Track and field is a superstar-driven sport. Jamaica’s sprinting superstars, four-time Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt and rising star Yohan Blake, made it clear at the 2012 Olympic Games that their nation is the dominant force in the men’s 100- and 200-meter dashes.
The United States, a nation which once had considerably more success in those events than any other, has fallen far behind and must develop a sprinting superstar of their own to be competitive again with Jamaica for gold.
The growing gap between the two nations was proven at the 2012 Olympic Games, with Jamaica claiming double gold and silver, earning five out of the total six medals in those events.
The leader of Jamaica’s surge to men’s sprinting superstardom, Usain Bolt, became the first man to win back-to-back Olympic gold in the 200 on Thursday. Four days earlier, he became only the second man to win back-to-back 100 titles.
Bolt has been far from alone, however, in the Jamaican takeover of men’s sprinting, especially at the 2012 Games. Yohan Blake earned double silver in the 100 and 200, while Warren Weir earned the 200 bronze for a Jamaican sweep of that event’s medals.
The only U.S. man to earn a spot on either podium was Justin Gatlin, who finished third in the 100 to take bronze. Had Jamaica’s other sprinting star, Asafa Powell, not suffered a groin injury in the 100 final, the Jamaicans had a chance to sweep both events.
Jamaica’s dominance in the 100 and 200 is relatively new, but has become a consistency over the past four years, as Jamaica has won every gold in both events at both the past two Olympics and past two World Championships in 2009 and 2011.
Prior to 2008, the U.S. was earning medals in the two events at a much more frequent rate than any other nation. In the six Olympics between 1984 and 2004, the U.S. won four golds and eight total medals in the 100 and five golds and 11 total medals in the 200.
Currently, however, Jamaica has positioned themselves well ahead of the U.S., and Team USA has yet to find an answer to their dominance. In 2012 alone, Bolt and Blake hold the five fastest 100 times in the world. Additionally, six of the 12 fastest sprinters to run the 100 this year are from Jamaica.
Jamaica’s 200 times have been even more dominant. The four fastest 200 runners in the world this year are all Jamaicans, and nine out of the 12 fastest times run this year have been by Jamaicans.
Jamaica’s sprinting dominance has also carried over to the 4x100-meter relay in which they also won gold at the 2008 Games and at the past two world championships. If the U.S. were to take one back by defeating Jamaica in Saturday’s 4x100, it would come as an absolute shock, as they will be going up against a team likely to be led off by Blake and anchored by Bolt.
The U.S. is going to need a significant breakthrough going forward to end Jamaica’s sprinting reign. Usain Bolt is only 25 years old, making it very likely he will contend for three-peats in both the 100 and 200 at the 2016 Rio Games. If Bolt ends up past his prime, he will be succeeded by Blake, who is still just beginning to emerge as a star at only 21 years of age.
The United States’ best hope of challenging Bolt and Blake, at least in the 100, may be Ryan Bailey, a 23-year-old who started to break out at the Games by running two of his three fastest 100 times ever. Bolt and Blake, however, have made it clear that they are far ahead of the competition, and as evidenced by the times, there is a strong wave of Jamaican sprinters behind them as well.
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Dan Hope is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist covering the 2012 Olympic Games. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.