This is an article from the Oct. 20, 2008 issue
The sprinter flewinto Manley International hours ago, nerves rattled, desperate to sleep. Butnow she sees the welcoming crowd outside, and her braces shine in the Kingstonnight; now she's tunneling into the people, giggling in a black hoodie with askull and crossbones and the words LOVE KILLS ablaze across her chest.Shelly-Ann Fraser climbs onto a plush convertible, perches atop the trunk likea parade queen as it roars away. A dump truck, loaded with faces from her oldneighborhood, pulls up soon after, too late. SHELLY-ANN, says the banner strungacross the rear, WATERHOUSE.
The homecoming hasbegun. They're filtering back, the heroes of Beijing, the biggest shock of the2008 Olympic Games. Who saw Jamaica coming? Who saw that this nation of just2.8 million, the island whose reggae legend, Bob Marley, sang famously,"Let's get together and feel all right," would get together with therest of the world in China and kick its collective tail? Yet that's whathappened night after night in the Bird's Nest: Jamaica won 11 sprinting medals,six of them gold, three alone on the wings of record-smashing supernova UsainBolt.
No nation—notnearby Cuba, not even the mighty U.S.—came close to the island's per capitahaul. China expended seven years of blood, sweat and cash to win the 2008 goldmedal count, and it came away with a mere 51. If it had won at Jamaica's rate,China would have 2,785 Olympic champions to brag about.
Still, it's easyto think Jamaicans could have been happy with just two. As Fraser says,Jamaicans "eat and sleep" sprinting, and there's no sprint moreglamorous than the 100 meters. In Beijing, Fraser and Bolt became the firstJamaican woman and man to win those Olympic titles. It's a bonus, of course,that between the 21-year-old champions—Fraser from inner-city Kingston in theeast, Bolt from country-road Trelawny in the west—Jamaica gets a vividembodiment of its grim trials and great talent. And it's a gift for the curiousoutsider that between Fraser's return home at one end of the week and Bolt's atthe other, all the national pride, defensiveness, joy and paranoia attendingtheir success will bubble to the surface and pop.
So we stumble outof customs with the rest of the tourists and see the hundreds of fans jammingaround the convertible. We see Fraser, hardly fresh off a 20-day post-Olympicwhirl through Switzerland, England and Germany, hardly awake after winning theIAAF/VTB Bank Athletics 100-meter final and $30,000 in Stuttgart the daybefore, so scared of flying that she had white-knuckled her way back withoutrest. We wander over. Someone mentions a party.
And off we go toKingston's Waterhouse district, rolling slowly through the dark, around theman-sized potholes. "This true garrison," says Ralph the driver. Weclimb out in the Waterhouse neighborhood known as Moscow. It's past 9 p.m. Amural livens the wall at the end of Ashoka Road with the words AMAZING! and10.78 SECONDS on top and Fraser's luminous face below. An eight-year-old boylopes past, swigging a bottle of beer. Power lines droop to neck level. Bonydogs lap at the raw sewage along the road. Garrison is the Jamaican term forinner-city areas besieged by internecine violence and dominated byquasi-political, often criminal gang leaders known as dons. Factional warfarein Waterhouse has already claimed more than 30 lives in 2008; word is, theconflict among Moscow, Back Lane and Bush Mouth has accounted for about a dozenof them.
When Shelly-Annwon the 100-meter final in Beijing on Aug. 17, the killing in Waterhouse allbut stopped. This is no surprise. In 2002 two-time Olympic silver medalistJuliet Cuthbert found herself facing a gunman in downtown Kingston. "AfterI realized I had no money to give, I thought, He's going to kill my ass,"Cuthbert says. "I told him who I was. He put his gun away, gave me back mycellphone and said, 'I'm sorry. I didn't know it was you, and times are hard.'That's the respect an athlete gets in Jamaica." During the nine days inAugust during which Fraser and Bolt led Jamaica to unprecedented Olympicsuccess, the crime rate dropped across the island.
No one is foolenough to predict that the calm in Waterhouse will last. "But at thismoment," says Shelly-Ann's twentysomething uncle Omar Fraser, "it'speace, love and happiness."
More than athousand people mill about Ashoka Road: Any minute now Shelly-Ann will comehome for the first time since Beijing. A bank of 10-foot speakers squats in thecenter of the street. A makeshift bar sits in front of the Frasers' tenement.Dancehall tunes rattle and pound; a peanut vendor pedals by, his oven emittingan ear-splitting hiss. A woman with green and gold cords braided into her hairbrushes past.
