August 16, 2008

Running is part of the culture in Jamaica. Children run everywhere -- on the beach, up a hill or down the street. Racing each other is a serious game. To be known as a fast runner immediately grants status.

Thus, it was no surprise that pandemonium ensued after Usain Bolt won the 100 at the Beijing Games on Saturday. Screams and shouts of joy erupted over the small island on Saturday. And just as the country was remembering how to breathe again, the Jamaican women swept the 100 less than 24 hours later, the first time in Olympic history one nation had swept the event. Shelly-Ann Frasier, like Bolt, went into the record book as the first Jamaicans to win gold in the event. Teammates Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson continued the groundbreaking achievement by tying for silver.

In a country of 2.8 million people, heroes are made quickly. Greatness spreads without announcements and everyone wants to be the next great one. When Bolt ran 9.76 at the Jamaica International Invitational on May 3, the country buzzed with the possibility of he and Asafa Powell running the 100 at the Olympics. I attended the meet and saw how Bolt was immediately embraced as the new star, even though he had been running for years. By the time Bolt ran at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York on May 31, Jamaicans overwhelmingly filled the stands to witness him break Powell's world record at 9.72.

At the Jamaican Olympic trials in June, the National Stadium was filled with more than 15,000 fans, the largest turnout at an Olympic trial in Kingston. The Minister of Sports, Olivia Grange, said in reference to either Bolt or Powell winning the 100 in Beijing "it's a win, win situation."

Jamaica is a country where rhythm and music is a natural part of life. Whether it's the crash of waves at the beach or the booming base line from the latest reggae song, there's always a beat in the air. Soon after Bolt broke the world record in the 100 in New York, reggae singer Lloyd Lovindeer, wrote a song, Run Like the Wind. It was the unofficial anthem at the Olympic trials and blasted through the speakers at the break between heats.

With this pulse comes the varied and many reasons for the success of such a small nation in producing some of the best sprinters in the world. Minister Grange said during Reebok, "maybe it's the very healthy clean waters we drink, the beautiful sunshine and the great fruits we eat. But there is a spirit in us. There is that spirit that makes us rise to challenges and we see ourselves as equal to the task."

As Lovindeer sang, "all eyes are on the little one love nation."

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