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ASIAN ATHLETES LIMITED BY GENES OR NURTURE?
(Updated Tuesday, Apr 1, 2008, 04:57:53 PM)

o debate on the prospects of Asian athletes in American sports passes without mention of Yao Ming, the Shanghai Sharks's 7-6, 265-pound center who recently led China to an 83-82 upset over the U.S. His prospects as the likely top pick of the 2002 NBA draft have been trumpeted by no lesser authorities than Michael Jordan and Bill Walton.
     But the 21-year-old superstar is literally one in a billion (1.25 billion to be exact). Young Yao is the product, genetically and culturally, of a 6-10 father and 6-4 mother, both of whom played basketball for China's national teams. His case is as likely to confuse the nature-vs-nurture debate as to help resolve it. After all, his height may be merely the tip of the genetic iceberg when it comes to his promise as a world-class basketballer.
     More familiar to Asian Americans are Michael Chang (5-9) who won the French Open at age 17, and Ichiro Suzuki (5-9), whose batting and base-stealing have lifted the Mariners from the basement to the heavens. Both seem endowed with standard physical equipment but have outperformed more powerful physiques. And on the women's side Kristi Yamaguchi, Michele Kwan, Seri Pak and legions of Chinese divers and gymnasts have shown that champions needn't be amazons.
     But these successes haven't silenced those who argue that as a race Asians lack the genetic gifts to challenge black and white athletes in power sports. Asians are genetically smaller and weaker, they claim, and can only excel in sports calling for quickness and agility. They cite Asian underrepresentation in track and field, football, basketball, soccer, tennis, boxing and the like.
     Will the future mirror the past? Are we genetically limited to excelling only in a few select sports or will changing social and economic conditions produce a generation of Asian superstars across the sports spectrum?

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WHAT YOU SAY

[This page is closed to new input. --Ed.]
This issue is the best I have ever seen. I love your web site.
Chong Goy
   Wednesday, February 05, 2003 at 08:05:11 (PST)    [208.191.82.25]
Counter Punch This,

Listen -- the fact remains -- Korea outperforms ALL Asian nations with the exception of China in many athletic endeavors. And that's practically only because of China's immense gene pool, that no nation on Earth can beat.

The reason I "cherry picked" Koreas' athletic achievement was to illustrate that our athletic prowess isn't all "bust", as others insinuate. It was just a counter measure to show that our achiements weren't crap, as has been suggested. I apologize for that, I just wanted to even the odds, as you weren't being fair to Koreans.

In 1988, Koreans had the home court advantage. But NO ONE cheated on the Korean national team. We were simply better rested and mentall calm and prepared thanks to the Home Court advantage. If you recall, the only ones that got busted were Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson (a black man) and one or to Soviet weight lifters.

In 2002, we did get many favorable calls, especially against Italy. But the games against Spain and Portuagal were 95% LEGIT, considering the home court adavantage.

Micheal Jordan's final championship game in 1998 boiled down to a crossover dribble and a VERY subtle, ILLEGAL push on defender Bryon Russel that led to his falling over while trying to defend MJ and consequently the historic pull-up 18 foot jumper that gave MJ and the Chicago Bulls their 6th NBA World Championship.

Clearly in this instance, Micheal Jordan operated outside the boundaries of what is considered standard athletic integrity. But that is part of competition. Veteran athletes with a keen game sense and awareness use that to their advantage. Even officials and referees know this. Therefore, I contend that the South Koreans got lucky breaks, but that was just part of their great run. The concept that the Italy-Korea game was part of some great home court conspiracy is ludicrous.

And as far as the World Soccer rankings are concerned, here I agree that S. Korea is only an above-average nation, in the overall scheme of things. We can only get better however, presuming that the S. Korean Football Assoc. don't fuck it all up somehow.

So from what I've read of you so far I can only draw the conclusion that you ARE a hater. You continually scoff at Korean athletic achievements without providing evidence that other Asian nations have performed equally as well.
It's just a case of sour grapes, if you are an Asian person. If you're not Asian, then just as well... you're still a hater.

Counter Puncher annoys me too with his ultra-nationalistic tirades (granted to celebrate Korean athletic achievment at the expense of China's is not cool), but for you to disrespect Korean athletic achievements is equally uncalled for.
Look at me, I'm Korean, but I've been supporting Yao Ming and Wang Zhi Zhi and Mengke Bateer all along, while Asians and whites were dismissing them as novelties in their initial passage into the NBA.

