Saturday, August 30, 2008

When Did Jamaica Become the Sprint Capital of the World?

After having time to digest the Beijing Olympics, I'm left wondering the same thing: when did Jamaica, a nation of 2.8 million people, dominate both men and women sprinting?

When Jamaica swept the women's 100 meters the night after Jamaica's Usain Bolt become the World's Fastest Man (WFM), something didn't feel right. It didn't help that the Shelly-Ann Fraser, the winner of the 100m with a time of 10.78, didn't have a time under 11 seconds until this year. Another flag that came up: Fraser was sporting braces. High levels of HGH use include teeth gapping. Fraser is 21, comes from the inner city in Kingston and it's clear that she's going through braces later on in life. She is also a member of the Stephen Francis coached MVP Track Club based at the University of Technology.

The defending world champion in the 100m, Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown, did not even qualify for the Olympics, yet ran the fastest 4th place qualifying time in the 100m. Campbell-Brown is not coached by Francis nor is part of the MVP Track Club. Another development that makes Fraser's performance in Beijing so unbelievable, is that per The Jamaica Observer in August 2007, she was "really looking ahead to the 2012 games in London, England, where she is picturing herself winning the 100m gold medal." The '08 games were not even a possibility less than a year ago. What changed so quickly in that time period for Fraser?

Looking at the world champion Veronica Campbell-Brown's yearly progression in the 100m, the biggest yearly decline was .37 of a second when she was 17 going on to 18. Since achieving a yearly personal best under 11 seconds in 2004, it has wavered .14 a second between 10.99 and 10.85 seconds. Her progression appears normal while Fraser came out of nowhere and was targeting the Olympics four years from now.

Jamaican women's sprinting history begins and ends with Merlene Ottey, the "Queen of Track." She has won medals at the Olympics for Jamaica in the 100m starting in 1984 through 2000. How is that longevity possible? No male had such a streak. During that period, there was some controversy involving PED's. In 1999 at an international meet in Switzerland, both "A" and "B" urine samples were positive for the steroid nandrolone. She claimed she was innocent of knowingly taking steroids. Eventually, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) cleared Ottey of all charges in the summer of 2000. In 1998, she already had moved to Slovenia and began training with Slovene coach Srdjan Djordjevic while still representing Jamaica, but started representing her new country in 2002.

As for the men and Usain Bolt, everything has been said that needs to be said: unbelievable. When comparisons are being made to Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, we're getting way ahead of ourselves...easy Stephen Francis, coach of MVP Track Club. Everyone wants to believe they saw history on the track, much like in the summer of '98 when McGwire and Sosa were chasing "history." We're a society of suckers. The X-Files was right: We want to believe.

The problem occurs when Ben Johnson, Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones amazed us with their superhuman accomplishments, vowed that they were clean and then ended up serving doping suspensions. A reporter from the New York Times reported that the way to beat the urine test is to drop a grain of powdered laundry detergent since it will destroy EPO and HGH in the sample. With the positives not nearly matching the expectations, it looks like the cheaters are once again ahead of the testers.

Will the Jamaicans continue to dominate sprinting on the world stage or is this a temporary blip? When the women's world champion doesn't even qualify for the Olympics and then the country sweeps the 100m, I'd say they have the women's side locked up for the near future. With Bolt, everyone else is racing for second. Will other sprinters be tempted to dope to bridge the gap to catch up to Bolt? Wait and see.

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