The music stops.Shelly-Ann's mom, a street vendor named Maxine Simpson, who supported threekids selling underwear, socks and rags, takes up the microphone. She sings,"God is goooood, God is good to me." One voice from the crowd joins in,then three, then more with each word. They sing, "How could I let Him down?How could I let Him down? So good to me...."
Maxine stopssinging. "All hands now," she commands, calling for prayer."Father, my Father, I come to you with everything. I thank you forstrength, life. Lord, without you, we are nothing. When we have you, we haveeverything...."
A man pulls up ona bike. "It would make you weep, the things Shelly-Ann went through, butshe's persistent," he says. "A great example. Plenty more kids want tobe like Shelly-Ann."
Now Maxine isshouting, "Hear me out! I want the future for the kids.... We want them togrow, to come and support the parents. Pick them up so they can walk again inlove and Christ. Let them live...."
But the crowd hasgrown restless. It's breaking up when a sudden stir can be felt rolling ourway, up the middle of Ashoka Road. Heads turn: Fifty feet away, approachingfast, hundreds of bodies are at once falling back from and pushing in on thisone small face, trying to clear a path while all of Waterhouse leans in to see.A voice yells, "She coming!"
WHEN BOLT andFraser won the 100-meter finals, they altered the way Jamaicans regardthemselves. Jamaica, a sprinting power since its first Olympics, in 1948, hadproduced gold medalists such as Arthur Wint and Donald Quarrie, world-recordholders such as Asafa Powell and proud warriors such as Herb McKenley, buttheir achievements seemed perfectly scaled for an island of its size. Primetalents such as Donovan Bailey emigrated and competed for bigger, richernations. Merlene Ottey, with eight Olympic medals, none of them gold, bestembodied the Jamaican track persona: always feared, but doomed to place orshow.
Then Bolt struckand Fraser followed, and if they had merely been the first Jamaicans to win theOlympic 100, that would have been plenty. But there was also the matter ofstyle. Fraser romped to the gold in 10.78 seconds, grinning so hard at thefinish, leaping and punching the air with such glee, that it seemed she mightlevitate for her victory lap.
Then again, shehad the toughest act in history to follow: The night before, Bolt, gliding inwith arms outstretched for the last 30 meters, crushed the field in aworld-record time of 9.69, then pulled off his shoes, danced two goofy danceswith the Jamaican flag about his neck and pointed his fingers in a pantomime oflightning. Jamaicans named his victory stance "To the World!"
The displayprovoked a public chiding from Jacques Rogge, but forgive the IOC president hismistake. Steroid busts and a two-decade parade of dour egos would bluntanyone's ability to recognize ... fun. Like Fraser, Bolt was only giving "aJamaican flavor to what happened," says Michael Carr, Fraser's coach atWolmer's High School for Girls in Kingston. "Pure passion and joy."
And it was onlythe beginning. Fraser led a Jamaican sweep of the 100, and wins by VeronicaCampbell-Brown in the 200 and Melaine Walker in the 400-meter hurdlespunctuated the best-ever Olympic performance by Jamaican women. Bolt,meanwhile, not only won the 100 but also broke Michael Johnson'sonce-unbreakable world record of 19.32 in the 200 and then powered Team Jamaicato gold in a world-record time of 37.10 in the 4 √ó 100 final. Jamaica,suddenly, was the sprint capital of the world.
Two days laterJamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding opened his celebratory speech to thecountry by crying, "What a mighty people we are!" When the video boardat Half-Way Tree—Kingston's Times Square—flashed its lineup of Jamaican heroes,dignified nation builders such as Marcus Garvey, Norman Manley and Paul Boglewere joined by Bolt, shooting his fingers at the sky.
Carr, meanwhile,found his fall program at Wolmer's swamped. At first none of the new girlswanted to run anything longer than 400 meters; Jamaicans like their races shortand straight. "Everybody wants to run the 100," Carr says. "I hadthat problem with Shelly: She would not accept running the 400. It's a sprint,but kids here see it as long distance."
Practice time: Weare sitting just off Wolmer's dirt track, its lane lines lost in a decade'sgrowth of grass. More than 80 girls are stretching, sprinting, gasping. The50-year-old Carr, a onetime disciple of Bolt's coach, Glen Mills, has been atWolmer's for 20 years. Shelly-Ann came to him at 12, renowned for winningprimary school races barefoot. An alumna, an elderly woman in New York City,paid the modest fee for her books.
