Remember how CNBC's Darren Rovell went weirdly nativist yesterday, calling technical American Meb Keflezighi a "ringer" and grouching that his New York City Marathon victory shouldn't count as a real American achievement? Yeah, his bad.
I said that Keflezighi's win, the first by an American since 1982, wasn't as big as it was being made out to be because there was a difference between being an American-born product and being an American citizen. Frankly I didn't account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi's running experience came as a US citizen. I never said he didn't deserve to be called American.
All I was saying was that we should celebrate an American marathon champion who has completely been brought up through the American system.
This is where, I must admit, my critics made their best point. It turns out, Keflezighi moved to the United States in time to develop at every level in America. So Meb is in fact an American trained athlete and an American citizen and he should be celebrated as the American winner of the NYC Marathon. That makes a difference and makes him different from the "ringer" I accused him of being. Meb didn't deserve that comparison and I apologize for that.
That's all well and good, but the idea at the heart of Rovell's first story — the mystique of the African marathoner — isn't going away anytime soon. Rovell was far from the only offender, as The New York Times' Gina Kolata notes. Kolata, in addressing the question of whether Keflezighi is sufficiently American, alludes to the widely held notion that an African runner represents some kind of a winning genetic bingo card. This is true to the extent that every great athlete is, in one way or another, a winning genetic bingo card. For whatever reason, though, whenever a big marathon rolls around, we pretend that the Africans are winning less because their abilities were forged at some happy intersection of culture and circumstance and geological phenomena and more because their abilities derive from some super-special nucleic juju that no one else has. (Rovell wisely avoids this minefield only to bumble into another. He thinks that Africans run faster because they're really poor.)
Keflezighi's victory has renewed what the New York Times judiciously calls a "debate." It's not a debate. It's science and common sense on one side and on the other a handful of grumpy people who've decided that the genetic advantages that may or may not sort themselves according to race somehow matter more than the countless other genetic advantages all world-class athletes necessarily possess.
What I Got Wrong About Keflezighi [CNBC]
To Some, Winner Is Not American Enough [The New York Times]
EARLIER: American Who Won NYC Marathon Isn't American Enough For Some People