Usain Bolt © Gallo Images

Jamaica sprinters storm the Olympic stage

Jamaicans crowded around a giant television screen in the busy Half Way Tree section of Kingston on Friday, anxious to witness the highly anticipated 100-metre races at the Olympic Games in which the Caribbean island's men and women are the favorites.

"Jamaica's girls look good," said a beaming Bridgette Plummer after watching women sprinters Shelly-Ann Fraser and Veronica Campbell Brown win their respective first-round races.

Three Jamaican men also hope to make history at the Olympics on Sunday, equaling a feat by the island's women sprinters in Beijing four years ago.

Jamaican women sprinters swept the 100-metre competition at the 2008 Beijing games. The last time that was done by male sprinters was in 1912, when an American threesome took the podium in Stockholm.

The Caribbean nation of less than 3 million people will come to a virtual standstill on Saturday and Sunday afternoon as Jamaicans turn their attention to first the women's, and then the men's 100-metre finals.

If the Jamaican men pull off the gold, silver and bronze in London it would also give this nation of speedsters an extra reason to celebrate on the eve of its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.

The favorite in the race is Jamaican Usain "The Lightning" Bolt, the reigning Olympic champion and world record holder. But he will be challenged in London by fellow Jamaicans Yohan "The Beast" Blake and Asafa Powell.

"Bolt is the boss man," said Alex McNeil, while watching the Olympic Games opening ceremony at Bolt's downtown Kingston restaurant, Tracks & Records, where the walls are decorated with reggae album covers and pictures of sporting feats.

The signature cocktail is dubbed "The Finish Line."

"He will be crowned king of the 100 metres," McNeil predicted, adding that he expected Bolt to repeat the feat in the 200 metres on Thursday as he did four years ago in Beijing. No man has ever won back-to-back Olympic 100-metre gold medals.

The two floors of Tracks & Records will be packed on Sunday with an array of TVs tuned into the Olympics and servers wearing the black, gold and green colors of the Jamaican flag.

Clients will be offered a lunch special, "Out da Blocks," jerk chicken served with yams. Bolt's father, Wellesley Bolt, told Reuters after his son won gold in 2008 the secret to his speed lay in the yams grown in the northwestern area of Jamaica where the sprinter was born.


Local excitement is on the rise as businesses seek to cash in on the Olympic frenzy, offering discounted TV sets to potential buyers. Large-screen TVs have been set up in shopping malls and other public places around the capital.

On Friday, traffic virtually halted along the normally busy thoroughfare that separates the southern section ofKingston from the north.

"Our girls are for real," Glenroy Spence said. "But it is in the men's 100 metres where the name Jamaica will be heard the loudest. We are going to cream (wipe out) the world," he said.

Organisers of an international cricket match at Jamaica's famous ground Sabina Park have arranged to stop a match involving the West Indies team and visiting New Zealand so fans can catch the 100-metre finals.

Bolt, who turns 26 later this month, is a living legend in his home country. He has more than 714 000 followers on Twitter and is the island's top celebrity after reggae's Bob Marley.

The London Olympics are a golden opportunity to promote the island's best features, blocking out other more negative traits, including one of the highest murder rates in the world, largely due to gang-related violence fueled by drug money.

The island's tourism board has featured Bolt in ads promoting its sunny beaches and laid-back Caribbeanculture, and Air Jamaica promotes its flights to the homeland of "the world's fastest man."

In 2008, Bolt won three golds - in the 100- and 200-metre competitions, as well as the four-man 100-metre relay - all in world record times.

Some critics say Bolt, famous for his signature archer-like victory pose, may have grown too cocky. Blake beat his training partner twice in three days in the 100-metre and 200-metre races at Jamaica's National Championship in June.

Callers to local radio talk shows shine a spotlight on his late-night partying. One Catholic priest, Father Richard Holung, chastised Bolt for his lifestyle, urging the sprinter to seek an "audience" with God to guide him.

Concerned by his late hours, some have even asked the governing body for athletics in Jamaica to provide Bolt with a driver. He has crashed two BMWs in the last year, one on his way home in June from a Kingston nightclub.


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