Shelly-Ann calledCarr two days after winning in Beijing. It was 3 a.m. in Kingston. "Coach,I did it," she said softly. Carr didn't jump as he had when he saw it liveon TV, screaming so loudly that he disrupted a church service next door. Hedidn't cry as he had then, and he didn't say that he could well retire now,because what else is there for a Jamaican track coach to do after producing anOlympic champion? "Yes," Carr murmured. "Yes, my girl."
WE SHOW up atKingston's Courtleigh Hotel early for our afternoon appointment, but Jamaica'santidoping czar is already there. Before we have a chance to ask a question,Dr. Herb Elliott asks what has happened to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED. "How do youput this Carl Lewis thing in your magazine?" he says. "Carl is notknown for his brain power. So how does SPORTS ILLUSTRATED quote this manwithout [saying] that this man is an idiot?"
It has, for fivedays now, been the nation's hottest topic. On Sept. 11 Lewis, a nine-timeOlympic gold medalist, voiced to SI.com his suspicions about Bolt's performancein Beijing and about the integrity of Jamaica's antidoping program. He listedsix men in history who have run sub-9.8 100s—Ben Johnson, Justin Gatlin, TimMontgomery, Tyson Gay, Powell and Bolt—and noted that the first two testedpositive for performance-enhancing drugs, and the third was banned after beinglinked to the BALCO scandal. "So when people ask me about Bolt," Lewissaid, "I say he could be the greatest athlete of all time, but for someoneto run 10.03 one year and 9.69 the next, if you don't question that ... you'rea fool. Period."
No Jamaicansprinter tested positive in Beijing. Earlier this year the IAAF placed Jamaicafifth on its list of the 15 countries subjected to the most out-of-competitiontests by the federation. But the nation's lack of a fully funded testingprogram, as well as its refusal to join the Caribbean Regional Anti-DopingOrganization, sparked summer-long criticism that was further fueled on the eveof the Olympics by the national team's dismissal of sprinter Julien Dunkley, arelay reserve, for having tested positive at the Olympic trials in June.
In August, Jamaicaagreed to set up its own antidoping program, but that news was drowned out inSeptember by another SI.com report, which found that two sprinters fromJamaica's 2008 Olympic team, Delloreen Ennis-London and Adrian Findlay, hadreceived shipments of banned performance-enhancing drugs at their U.S. homes asrecently as early '07. Both athletes denied using the substances but did notdeny receiving the shipments.
Still, these daysit's Lewis who draws the most Jamaican fire. Today's Jamaica Gleaner containsletters criticizing the former Olympic champion, and the lead editorial in thismorning's Daily Observer, titled POOR CARL LEWIS, dismisses him asmean-spirited and envious. Elliott, 68, a member of the IAAF medical and dopingcommission as well as the Jamaican Amateur Athletic Association (JAAA), insiststhat Jamaica has been serious about nailing drug cheats for the last 13 years.He notes that Powell's older brother Donovan tested positive for ephedrine in1995 and that the JAAA nabbed sprinters Patrick Jarrett in 2001 and SteveMullings in '04. In '08 Elliott adds, Bolt was tested out of competition fourtimes, Powell six and Fraser three. "We have absolutely nothing tohide," Elliott says.
As if on cue, hiscellphone rings: a JAAA official looking to clarify what should be done withDunkley. "You need to send this man a letter stating that if he doesn'trespond, that you'll have to hear him in absentia and you'll sentence himanyhow," Elliott says into his phone. "Because the IAAF needs to knowwhat we're doing.... Anyhow, we want to ban him for the two years. The onething I want to find out about, I understand he had problems in the NCAAbefore. If that is so, we'll ban him for life."
Dunkley competedin the U.S. for East Carolina and won the 2003 NCAA indoor 60-meterchampionship before being stripped of it for undisclosed reasons. During thattime he also worked with expatriate Jamaican coach Trevor Graham, training inthe same doping-tainted group as Montgomery and Marion Jones. Graham is nowbanned from coaching in the U.S.
Elliott was partof the early wave of sprinters who made studying and competing in the U.S. aJamaican rite of passage. But when Asafa Powell decided in 2001 to attendKingston's University of Technology (UTech), that narrative underwent aprofound shift. The most prominent Jamaican-born sprinters who have testedpositive, going back to Canada's Johnson in 1988 and Barcelona gold medalistLinford Christie of Great Britain in '99, had worked overseas—innocents, itseems, who came under the influence of corrupt foreign coaches. "I am goingto stay in Jamaica," Powell declared in 2004, "and beat the worldnaturally."
