This piece first appeared in Yahoo! sports.
By HOWARD CAMPBELL, Associated Press Writer
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP)—From the ease of Usain Bolt’s record-smashing 100 meters to the sweep in the women’s 100, the world is learning what Jamaicans knew all along.
This Caribbean nation, which once got a few chuckles by fielding an Olympic bobsled team, is no joke when it comes to track and field.
Jamaica’s success in Beijing has sent islanders into the streets, dancing and banging pots to celebrate the triumphs. It also has generated curiosity about how a nation of nearly 3 million known for its reggae music and beaches can produce such phenomenal runners.
The answer lies in a reggae song featured on the Jamaica Athletic Association’s Web site .
“We’ve been running ever since we came here, many years ago,” the song goes. “Now the whole world wanna know how we running so. They say there must be something in the air, down there in Jamaica, that make Jamaicans run like the wind.”
Lloyd Lovindeer wrote the song after Bolt broke the 100-meter record of his countryman Asafa Powell in May.
“Jamaica has always had sprinters of promise,” said Bruce James, president of the MVP Track Club, whose members include Powell and Shelly-Ann Fraser, the 100-meter gold medalist at Beijing.
Of Jamaica’s prominence in the 2008 Olympics, James said: “This is long overdue.”
In fact, today’s red-hot runners are just the latest generation of Jamaican Olympians, who first competed in the Summer Games 60 years ago.
George Walcott, head track coach at a Eugene, Ore., high school, said Jamaicans have long seen track as a path to college and stardom—himself included. Walcott, originally from Kingston, said his inspirations in the 1970s were Olympic medalists Donald Quarrie and Lennox Miller.
“Quarrie winning gold in the 200 in the 1976 Olympics and silver in the 100 was a catapult for a lot of kids who thought, ‘If I work hard I can be like Don Quarrie,’” Walcott said.
Track and field is as dear to Jamaicans as soccer is to Brazilians and baseball to Cubans. The annual girls and boys track and field athletic championships draw bigger crowds than any sporting event in the country.
Jamaica showed its prowess even in its first Olympic appearance, in the London Games of 1948.
That year, Arthur Wint won a gold medal and Herbert McKenley a silver. Four years later, Jamaica won the 1,600-meter men’s relay. George Rhoden took gold in the 400 meters.
At Mexico City in 1968, Miller won a silver medal in the 100 meters. And two decades later, Merlene Ottey, Grace Jackson, Juliet Cuthbert and Raymond Stewart all excelled at the Olympics, world championship and Grand Prix level.
In Beijing, Jamaica had taken five medals as of Tuesday, including Bolt’s gold for running the 100 in 9.69 seconds, breaking his own world record. On Wednesday, Bolt races in the 200 meters, trying to become the first man since Carl Lewis in 1984 to sweep the 100 and 200.
Bolt came to international prominence in 2002 when he won the 200 meters at the World Junior Championships in Jamaica. Pablo McNeil, who coached Bolt at William Knibb High School in Trelawny parish, wasn’t surprised. He had seen Bolt run the 100 in 10.3 when he was only 15.
Walcott, who ran for the University of Oregon and competed in the world championships for Jamaica in 1983, said a new crop of Jamaican runners will be inspired by events in Beijing.
“Now you’re going to have more kids being spurred on to be the next Usain Bolt,” Walcott said.
Associated Press writer Andrew O. Selsky in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this story.
On the Net:
Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association: http://www.jaaaltd.com/