I celebrate the athletic achiements of ALL Asians, I think it's about time you did the same instead of getting your panties in a bunch because us Koreans are rightfully proud of our achievements.
Hwarang.
   Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 08:37:48 (PST)    [128.253.186.46]
I think part of the reason South Korea does well in power sports is part cultural (there is a term in Korean called jinja namja, loosely translated, it means "tough guy" in a cowboyish kind of way), part societal (every man has to do military time, those that slip by are kind of seem as slackers/wimps, the reputation of which follows them throughout their lives) and part diet (I can't remember the exact source, but I think its the New York Times Almanac, but Koreans actually consume more calories than the Germans, British, Russians and Swedes, and a heck of a lot more than any other asian country).

Bottom line, when it comes to the power sports, there is no doubt South Korea is among the top tier. But in terms of the softer sports such as track/field, swimming, dancing, basketball, etc., South Korea is not a top tier nation. But the power sport top tier status is undeniable.
prosport
   Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 18:53:48 (PST)    [24.90.168.112]
Counter punch this,
You're nothing but an ignorant envious little troll, a scrub who never even played organized sports. I bet you're the one who never got picked to play and had to just sit and watch.
Don't try to rain on Corea's achievments because your compatriots had to watch Corea march into the semifinals. Only losers like you whine and cry claiming Corea cheated. Where do your compatriots rank?
Which country in Asia wins more golds per capita than South Corea? Last time I checked Cuba is not ASIA. So try again, come up with another excuse. Last time I checked just like other communist countries Cuba has a government sponsor government programs where they groom their athletes at an early age.
Counter Puncher
   Friday, January 24, 2003 at 18:57:12 (PST)    [64.12.96.39]
Hwrarang,

Yes, I agree; South Korea’s 4th place finish in the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup is the greatest accomplishment of the Korean people in all of Korean history. Nonetheless, both 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup and 1988 Seoul Olympic Games are not representative of the actual level of Korean athletic ability because of the home advantage and cheating. FIFA’s current ranking of South Korea as No. 20 in football after Cameroon is the realistic ranking. In addition, South Korea’s finish as No. 12 in the number of gold medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and No. 10 overall are the better gage of the respectable but not outstanding state of Korean sporting performance. Incidentally, Cuba with a population of only 11 million did better. Your cherry picking of South Korea’s best results only provides a false delusion that leads to an unhealthy cycle of boasting.
Counter Punch This!
   Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 14:25:55 (PST)    [209.232.17.193]
Counterpunch This,

I wonder if your tirade against Korean achievements in the World Cup has more to do with your personal beef against Counter Puncher (who btw IS a racist), than with the Korean nation itself. I'm guessing that you were taking an indirect jab at Counter Puncher by attacking Korean athletic achievements.

The Korean soccer team had never even WON a World Cup match before 2002, and for them to make it to the World Cup Semis is no small feat. It is most impressive, by anyone's standards. That is just a fact. So if you're trying to argue otherwise, then you're flat out wrong, sorry.

Incidently, Korea also finished 4th in the 1988 Seoul Olympics after the US, Russia, and China -- all superpowers with large populations and advanced sports programs/science.

The fact that both events happened on home turf might have something to do with it, but nevertheless, it is quite impressive.

To simply dismiss Korean athletic achievements on the basis of not winning some medal is absurd (btw, medals are awarded to individual finishers, not to national teams. Also, the World cup commision awards the Cup or consolation plates (silver, bronze) to the runners-ups, not individual medals).

So if you're not Korean, I can assume its just a mild case of hater-itis, or a personal beef with Counter Puncher.
Hwarang
   Thursday, January 23, 2003 at 00:11:00 (PST)    [128.253.186.46]
Power sports is more than wrestling, judo, taekwondo, baseball or boxing. Korea performs well in these power sports, but suck in some others like swimming, athletics, etc.
Sports fan

*Hey twinkle toes since when is swimming or athletics consider physical contact sports?
For little guys like you with some sugar in the tank ballet is considered physical huh? And is "your" compatriots considered world class in swimming or athletics?? I think NOT!
Counter Puncher
   Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 18:26:10 (PST)    [64.12.96.39]
Counter Puncher,

I have never heard of anyone being so happy about a 4th place finish. In the Olympic Games, 4th place doesn’t even earn a lousy bronze medal! Yet, President Kim Dae-Jong proclaimed his nation’s 4th place finish as the greatest achievement in all of Korean history; this says a lot about the Korean people. South Korea’s 4th place finish was just luck and mainly referee cheating when you consider that FIFA currently ranks them as being No. 20 in the world in football. If South Korea were placed in Group C during the 2002 World Cup, they would not have even made it pass Round 1 because Brazil and Turkey would have defeated them. As for the “pound for pound” nonsense, sporting regulations prevent a larger population nation from fielding more than one team, which has the effect of seriously negating most of the advantage of a large population. At any rate, Australia’s performance in the Olympics is far more impressive than that of South Korea’s given the fact Australia’s population is only 40% of South Korea’s. Pound for pound, South Koreans are just the biggest braggarts and cheaters in sports.
Counter Punch This
   Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 13:58:08 (PST)    [209.232.16.213]
Power sports is more than wrestling, judo, taekwondo, baseball or boxing. Korea performs well in these power sports, but suck in some others like swimming, athletics, etc.
Sports fan
   Monday, January 20, 2003 at 06:26:51 (PST)    [210.187.156.117]
Korea was able to muster a team together, with the help of a great Dutch coach, that took 4th place after several defeating Italy, Poland, Spain and Portugal, all countries where soccer is easily the most popular sport. After having the toughest schedule in the World Cup, they barely lost to a Germany that had one of the easiest schedules. and the sport.