Many of the newJamaican stars—including Bolt, Fraser and Walker—spent the last four yearstraining and studying in Kingston. The island's Olympic delegation went off toBeijing with a new mind-set. "F--- the Americans," Elliott says."That is what we thought. Who the hell are they? We're better thanthem."
Lewis is a perfecttarget for such invective, and when Elliott is asked what, specifically, hefinds so unfair in Lewis's statements, he begins by calling Lewis "full ofs---" and "an imbecile." But then it hits him that he hasn'tanswered the question—and, really, can't. "Don't get me wrong," Elliottsays finally. "I don't trust any of my athletes either."
ONCE SEVEN of itsrunners—Fraser, Powell, Walker, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Sherone Simpsonand Shericka Williams—won medals in Beijing, the upstart MVP Track & FieldClub became the new power in Jamaican sprinting. But when coach Stephen Francishung out MVP's shingle at UTech in 2001, none of the top Jamaican talent headedthere. "We got the bottom of the barrel," says Paul Francis, Stephen'sbrother and the women's coach at UTech. "Asafa was no star in high school;Sherone couldn't win a race. Shelly-Ann? Oh, God. Shelly-Ann would get her asswhipped every single time."
Finally running inspikes instead of bare feet, Fraser showed promise at Wolmer's, but she didn'twin much until age 17, when she took a second-tier 100 meters in 11.73 atChamps, Jamaica's equivalent of the Super Bowl. More than 35,000 fans cram intothe National Stadium each spring for these high school championships. But thenShelly-Ann got lazy: She spent the next year eating fast food and fading inrace after race. After losing a scholarship offer to Alabama because of poormath scores, she bumped into Paul Francis one night at a KFC. He persuaded herto give UTech a try.
"You can neverpredict how quickly they will explode into something special," Francissays. "But if you asked me two years ago, 'Are you recruiting her becauseyou think she'll be an Olympic champion?' I'd have said, 'Are youcrazy?'"
Thunder rumbles;the sun blazes. The tidy UTech campus hasn't changed much since 2001: Thebuildings are still low-slung, the track needs mowing, the training rooms arecramped. Francis stands in a parking lot near the track, waiting for Fraser toreturn from her first day back in class. He knows what track people say: Boltmay have improved by .34 of a second in a year, but he had been considered amind-blowing talent since age 15. Fraser shaved nearly a half second off herpersonal best (11.31 to 10.85) from June 2007 to the Jamaican nationalchampionships 12 months later—and she was no Bolt.
"There are oneof two ways to do this if you want to achieve greatness," Francis says."You can either go to the needle or you can work for it." He mentionsMVP's daily 5 a.m. workouts. He says that from October 2007 on, Shelly-Annwould always be the first there, waiting in the cold and dark, ready towork.
Still, they didn'twant her to run. Who? Some of the public, for sure. The JAAA and the otherJamaican runners, maybe. The fact is, although Fraser had finished second inthe island's 2008 Olympic trials—with the top three finishers supposedly lockedin to compete in Beijing—a groundswell rose to remove her from the 100-metersquad. After all, she was relatively unknown and inexperienced, andCampbell-Brown, who had finished fourth at the trials, was the event'sdefending world champion, not to mention the 200-meter Olympic gold medalist in2004. Shouldn't Jamaica put its greatest foot on the track, instead of this ...fluke?
In the weeksbefore Beijing, Fraser felt that weight bearing down. She considered quitting.But then she'd hear the same voice that motivated her whenever she'd getdiscouraged with school or with running and ponder leaving Wolmer's. You dothat? the voice said. You're not a survivor. You're weak.
She dug in. "Isaid to all of them, 'I earned my spot. I trained hard, and I came to theOlympics to win,'" Fraser says. "Every time I'm tired, I said, Shelly,get up. I'm sure my competitors were coming out thinking, Oh, Shelly-AnnFraser: the girl that nobody wanted to run in this great meet."
We're drivingthrough Kingston now, from UTech to Waterhouse, present to past. Thing was,Fraser missed Waterhouse those last two years of high school, when Carr and theprincipal set her up to live with a family near Wolmer's. Ashoka Road may havebeen distracting, but it was hers: Shelly-Ann had shared a bed with her mom andtwo brothers in that tenement room, and her grandmother lived next door. Somedays they didn't eat. Some days they'd go to shops and beg for credit, a bit offood. Her uncle Corey would later get shot and killed a few streets over, andcousin Dwayne was gunned down three days before his baby was born. But in themonths between graduating from Wolmer's and going to UTech, Shelly-Ann cameback anyway, sleeping in the same bed with her grandmother after an argumentwith her mother. "I love being home," she says.
