When hearing the laid back grooves of reggae, it is hard to imagine that Jamaica is an island of intense athleticism. Many athletes from Jamaica have earned Olympic gold before, but they were always representing countries that they had moved to as children. All that changed in 2008 and 2012 when Jamaican athletes began to dominate the podium.
The most notorious athlete of Jamaican descent is Ben Johnson. In 1988, Ben Johnson won the hundred meter sprint at the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. He shattered the world record and easily beat long time rival, Carl Lewis. Ben’s victory was short lived, as after the race he tested positive for a banned substance and was stripped of his gold medal. Second place finisher, Carl Lewis was awarded the gold.
As a result of this positive test, Ben Johnson was banned from sprinting and his career was essentially over. He did try a comeback two years later, but he again failed a ban substance test, thus ending any further comebacks. It is sad to note that a total of five sprinters from that 1988 race have since been caught using banned substances.
Jamaican born Donovan Bailey was the next top sprinter to gain the limelight. Donovan was born in Manchester, Jamaica on December 16, 1967. At the age of thirteen he emigrated to Canada. At the 1996 Summer Olympics, Donovan broke the world record in the hundred meter sprint with a time of 9.84 seconds. Managing to run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds, he is the first Canadian to have legally done so. At that same Olympics, he led the Canadian 4×100 sprint to gold as well.
In 1997, a special race was set up between Donovan Bailey and American, Michael Johnson to determine who was the fastest man in the world. Johnson was a 200 meter specialist and Donovan excelled at 100 meters so the race was held over a distance of 150 meters. Donovan easily won the race and collected a cool 1.5 million dollars for his efforts.
Since that time, Jamaican runners, actually representing Jamaica, have taken over the sport. Of the top nine fastest times ever recorded in the 100 meter sprint, six of the athletes are from Jamaica. In 2005, after a long dominance by the United States, Asafa Powell took back the world record for Jamaica, with a time of 9.72 seconds, and held it until 2008, when it was again broken by another Jamaican.
Usain Bolt, of Trelawny, Jamaica, was a featured athlete at the 2008 Olympics after he shattered the 100 meter sprint record with a time of 9.58 seconds. In the same games he set a world record in the 200 meter sprint and helped the Jamaican 4×100 team to a record breaking run. He was only 21 at the time and still not fully developed as a sprinter.
Usain returned to the world stage at the 2012 Olympics in London, and the big question on everyone’s mind was could the young phenom match his achievements from the previous Olympics. In the lead up to these games there had been injuries and some, by his standards, poor performances. All fears were soon put to rest as Usain, almost leisurely, won the 100 meter, 200 meter and again help set a world record in the 4×100 for his Jamaican teammates. Usain is now the only sprinter to win back to back golds in both the 100 and 200 meter sprints.
Usain Bolt will be only 29 by the time the next Olympics roll around. Many feel that he will be at his athletic peak at that point. It will be very interesting to see if Usain can defend his titles for a third time and set new records. The world will be watching with baited breath.
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