Last night the 400 meter dash was won by Wayde van Niekirk of South Africa in a new world record time of 43.03. He doesn't appear to be on steroids (three cheers). He also didn't celebrate his victory with the usual fist-pumping and chest-pounding (another three cheers). Instead, he just seemed quietly overwhelmed by the moment.
But what I found most intriguing about him was that I couldn't figure out exactly what his ethnicity is:
Van Niekirk is from South Africa, so the natural assumption is that he's "colored," that category into which all South Africans of mixed black and white ancestry used to be thrown. But his hair appears straight, and his skin is sallow rather than brown, which is not typical of people who are 50/50. Nor do his body or features (apart from his mouth) appear particularly black.
All of which made me wonder if van Niekirk isn't part San, or Bushman, rather than part Bantu. The San are considered a distinct ethnic group, separate from other Africans:
If I didn't know who he was and saw him walking down a street in this country, I might think he was Hispanic, or even Indonesian. But in South Africa, those ethnicities don't really enter the picture. And I'd never expect an Amerindian or Indonesian to run a 400 in 43.03. Then again, I'd never expect a guy who's five-eighths or three-quarters white to run that fast either. And, come to think of it, no black man had ever run that fast before, either.
I could be completely wrong on this: maybe van Niekirk's appearance is deceiving and he's just part Bantu. But who knows, maybe there's a lot of undiscovered track talent out there on the Kalahari. (The Bushmen are known for their incredible endurance.)
Whatever his ethnicity, I like van Niekirk's demeanor and apparent steroid-free status. I'll root for him in the future.