A sudden, peltingrain begins, hitting our vehicle like buckshot. The borrowed pickup truckjounces onto Ashoka, past the mounds of gravel and dirt, the pavers andworkmen. The first reward for winning gold: The government sent workers to fixFraser's street. Hurricane Gustav delayed them a bit, leaving today's ravagedmudscape. "Trust me, if you saw this before, you would have never gone onit," Fraser says. "It was awful. It wasn't a road."
The block looksdifferent in daytime, bleached out and still. The speakers and bar are gone.The beverage signs have been peeled off the wall outside her family's yard,revealing a spray-painted declaration of Fraser's new rank in the garrisonhierarchy: SHELLY-ANN, GOLDEN GIRL, it says. MOSCOW ONE DON. "It meansshe's the leader," says a boy drifting over. "For what she'sdone."
Fraser and hermother lead a tour: outdoor toilets, rotted vegetables on the ground, rocks andshards of cinder blocks tossed on the tin roofs to keep the wind out. Shelly'suncle Omar walks up. Maxine introduces another uncle, skin leathered, nearlyincoherent, and now we're hurrying down Ashoka, heading around the block to anovergrown lot where his house burned down years ago. "Can you writesomething?" she says. "Can you help?"
Back on AshokaRoad, Omar edges up in a T-shirt reading, ME LOVE ME GANGA. He apologizes forhis joint, takes a long drag and says how proud he is that Shelly-Ann wants toopen a community center here next year, use the medal to help Waterhouse. Thefuture? "We can only hope for the best," he says.
Shelly-Ann wasnever bothered as a kid coming home at night from Wolmer's; the street boyscalled her Merlene and let her be. Now a schoolgirl approaches: braids, fouryears old, so proud of her spotless blue jumper and her new shoes."Shanneeka Williams," she whispers when asked her name, then leans downto wipe dust from her Mary Janes.
It's about thenthat we wonder what it takes, really, to get out of Waterhouse and run beforebillions in a stadium halfway around the world. We remember what Fraser saidthe first night: "I would want Mr. Dope-Man to come test me every day. Iwant him to test me in the morning, before I train, after I train, because I'mnot hiding one thing and I'm not taking anything. I'm a nervous type of person.Whenever I do something bad I'm just going to tell you, because my conscienceis going to hurt.
"I can tellyou one thing about my teammates: I know we are 100 percent clean. Hardtraining—we are vomiting. I mean, U.S. athletes are so privileged, they geteverything they want. And when it doesn't work their way, they cry. They don'tunderstand. We have to do good with what we have here. They have to come hereto live it, to see it."
An engine guns.Shanneeka hops up and down like a piston. "The truck is coming back!"she yelps, until her grandmother finally yells, "Stop thatjumping!"
"That's howShelly-Ann was," says another woman, "every day after school."
WE'RE ON our wayout of Kingston, off to see Usain Bolt at the other end of the country, when asign cuts through the morning blear: CUTHBERT'S FITNESS STUDIO. Ralph jerks thewheel, we slip into the weight room, and yes, there's the 100- and 200-metermedalist from 1992, showing a client how to work her abs.
A trackcommentator, member of the JAAA board and a potent voice in Jamaican sprinting,Cuthbert is often held up as Exhibit A by officials warning talent againsttraining in the U.S. In '87, after running for Texas, Cuthbert worked withAmerican coach Chuck DeBus, who, she says, declared that only one toprunner—Evelyn Ashford of the U.S.—ran clean, and that Cuthbert had to cheat towin. She left to train alone and returned to Jamaica telling everyone to becareful. In '90 the Athletics Congress banned DeBus from track and field forlife for inciting athletes to use banned substances.
Still, Cuthbertisn't entirely against training in America. After all, Beijing 100-meter silvermedalist Kerron Stewart won two NCAA titles for Auburn in 2007. "People aremaking it out like going [to the U.S.] is the worst thing," she says."It's not. I had fun. But I was able to think for myself."
Cuthbert neverconsidered Fraser a contender for Beijing. The sudden jump to 10.78? "IfShelly-Ann was from another country," Cuthbert says, "a bell would gooff in my head: Well, what is she doing?" But Cuthbert remembered thatFraser worked with her in '07, cut out KFC and lost five pounds and much bodyfat in just a month. Cuthbert decided that Shelly-Ann's coach, Stephen Francis,was too "arrogant" to stoop to drugs.