*WITHOUT A DOUBT Corea had the toughest road to the semifinals. Which other country had to play more top ten countries to advance?? Beating soccer powerhouses like Portugal, Italy and Spain was magical. Corea really should of beat Germany too, this was a weak German team, nothing like the '86 or '90 German team, I think Corea gave them too much respect or were too tired after two straight overtime wins. Corea few weeks ago lost to Brazil 3-2 in soccer, just read the comments some of the Brazilians players like Ronaldo said of Corean soccer. I've always said Corea is "pound for pound" or "per capita" among the best athletic countries in the world. Your list is sufficient edvidence enough.
Just imagine if these athletes were handpicked and developed like robots like some countries to only promote their supposed political and cultural superiority.
Counter Pucher
   Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 16:25:20 (PST)    [64.12.96.39]
Oh, I forgot to mention, I'm now going to watch two other asian athletes, Tsyzu, from Kazakhstan, and Abdulaev, from Uzbekisten, probably easily win their matches against a couple americans that are really out of their leagues. Tsyzu is the undisputed world champion at 140lb, Abdulaev is undefeated at 140lb and is also a gold medalist at the Sydney Olympics beating an american in the gold medal match. The 140lb division is recognized by the boxing community as the most competitive. Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are related to Korea, by the way, by way of the Mongols. Let's get ready to rumble!
prosport
   Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 19:05:18 (PST)    [24.90.168.112]
Just a few observations about asian athletes with a focus on Korean athletes since they seem to have achieved the most succes in power sports.

1. Over the past four Olympics Games (basically the modern Olympic Games, 1984 was in LA and modern and 1980 was in Moscow and modern, but both were boycotted so do not provide relevant statistics), South Korea has won 117 Olympic medals, which puts them at 7th in world behind US (400), Russia (395), Germany (345), China (191), Australia (140), and France (120), but ahead of Italy (102), Britain (87) and Japan (68).
2. If you add North Korea to South Korea, Unified Korea's total is 135 (and that takes into account the fact that North Korea boycotted the Seoul Olympics in 1988) which puts them at 6th ahead of France.
3. If you look at it on a per population basis, over the 12 year period, Korea has won an Olympic medal for every 410,000. In comparison, the U.S. needed 725,000 people to win an Olympic medal, China needed 6,555,000, Britain needed 690,000, France 500,000, Italy 569,000, Japan 1,853,000. However, Germany did better needing only 246,000 people to produce an Olympic winner.
4. To use one "western" power sport as an example (since using "asian" sports like judo or tae kwon do would not be fair as Korea and Japan have an unfair advantage in these sports, although the "big four" in judo these days are Japan, Korea, Russia and France and the "big two" in tae kwon do are Korea and Iran) in greco-roman wrestling, South Korea has won 9 medals in 1988, which puts them at number 2 behind Russia which has won 16 (although in 1988 and 1992, Russia was actually the Soviet Union which included strong wrestling nations such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Belarus and several others). Cuba is third with 7 medal, US is tied for fourth with 4 medals with Poland and Bulgaria. Four other countries tied for 7th with 3 medals, Sweden, Finland, Turkey and China. Italy and Japan have won 2 medals, Germany won 1 medal. North Korea has won one medal which puts Unified Korea's total at 10 medals. North Korea's medal was in the lighter weight division although most of South Korea's medals are in the welter to middle weight divisions.
5. South Korea have had similar success in boxing, freestyle wrestling, tae kwon do and judo. Although, they are largely recognized by the international greco-roman community as being the number 2 nation, behind Russia, a much larger nation.
6. In Olympic baseball, South Korea took third in the last Olympics behind the U.S., first and Cuba, second. But ahead of Japan fourth and a host of baseball second tier European nations.
7. Even look at the success the South Korean team had with the soccer World Cup, a sport which in Korea is lucky to be considered in the top 5, baseball is easily the most popular team sport with boxing, tae kwon do, wrestling and judo all more popular among the middle class and golf and tennis more popular among the upper class. Soccer probably holds the same space in Korea as it does in the U.S. and Korea was able to muster a team together, with the help of a great Dutch coach, that took 4th place after several defeating Italy, Poland, Spain and Portugal, all countries where soccer is easily the most popular sport. After having the toughest schedule in the World Cup, they barely lost to a Germany that had one of the easiest schedules. I really got a kick out of the fourth place finish, it was almost humorous and along the same lines of what the Mexican fans felt after the U.S. beat them in the past World Cup, they felt doubly insulted by the loss to a country that equally disrepects both the country and the sport.

