Olympic Track & Field 2012: Are Jamaican Sprinters Now Untouchable?
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Following a brilliant performance at the 2008 Beijing Games, the sprinters of Jamaica's track squad haven't had much trouble continuing to build Olympic momentum in London. Led by the incomparable Usain Bolt, Jamaicans conquered early sprinting action at the 2012 Olympics and left America's elite runners in their wake.
Bolt blew by a ridiculously talented field of sprinters in Sunday's 100-meter final, repeating as the Olympic gold medalist and retaining his title as World's Fastest Man.
Jamaican teammate Yohan "The Beast" Blake, the 2011 event world champion, followed behind in second place. U.S. sprinters finished third, fourth and fifth (American Justin Gatlin grabbed bronze).
Bolt continues to share the Olympic spotlight with swimmer Michael Phelps, each emerging as the dominant forces in their respective sports. Both are marketing machines, globally known and seemingly untouchable when at the top of their game.
Phelps cemented his legend last week. Bolt's launched his legacy into a similar Olympic realm on Sunday.
“It was wonderful,” Bolt told The New York Times. “I knew it was going to be like this. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind... It means one step closer to becoming a legend.”
Fellow Jamaican sprinting star Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce defended her Olympic title in Saturday's women's 100-meter final. She edged U.S. sprinter and silver medalist Carmelita Jeter, the race's reigning world champion.
Jeter ran a near-perfect race but just couldn't overcome her Jamaican rival, who reached the finish line in 10.75 seconds. The margin between gold and silver was .03 seconds.
Fraser-Pryce is the first woman to repeat in the Olympics' premier track event since American Gale Devers won successive Summer Games golds in 1992 and 1996.
"I don't know much about the history of track and field," Fraser-Pryce told ESPN. "But I know Gail Devers."
The annals of Olympic track and field feats are filled with the accomplishments of American-born superstars.
Devers. Greene. Lewis. Flo Jo. Joyner Kersee. Johnson. Jenner. Fosbury. Rudolph. Owens.
U.S. runners have carved out a predominant role in the sport's history.
Yes, U.S. sprinters routinely reach the award podium. Lately, however, they've been standing a notch below the top spot.
The Jamaicans have grown very accustomed to filling that space. And they aren't afraid to admit it.
"Jamaican sprints for women have been going great for a long time now," Veronica Campbell-Brown told ESPN after winning bronze in Saturday's 100-meter final. "We never fail to deliver and it continues."
Jamaica native Linford Christie won the 100-meter silver and gold at the 1988 and 1992 Games, respectively. Although Christie emigrated to London at a young age and represented Great Britain as an Olympian, he understands the confident demeanor of Jamaican sprinters.
"Sprinting is a Jamaican attitude," Christie told CNN. "To be a sprinter you need to be a little bit of showoff. Because like the heavyweight boxing champions of the world, this is what sprinting is all about and, you know, Jamaicans just love to show off!"
Since the 2008 Olympics, Jamaicans are 6-for-6 in individual sprints. After sweeping the 100 and 200-meter dashes in Beijing, they're halfway to duplicating the feat in London.
Jamaica is also the defending Olympic champion in the men's 4x100 meter relay.
"I think it was a good wake-up call," U.S. men's coach Andrew Valmon told Reuters when discussing the Jamaicans' 2008 dominance. "You will find that every event has stepped up in the U.S., (and) that is because we needed to."
So far we've seen Americans secure medals in both sprints, but the Jamaicans' monopoly on gold continues.
"I think it is very important for the U.S. to really try to get back on top in the sprints," Tyson Gay told Reuters prior to the Olympics.
Gay, a three-time world champion, settled for fourth place in the men's 100-meter final.
American sprinters have two more opportunities to end the Jamaican reign.
The men's 200-meter final takes place on Thursday. U.S. veteran Wallace Spearmon should be in the mix for a medal and will compete against both Bolt and Blake.
The women's 200-meter final is Wednesday. Two-time event silver medalist Allyson Felix figures to give American track it's best shot at knocking off the Jamaicans, as she faces Fraser-Pryce and Campbell Brown in a riveting showdown.
Bolt believes that Jamaica's recent success is reflective of its emerging youth athletic programs.
"I feel we push our young athletes," Bolt told CNN. "There is this thing called the Boys and Girls Championships in Jamaica, which showcases the talent. The level of competition is really high because it pushes you every day to be the best in your event, in your class."
Today, Jamaica celebrated 50 years of independence from Great Britain. The circumstances are not lost on these sprinting sensations.
"The excitement has already started," Fraser-Pryce told ESPN after her 100-meter win. "For me, what's really kind of exciting is we got our independence from England and now we're here in England and we get our first medal. For me, that kind of tops it off."
A golden era is clearly underway for Jamaica, and it has swept up the sprinting world. Now the question becomes, how do American runners (and everyone else for that matter) adapt and overcome?
It doesn't seem likely that they'll find the answer early on in London.
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