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July 2, 2008

Olympics: Track and Field – Jamaica vs. America

Jamaica is the 138th most populous nation in the world. At 2.65 million people, the Caribbean island nestles between Kuwait and Mongolia in the population ladder.

It is in similar territory when it comes to national wealth.

The United States, on the other hand, is the world’s richest and third most populous country.

As neighbors go, these two live at very different ends of a very long street.

But there is one place where these two meet as equals – the running track.

Last weekend witnessed the most recent chapter in their rivalry as both countries staged Olympic trials for the 100m in Beijing this summer. The results, as they have been all season, were remarkable.

First, Tyson Gay, the latest sprint star off the US assembly line, almost made the most embarrassing mistake of his hitherto impeccable career by misjudging the finish of his opening heat. (Go to 2.29 for the race).

Thousands of miles to the south, world record-holder Usain “Lightening” Bolt and Asafa “King” Powell, the man Bolt ‘unseated’, were advancing smoothly to their much-anticipated clash in the Jamaican capital, Kingston.

Bolt was relatively pedestrian in Saturday’s 100m final at the trials as he floated to a 9.85, but it was still fast enough to provide another reminder to Powell that he – for now, at least – plays second fiddle at home and abroad.

While Bolt was busy winning Jamaica’s 200m title, Gay shot back with a scintillating performance in the American 100m final.

The quiet man from Arkansas, who had already clocked a national record of 9.77 in the quarter-finals, posted the fastest time ever.

His mark of 9.68 was pushed along by a 4.1 meters per second tailwind – more than twice as strong as is permissible – so it did not count officially but regardless, it would have been noted in Jamaica.

As Gay’s coach Jon Drummond put it: “We need to get some kind of flame-retardant uniform in case he catches on fire, he’s running so doggone fast.”

Wind-assisted or not, Gay’s riposte could not have come at a better time for him, his team or his sport.

Competition between the US and Jamaica across all the sprint disciplines, men’s and women’s, has been raging for the last four years. And at times, that tussle has provided the only relief to an unremitting diet of gloom for the sport.

Doping has been the only story guaranteed to attract the US media’s attention and the drip, drip of credibility draining away became a full-blown hemorrhage when first Justin Gatlin and then Marion Jones were revealed to be drugs cheats.

Gay, who has gone to great lengths to prove his times are legitimate by volunteering for a battery of extra blood and urine tests, stands as proof there is still life in the patient but it needs the oxygen of publicity a great Olympics can provide.

Victory for a certifiably clean Gay in the 100m would go a long way to repairing the damage others have done.

Jamaica is the IAAF’s fifth most tested nation. Neither Bolt nor Powell has ever failed a drug test and Bolt alone has passed at least six tests this year.

Dr. Herb Elliott, a member of the IAAF’s medical and anti-doping commission, said: “We couldn’t have the Asafa Powells and not test them.  The good name of this country cannot be sullied by this.  Because of the money in athletics now, there is always temptation. So we are aware and vigilant. Some of the athletes are complaining they’re being over-tested but we prefer that to no testing at all.”

Jamaica’s biggest challenge over the years has not been doping scandals, it has been holding on to its most talented sons and daughtersDonovan Bailey, Linford Christie and Sanya Richards are just three Jamaican-born sprinters who have won Olympic golds for their adopted countries; Canada, England and the U.S. respectively.

The likes of Bolt and Powell are now nurtured by coaches as good as any abroad. While the facilities are still basic, the raw material is now staying at home and flowering more frequently. But what is without question is how central the 100m remains to the sport’s future health.

As long as men like Bolt, Gay and Powell retain the ability to thrill, and thrill clean, sprinting has a future at the heart of the Olympics.

Paulette

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16 Comments »

  1. Bolt is set to make history in Beijing.

    Comment by angelic1 — July 2, 2008 @ 11:27 am | Reply

  2. That would be a good thing. It would be a shot in the arm (excuse the pun) for T&F and for Jamaica. So many countries because they have the money have been able to benefit from Jamaica’s athletes — it would be nice for Jamaica to get some of the benefit directly.

    Comment by Paulette — July 2, 2008 @ 11:35 am | Reply

  3. P — you know what i’d really like to see? an essay on the contributions of yardies to the U.S. For instance, whenever I think oxtails, I’m sooo grateful for J’cans! And that’s just one, somewhat frivolous, example. think colin powell, think bob marley, etc. are you up for something like that?

    Comment by angelic1 — July 2, 2008 @ 11:50 am | Reply

  4. Heather, Jamaicans are such fabulously gifted people and they contribute so very much to international society. How can ANY blog do them justice? Alas, I will work night and day and try to come up with something. It might take some time though.

    Comment by Paulette — July 2, 2008 @ 12:11 pm | Reply

  5. You are so right! I’ve thought about this myself for a long long time. What’s also funny is the way one could go to the furthest corner of the earth and find at least one yardman, or hear reggae, or see the colors ayes gold and green! Was it you who sent me the story about a j’can restaurant in Sechzuan China?