Cuthbert had alsogrown up hearing all the biological and cultural speculation about why such asmall country has such success in sprinting. Her first impulse is to say thereason is "genetic," and Bolt appears to agree. His Darwinian "maintheory," he says, is that the descendants of slaves in his part of theisland have superior strength and speed. Elliott says it's simply in theJamaican character to move fast, "even when chasing women. If you don'tmake a conquest early in the night, forget it, man."
Still, the factorsthat all agree upon are history, tradition and hunger. In 1910 theestablishment of the boys' high school championship in Kingston began a centuryof track obsession in Jamaica. Wint and McKenley finished one-two in the '48Olympic 400 in London and proved that the easiest sport for a poor kid toembrace could actually pay off in education, riches and fame.
Cuthbert hasanother reason to believe Fraser is clean: the fear of violence. Jamaica, withits gun culture, machetes in many houses, the harsh treatment commonly metedout to homosexuals and others who fly in the face of society, has one of thehighest murder rates in the Western Hemisphere. Sprinting is so important, someofficials suggest, that Bolt would be killed if he tested positive.
Hearing that,Cuthbert doesn't even blink. "Jamaicans will chop guys," she says."They love their sportsmen when they are doing well, and if not? If someonelike Bolt should come up [positive]? He probably would have to move."
WE ARRIVE inFalmouth, capital of the parish of Trelawny, three hours later, legs jellied bythe snaking pass that pretends to be a road. We're still decompressing whenLeon (Jacko) Jackson shows up with papers in hand. Jacko, a former junior coachand a friend of the Bolt family, presents them without explanation. But thepapers are a clear message for Carl Lewis: a photocopy of a 2003 articledetailing Bolt's year-by-year schoolboy dominance—evidence that his greatnessis nothing new.
Frater and thedisgraced Mullings grew up in Trelawny. But on our way up to Bolt's town,Sherwood Content, nine miles away, Jacko confirms that, yes, before Usain thebest sprinter to come out of the parish was Ben Johnson, busted for steroidsafter winning the Olympic 100 in 1988. Johnson's family immigrated to Canadawhen he was 15 and always came back to visit. But it took a few years for Bento come back after Seoul.
"People hadmixed feelings," Jacko says. "Some believe he was tricked, because Benbelieved in his coach, Charlie Francis. But Ben wasn't tricked. It was offeredto him, and he took it. He looked like Hulk, his eyes were red andyellow."
Jacko directs usthrough Sherwood Content's leafy downtown, where pavers hustle to finish thestreet in time for Bolt's return. Mist rises out of the surrounding hills. Wecreep along for a few minutes, then stop at a country shop with no sign but adozen AIDS posters stapled to the outside walls. NUH TEK NUH CHANCE, instructsone. USE A CONDOM EVERY TIME!
Wellesley Bolt,proprietor, visibly sags when he hears who we are. "I don't see why Ishould interview with the Americans!" he cries, but then he sits anddoesn't bristle at being asked questions. Carl Lewis, he says, is jealous andwrongheaded. He doesn't understand raw talent. Before Usain strained at thetape to set the world record in the 200, Wellesley hadn't ever seen his sondip. His son had never needed to. "And you haven't seen the best of Boltyet," Wellesley says.
A woman walks in.Wellesley rushes behind the counter. He sells garlic and potatoes, spices,chips, assorted meats and things you don't want to see: cow foot; pig hocks,neck and back; fish head. Another woman steps through the door: He weighs outyams, bags them up.
His son got 10scholarship offers to run in the States, Wellesley says when he returns. Usainturned them down: Too many Jamaican runners burn out over there, running everyweekend. Usain went to UTech briefly, then decided to concentrate on runningfull time. His dad is worried more about sabotage.
"Sometimessomebody will give you something [tainted with steroids] when you eat," hesays. "I told him, 'Don't order room service, go downstairs and get ityourself. You can't be too careful.'"
DRIVING IN fromKingston, Usain Bolt is running late. To say that about the world's fastest manseems funny for the first two or three hours. But eventually it wears on the TVcrews, the dance troupe, the hotel staff. Everyone grows crabby.