I have a lot more empirical evidence to support my claim that South Koreans are among the top tier, easily among the top 5 nations in the world, in power sports. But I think the above is sufficient.
prosport
   Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 18:56:40 (PST)    [24.90.168.112]
I believe asians can readily compete in sports like boxing. I mean look at all the hispanic boxers, correct me If I'm wrong, but don't hispanic people have similar physiques to asians? Just a thougt.
Goodtimes
   Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 13:39:35 (PST)    [65.144.7.186]
I think there are more and more Asians in sports these days, and more to come. HOw bout Rico Tan? Asian boxer from Canada. When this guy blows up, he's gonna make people realize that Asians are as good in sports as any other race.

PS he is a welterweight(147lbs) not a straw weight, like people think most asians are
Jason, Detroit, MI
   Friday, January 17, 2003 at 08:39:47 (PST)    [207.112.56.36]
Hey,

This is Kody again. And I would just like to make a comment on what I said in a response earlier last year. It may appear that some countries are taller than other, and believe it or not, that can he explained. When the first group of people where on the earth, do you think they just stayed around each other there whol life? No. The ended up splitting up and going there seperate ways. Maybe a few taller people from the tribe happened to go the same way and make babies that ended up being tall. Then maybe stayer around the same area and ending up to be the average height of a country. As for me, I am now 5"10" and outgrowing the rest of my family.
Kody
Nike5971@aol.com    Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 12:25:36 (PST)    [166.102.32.203]
I am an african-american that stumbled onto this page. There is an Asian-american Line backer in the nfl that no one mentioned. Dat ngygen (I'm not sure of the spelling). By all accounts, he's pretty good! I believe with in 10 years years Asian Americans will be over represented in both basketball and football. It is about cultural adjustments. Those who come from poverty or lower middle class neighborhoods will use athletics as a way out of the ghetto and some will be good and others will not be. In short, as more and more Asians are pushed into basketball, football, and track, the law of large numbers will set in.
bayes
reggie_bayes40@msn.com    Saturday, January 04, 2003 at 07:22:26 (PST)    [67.118.140.246]
Lets not talk just about football and boxing, which are not quite as popular in asia. In terms of martial arts, and ultimate fighting, there are plenty of really powerful wrestlers and jiu jitsu artists, even though on average they are smaller. I know these are not big sports here, but, especially in japan, its huge, and there have been a considerable number of gifted asian athletes (as well as brazilian, american, etc).
phil
   Thursday, November 07, 2002 at 22:14:09 (PST)    [65.66.208.218]
Anybody besides me see a Japanese name on the back of a Denver Broncos player in the preseason game this week?
Lin from Georgia
   Friday, August 23, 2002 at 16:12:08 (PDT)
John,

An American was the tallest man in recorded history, but he had a medical condition that enabled him to grow tall abnormally.
Ray
   Tuesday, August 06, 2002 at 22:21:34 (PDT)
And Barkley didn't even made the Olympic team when Knight was the coach. If he really said that about Yao (not being rated), then he has a very short memory. Is it a case of ignorance or arrogance on Barkley part? Barkley is such a cartoon character that a lot of what he said is just purely for shock value and not to be taken seriously.
Tay Trai
   Tuesday, August 06, 2002 at 17:58:32 (PDT)
Actualy.....Americans are not the shortest people on earth.. On average American men are about 5'10" and American women are 5'4". Also, the tallest modern man on record was an American from Alton Illinois, He was about 9 feet tall (272 cm). and Weighed 491 lbs.(that aint short)...As for me, I am 5'11", and my dad is 6'1" and mom 5'7". I have yet to reach my dads height.
John, 15 yrs. old Brewersville, Ohio
   Wednesday, July 31, 2002 at 12:35:46 (PDT)
Hi,

I just read the article on Yao Ming, and I though of something. There are many people who grow up to be taller than most people. For instance, Drew Gooden. He was picked in this years NBA draft. Neither of his parents are above 6"5", yet he is 6"10". Also, take for instance me, I am 5"9". My dad grew up to be around 5"7" at tallest, and my mom, she never made it past 5"4". There is another thing, other realatives may have been tall. Just there mother or father never "got" that gene if you will. So basically all I'm trying to say is that just because your parents are not tall, does not mean you cannot be tall.
Kody, 14 yrs. old, Hughesville, PA
Nike5971@aol.com    Monday, July 29, 2002 at 03:17:31 (PDT)

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