    Comment by angelic1 — July 2, 2008 @ 12:17 pm | Reply

  6. I’m going to Jamaica on the 14th of July…I will
    do my part in giving back to their economy in a
    BIG way!! It is my second home and the country
    really needs help. The government, the economy,
    the crime and the does not reflect the beautiful
    hearts and culture of its people.

    Comment by Kendria — July 2, 2008 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

  7. Yes, I sent you the article about the Jamaican restaurant in China. I can tell you a lots of stories of Jamaicans in Hawaii, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, Israel and of course we don’t have to mention England. Jamaicans are global trotters. I was in Alaska in the high altitudes of Mount Kingsley (Mt Denali to natives) and there was NO radio signal and no one for at least 20 miles. As we drove up this REALLY steep mountain I was playing with the radio and kept getting static. Suddenly, over the radio I heard, “Jah Rasta For I! To all the people out there who can hear my voice I send Jah blessings!” Needless to say I fell out laughing and crying. When we finally got to the outpost we learned that there was a “Dread” who lived in the mountains and had a radio broadcast…

    Comment by Paulette — July 2, 2008 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

  8. Kendria — enjoy Jamaica! It is so sad about the terrible economy plight on such in such a beautiful place. But the root of the problem is complex and has been growing since the IMF (International Monetary Fund) implemented vicious penalties on Jamaica, America being vindictive towards Jamaica because she would not allow them to build a military base there and years of unfavorable free trade deals like NAFTA. Jamaica did not get into its financial predictment just because of poor stewardship. And as the world economy worsens so does the economy of all poorer nations. Sad.

    Comment by Paulette — July 2, 2008 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

  9. great article Paulette, enjoyed it. Can’t wait for the games to start next month.

    Comment by duttybwoy — July 2, 2008 @ 9:46 pm | Reply

  10. What’s up Dutty? Me too — I’m really excited – can’t wait ’til next month!I hope Lightening bolts like fire and I hope Powell eat an extra piece of yam and push through and beat Gay. You’ll hear me shouting from here and I’m sure I’ll hear you. 🙂

    One love…

    Comment by Paulette — July 2, 2008 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

  11. Powell runs 9.78 in Beijing, Bolt runs 9.77….

    Patton and Gay =helpt by the wind in Eugene…. and gone with the wind in Beijing

    http://olympicbet.wordpress.com –best winners

    Comment by underberg — July 30, 2008 @ 12:45 pm | Reply

  12. I AM TELLING YOU JAMAICA I GOING TO TAKE THIS HOME..BOLT IS TAKING THE THING SERIOUS N THATS WHAT THEY ALL SHOULD DO TOO POWELL SHOULD NOT BE MAKING NO EXCUSES JUST BECAUSE HE COME FIFTH HE NEED TO TAKE IT SERIOUS AS HOW BOLT TAKE IT..AM TELLING THE GIRL ARE GETTING BETTER N BETTER EVERY YEAR..AMERICAN NEED TO GET OUT..THEY ARE IN TOO MANY STUFF..BUT AS I KNOW FOR REAL JAMAICA IS THE CHAMPION FOR THE YEAR OLYMPICS SO AMERICAN YOU’LL NEED TO STAY AWAY NOW BECAUSE NO WAY THIS OLYMPICS IS GOING TO BE YOU’LL…I AM A REAL N TRUE JAMAICAN BUT I LIVE IN NEW YORK N IF I SHOULD DO TRACK N FIELD FOR U.S.A I WILL NEVER RUN AGAINST MY TRUE COUNTRY JAMAICA…♥♥♥ ONE LOVE

    Comment by Nastascia — August 18, 2008 @ 10:10 pm | Reply

  13. DONT GET ME WRONG POWELL IS A NICE PERSON BUT HE REALLY NEED TO TAKE THIS MORE SERIOUS LIKE HOW THE GIRL’S N BOLT TAKE THIS SERIOUS..♥ONE LOVE

    Comment by Nastascia — August 18, 2008 @ 10:14 pm | Reply

  14. Nastascia – I believe that Asafa takes things serious. He just chokes. It’s a mental block. He’s been the fastest man for 3 years he should be able to win easily – the worst he should do is come in 2nd. He needs to see a sports psychologist – I’m not even joking. But regardless I am proud of him – he’s made Jamaica proud for over three years and he is STILL one of the fastest men in the world, he just doesn’t have an Olympic medal. He’s won everything else.

    One love!

    Comment by Paulette — August 18, 2008 @ 10:45 pm | Reply

  15. paulette you took those words from my mouth powell has a mental block and thats his problem he has no confidence in his ability i am wondering if his coach or manager dont see he needs help with that and not his speed

    Comment by marjorie barnett — May 9, 2009 @ 7:07 pm | Reply

    • Did you see him at the Penn Relays? He lost it. He should stop competing for Jamaica, he doesn’t know hoe to ‘bring it’ when it’s show time. He chickens out. He needs a sport psychologist.

      Comment by Paulette — May 10, 2009 @ 7:20 pm | Reply


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