Finally, near 4p.m., he pulls up. At first it feels all wrong: Music explodes in the lobby,grown women scream, but as Bolt walks up the steps he's too cool, sunglassesoddly on the back of his head. Five dancers unleash a tribute—a perfectlychoreographed reprise of the Nuh Linga and the Gully Creeper, the dances thatBolt performed on the track in Beijing—but his expressionless face givesnothing away. Someone hands him a drink, and three girls rush to hug him. Nowan earbud has popped out, he looks annoyed....
And it's all asham. Bolt wades into the dancers, pauses and then, with perfect timing, beginswrithing and stepping, bent over, arms swinging: a full-on Gully Creeper as theentire rollicking room seems to tilt. Finally he stops and shoots hisnow-signature point: To the World!
Night after night,in dance halls all over Jamaica, kids are doing Bolt's steps. A campaign isunder way to rename the stadium in nearby Daniel Town after him. Today BryantGumbel has flown in for HBO, three reporters from France wait, and next weekBolt will fly to New York City for interviews with David Letterman, Kelly Ripaand Jon Stewart. "I'm just realizing how much I've really done for thecountry," Bolt says. "I'm bigger than I thought. I wasn't reallyexpecting this.
"People ask,'How can you stay the same?' But I haven't changed; I see no reason to.Everybody loves the way I am. I was brought up to have a lot of respect forpeople. My father is very strict. He brought me up well."
It's early, ofcourse. Many athletes like to describe themselves as unaffected, open, but itnever lasts. Competition demands ego, ego breeds arrogance, arrogance walkshand in hand with insecurity: There is always something to prove. Money andfame? They change everything. But so far Bolt has remained himself. He stopsfor every hug and picture, signs every piece of paper waved his way. Lewis'scomments are a different test, but Bolt betrays not a flicker of annoyance."In a way [Lewis] has a little point, because over the years everybody whoruns track, most of the guys, have been on drugs," he says. "But itdoesn't matter to me, because when you know you're clean, you don't worry. I'vebeen working really hard. I know I'm clean."
That Bolt isuniquely gifted has never been in doubt. When he was younger, the 6'5"prodigy won races with his head lolling like a rag doll's, with a chain andcrucifix perched on his upper lip. At 12, he ran a 400 in 52 seconds flat. At16, already the world junior champion, he ran a 20.25 to win the Champs 200 bya full second; at 17, in 2004, he became the first junior to break the20-second barrier, in 19.93. Still, until he started training with Glen Millsthat year, he was considered lazy and injury-prone. "Champs was easy forme," Bolt begins, then pauses and starts laughing, "because I was sotalented." He laughs more. "The Olympics weren't pressure for meeither."
No, somehow itwasn't. If Asafa Powell is sprinting's model of introversion and doubt, foreverseizing up in the biggest races, Bolt is its easy rider. He was all out therein Beijing: posing and clowning, chatting up volunteers. Free. It wasn't justhis winning that captivated Jamaicans; it was the utter Jamaicanness of hisperformance. Bolt broke the world record in the 100 while celebrating. Hedominated and partied at the same time, combining the national traits ofaggression and ease as few athletes ever have.
Transfuse just abit of that into Powell, and the whole country will be happy. "I talk tohim," Bolt says. "He's always tense. I tell him, 'You need to chill.Just swing your arms and let it flow.' If Asafa just relaxes, he's going to begreat. There's going to be some running."
Bolt glances athis watch. This is the third time in the last two minutes, but it's not aproblem; what Bolt does is more interesting than what he says. We ask two morequestions, and he tries to answer, but friends from Sherwood Content havedriven down, and they're waiting in the pool: A late-night game of water polocalls. "It's going to be fun, going back home," he says. "It givesyou a warm feeling going back to where you came from. That's when you have themost fun in your life: When you're small and carefree." Now he's rushingout the door. Within minutes Bolt is in the water, calling for the ball.
GOING HOME iscomplicated, though, when you are a national hero, the sudden focus of camerasand note takers. Bolt's return to Sherwood Content is no longer just a matterof one man walking up the old street to his parents' house or stopping by hisaunt Lilly's bar. It entails crowds, politicians, media people dedicated torecording the event for posterity. Dozens of strangers trail him. When Boltnotices a buddy poking a long stick at the plum tree across from his boyhoodstoop, he legs it across the road.
Three video guysand a photographer hustle to keep up, and somehow Bolt is able to ignore theabsurdity of a world now fascinated by his most mundane moves, making the actof taking the stick himself and knocking the plums loose somehow noteworthy.Bolt is actually hungry. He shoves a handful of fruit into his mouth, wipingthe juice away. When someone asks breathlessly how often he did that as a kid,Bolt looks mystified. "Every day," he says.
