Factors Behind Leading Athletes in Eastern Africa

Athletes from East Africa have dominated international long-distance races for the last 30 years. Thus, scientists have tried to find a practical explanation of this phenomenon. Here’s an article about the factors behind leading athletes in Eastern Africa. Unfortunately, they have not found a specific explanation for it.

Physical traits

Some scientists have attributed this success to genetic factors and physical features. Such include long slender legs of the runners and athlete’s nutrition. However, this has not been proven scientifically hence leading to further speculation and research.

Another factor that can be attributed to this success is the lifestyle of the runner’s right from an early age where they would walk 5 to 20 km to and from school. This, however, does not appear to result in higher aerobic capacity when compared to elite European long-distance athletes. Besides that, it is not always the case as most winning athletes rode buses to school like healthy school children. Here are the reasons for leading athletes in Eastern Africa.

 Great Heights

A higher altitude is another factor that may contribute to high performance by the East African athletes. Most runners were raised at altitudes of 2000-2500m above sea level. Consequently, they have higher levels of hemoglobin and hematocrit. As a result, they have improved the ability to carry oxygen to the working muscles. East African runners can train at high intensity at high altitude.

Conversely, athletes without continual exposure may find it hard to replicate such performances. Addis Ababa and Iten are essential training grounds for Ethiopian and Kenyan runners, respectively. They are located 2400 meters above sea level. It is, therefore, logical to assume that exposure to high altitude and the ability to train at high intensity can contribute to success by long-distance runners. So, leading athletes enjoy high altitudes. These are some of the factors behind leading athletes.

Economic Success

The dominance of East African runners has been attributed to motivation to achieve commercial success. As most athletes come from poor backgrounds, success in lucrative running events can significantly improve an athlete’s social status. Today most elite African athletes have become multi-millionaires. This is a result of their winnings in international events like the half marathons, marathons, and diamond league circuits across the globe.


It is not conclusive what is behind the success of the East African runners, but research suggests that success cannot be attributed to any single factor. This success can only be possible as a combination of the many factors. Such include the right genetic disposition, body type, diet, exposure to high altitude, endurance training as well as socio-cultural background. On top of that, the psychological motivation to achieve financial success is also a contributor. So, the factors behind the leading athletes in Eastern Africa are numerous.


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