I agree with the "some of our best potential running greats are playing other sports or are just plain doing something else" theory. With basketball, baseball, and of course the hallowed football available, along with a myriad of other paths and interests available for an American high schooler that don't involve sports, but will lead to a good living eventually, it's highly probable that some of our most talented runners never consider track or cross country or even sports. Economics as well as national or regional obsession with certain sports come into play as to what sports will be available to certain classes of people.
For so many years, and probably still, the PGA is full of the best potential white, middle to upper class golfers due to the expense and availability of golf. Probably will never be many poor inner-city pro-golfers, unless their parent worked at a country club or is an officer in the military who has access to golf courses (like Tiger's father).
In Kenya, soccer and running is the thing, and both are cheap. Their heroes are in these sports. In America, it's a very low probability that a kid has a runner as a hero. The only runner I heard of as a kid were Bill Rodgers. My heroes were baseball players. In Kenya, there is a higher probability the best runners in their gene pool become runners. Especially in those particular regions where they're mad about running and run everywhere as kids.
I do believe there are talented American runners that hate sports and never realized their talents. Instead they loved science, medicine, business, music, acting, teaching, criminal justice, fighting fires, engineering, or one of the thousands of interests available to a person growing up in an advanced, free and rich country.
Big cities in America are filled with playground basketball courts where some high-level playing goes on continuously. Many great players have come from these courts. It was a sport that was available to them free. There's a cultural reason the NBA is 78% African-American. There's a cultural reason the NHL is nearly all white, and why Latinos make up 27% of baseball players but only 16% of the population.
As for the sudden burst of world records in the marathon the past few years which seem like huge leaps to me, I'm a bit suspicious. It's hard not to be in this PED world we live in.
Too cool for school wrote:
No elite basketball player/footballer would ever perform at the top level
in marathon. Two completely disjoint talent pools.
No but the point is 99% of potential marathoners will go on to be mediocre at other sports instead of great at marathon running.
Even Ryan Hall was a perfectly solid basketball/baseball player (his dad played AAA baseball)... until he had a vision from God and decided to drop everything and start running.
That is how we've discovered our marathon talent in America. Random visions from God. Not a highly efficient process.