Earlier Bolt hadcome upon his primary school, its soggy front yard aswarm with fans, relatives,police and the requisite booming speaker system. He trooped through the mud—thecrowd clustered and shifting about him like a swarm of bees—to give away 300kids' backpacks, each stuffed with a T-shirt, an exercise book and pencils. Hisfather stood beside him with Jamaica's education minister, and the primeminister's wife watched, and then Miss Royal Jamaica 2007 came in, her shoesruined. Bolt posed for pictures.
Then there are allthese family members—cousins, uncles, in-laws, 30 in all, maybe more—who flewin from London, Washington, New York City and Miami, whom Bolt greets andpretends to remember. Some of them are at Lilly's Bar when he finally arrives,but they can hardly get a word in. Lilly screams at the sight of him andengulfs him in a crushing, tear-stained hug. He goes inside, and the regularseye him carefully, trying not to make a fuss.
But it's not soeasy anymore: Bolt walks out to his private bus in the fresh damp air, andsomeone has flicked a switch inside Lilly's and on comes a catchy calypso beat,Jamaica's newest redemption song:
Beat your chest'fore the finish line?
Shouldn't reallymake a man vexed.
Them can't believehim run so fast,
Till he passed thesteroid test.
We arrive at thegate outside William Knibb High near 10 p.m. It's well into chaos now: carsparked on any patch of roadside, wedged into the slimmest stretch of weeds, thestreets streaming with walkers. Even though the event is hours old, a desperatethicket of faces presses to get inside.
"'Ting isfree, and people still jumping the fence!" gasps one security guard, butwho can blame them? It's not just the biggest party Falmouth has seen in years.It's the high school dream come true. Here's a kid, 22 years old, who left homejust three years ago, and now the city, the nation, is coming back here forhim: his favorite musicians, massive stars such as Shaggy, the dancehall DJs heshimmied to for years, all of them famous but none so much as he. Young and oldscamper down his childhood halls and stairwells, down a hill, onto the playingfield out back. Jerk-chicken smoke chuffs from half-barrel roasters. Card anddomino sharps lean over tables begging the saps to play.
Now Bolt sauntersonstage, wearing a black T-shirt bearing his own pointing image. He dancesagain, faster, more furiously than he did in the hotel—first matching a cadreof 10 men swagger for swagger, then alone with the woman dancer (greenleggings, gold bra) who taught him—delighted with the scene, the music,himself. You can't imagine Tiger or Kobe letting himself go like this, notever. The 20,000-plus Jamaicans packed onto Bolt's turf stand transfixed,screams crashing against the music.
During each pausein the action, though, Bolt does a curious thing. He will be here for hoursyet, could hardly want to be anywhere else on earth. But, as at the hotel, hekeeps glancing at his watch, almost nervously, the only hint of a high-strungsensibility under that preternatural calm: human after all.
"One CarlLewis a-wonders why we so fast," a dancehall king named Tony Matterhorngrowls over the loudspeakers. "I guess maybe he'll come to the islands andmeet and greet the Jamaican mothers who make the greatest food in theworld!"
He hands the miketo Bolt, who refuses to bite on Lewis, instead speaking only about how youshould never forget your roots. Past midnight now, Bolt tries, for the firsttime since Beijing, to get his Olympic medals to do some good. He says,tentatively, "If you guys in the country don't act better, then people willstill look down on the country...."
The crowd quiets.He's talking directly to the robbers now, the killers and the politicians whoonly let things get worse. "You guys try to do better," he says."Start to look at yourself. Think before you act. Because Jamaica is agreat place. People love coming here, but you have to stop the crime to letthem want to come back. A lot of people say, 'I'm coming to Jamaica, but I'mwondering about the crime.' I say, Don't worry about it. Jamaica is wonderful.It's nice. The vibe is ... look at me. I enjoy myself ev-e-ry day."
Laughter risesfrom the audience. But Bolt keeps at it, talks about stopping violence, aboutthe need to stay determined and how he's been beaten or injured but came backto win. "Anything you set your mind to, you can get it," he says."So just please, people. Please understand...."
And the wordsfloat into the moist air, out over the island's young and old, and who knows ifa sprinter, even this sprinter, can make one bit of difference here. Still,it's a start, and Bolt does have advantages: fame and speed and that watch onhis arm. Maybe he looks at it because he likes what it tells him. He hastime.