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Jamaican sprint team continue dominance in London
Frankie Conway reflects on the Jamaican's dominance after they once again showed why they are the dominant force in world sprinting...
After lighting up the Bird's Nest stadium with 11 medals at the Beijing Olympics four years ago, a lot was expected of the Jamaican athletics team coming into London 2012. The hunters had become the hunted. No athlete embodied this position more than the 100 and 200 metre world record holder Usain Bolt. Having secured three sensational gold medals in 2008, Bolt was there to be shot at this time around. The 25-year-old's two surprise losses at the hands of the prodigiously talented Yohan Blake at the Jamaican Olympic trials earlier this year, coupled with rumours of hamstring problems, had planted the remote possibility that Bolt's seeming invincibility was about to be dented.
But any pre-Games doubts about the credentials of the Jamaican team and their talisman Bolt were proved completely unfounded, as the team in yellow, led by the three-time defending champion, soared to third in the athletics medals table with a total of 12. The Jamaicans' shared the sprinting honours with their arch rivals, the USA, winning gold in the men's 100 metres, 200 metres, four by 100 metre relay and women's 100 metres.
Anyone who has ever questioned the professionalism and care Usain Bolt has for his sport needs to seriously revise their view in light of the extraordinary events of London 2012. After Blake beat his iconic compatriot in both the 100 metres and 200 metres a month prior to the Games, Bolt quietly got his head down in preparation for the Olympics. The six foot five inch sprinter pulled out of all Diamond League races in the build up to London and refused to reveal himself to the outside world at an open training event in Birmingham during their two week stay in the West Midlands. Everything about Bolt's preparation was geared towards defending his Olympic titles and fulfilling his self-professed title of 'athletics legend'.
And the results speak for themselves - Olympic 100 metre champion, time 9.63 seconds (Olympic record); Olympic 200 metre champion, time 19.32 seconds (fourth fastest time ever) and four by 100 metre relay gold, time 36.84 seconds (world record). The test of a true champion is their ability to repeat groundbreaking successes. This takes hunger, desire, hard work and ultimately a burning hatred of losing. Bolt's victories in London clearly demonstrated that he possesses these qualities.
Discarding Bolt's bravado and tomfoolery we see a ruthless and determined winning machine. But when the theatrical antics are added to the mix, for me we are witnesses to the greatest sportsperson of all time, one whose unique blend of sporting greatness and charismatic persona has almost single-handedly elevated the sport of athletics into a riveting, unmissable spectacle.
But it would be wrong to ignore the other Jamaican triumphs that occurred in London. Another athlete who has joined the pantheon of sprinting legends is Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Like Bolt, the 25-year-old came to London as the defending 100 metre champion and she was also able to rise to the pressure of being favourite to retain her title.
Another Jamaican success story emerged in the form of Yohan Blake. The 22-year old's arrival in the British capital came with a strong degree of expectation and anticipation. Was this the man who was about to assume the mantle of sprint king from his friend and training partner? Despite not being able to quite topple the legend, Blake acquitted himself admirably. The man nicknamed 'The Beast' collected two individual silver medals, clocking impressive times in both the 100 metres (9.75 seconds) and 200 metres (19.45 seconds), as well as a gold in the sprint relay, where his third leg performance went a long way to staving off the challenge of the United States.
Along with Blake, two other 22-year-olds have made serious names for themselves as a result of the London Olympics. The first of these is Hansle Parchment. The tall, powerful hurdler looked a real contender throughout the qualifying rounds in the 110 metre event. Lining up in the final next to some more renowned names, Parchment showed tremendous focus and self-belief to power through in the second half of the race to finish a convincing third.
Not many people would have been aware of Jamaican 200 metre runner Warren Weir prior to the Games. But the effervescent young Jamaican wasn't there to make up the numbers alongside Bolt and Blake in the Jamaican team. Moreover, Weir showed he was the best of the rest, collecting a well earned bronze medal to complete a historic Jamaican one-two-three in the 200 metres.
Jamaica's achievements can be largely attributed to the superb coaching structure in place to nurture the athletes. Working alongside the athletes during Jamaica's two week stay in Birmingham, I got a real insight into the organised nature of their training system. Physios, doctors and specialist coaches all worked in close harmony to produce the best possible outcome for their athletes. This was particularly apparent within the training set-up of Parchment. Together with his coach Fitz Coleman, the Olympic bronze medallist worked closely with Dr Francois-Xavier Li from the Sport and Exercise Sciences department at the University of Birmingham. Li filmed Parchment's start on a number of occasions, and using a technology that measured the height of clearance over each hurdle, was able to give the hurdler constructive pointers to help improve the first 20 metres of his race. Such scrupulous preparation clearly benefitted the rangy athlete during his Olympic exploits.
Repeating a winning formula is never easy. But it is exactly what the Jamaican athletics team accomplished in London. The rest of the world are no nearer finding a challenger to the duopoly of Bolt and Blake in men's sprinting and with athletes like Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown still very much in the shake up for medals, the country's female charge looks strong enough too. With such a knowledgeable, harmonious and innovative training set-up, the legacy of Jamaican athletics look strong. Expect the hunted to evade capture for a while.