three were Jamaicans, two came from Trinidad and Tobago, two were Afro-American and one, representing the Netherlands, was born on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao. All eight are believed to be descended from slaves.
Johnson says: ‘It is currently being researched to see how much of a factor being descended from slaves contributes to athletic ability.’
Some scientists believe a combination of selective breeding by slave owners and appalling conditions meant that only the strongest slaves endured, creating a group predisposed to record-breaking athletic performance.
African slaves underwent a rigorous selection process and only the fittest were transported on ships.
Interestingly, the toughest journey was to Jamaica, the last stop on the slave trail.
During one voyage in 1732, a staggering 96 per cent of slaves lost their lives – 170 boarded the ship and only six got off.
Jamaican geneticist Dr Rachael Irving said: ‘There was not much oxygen on slave ships so they had to use whatever they had to survive.’
Dr Herb Elliott, doctor to the Jamaican Olympic team, added: ‘Only the most aggressive and fiercest slaves ended up in Jamaica.’
Johnson, 44, had a DNA test for a Channel 4 documentary, Michael Johnson: Survival Of The Fastest, to be screened on Thursday night, which confirmed he is of West African descent.
He said: ‘All my life I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations.
‘Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me – I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.’