Why does the irie island of Jamaica, with a population of just two million, dominate the world of sprinting? Locals try to give us the answer:
“Despite the laid-back reputation, the Jamaican ethic is to work hard every single day. It’s a poor country, and the only way out of poverty is work. They want to emulate athletes – not just for the glory, but to make better lives for themselves because, for many, sport is their only route out.
Everyone, from Asafa Powell to the 14-year-old school athlete, gives their all, and the whole focus is on sprinting. You’ll hear kids talking about wanting to run a ‘bill’ – shortened from a ‘hundred-dollar bill’, meaning the 100m.
The island is obsessed with running fast.”
– Ricky Simms, Bolt’s agent, and director of Pace Sports Management, which handles nine Jamaican sprinters
“We have created a culture of success over many years. The Champs (an annual island-wide schools championship) is an example. It gets massive TV and radio coverage, and public funding. Some of the money is used to train coaches, and many of our high-school coaches could train elites internationally but they choose to stay and bring the young ones through. The talent pool benefits from that expertise.
For example, Bolt’s coach Glen Mills also coaches youngsters. When our coaching wasn’t so good, athletes went abroad to train and ended up representing other countries. Just a few examples are Donovan Bailey (Canada), Sanya Richards (USA), Linford Christie (GB) and Ben Johnson (Canada).”
– Albert ‘Frano’ Francis, key figure in Jamaican athletics, described by a Jamaican Amateur Athletics Association (JAAA) official as ‘part wise man, part historian, part visionary, part Rasta, part runner’
“Jamaican kids learn early to cope with pressure. Each weekend there are up to 300 school athletics meetings up and down the country with as many as 1 000 100m heats being run. Plus, the Champs is so big that when it gets to finals day these youngsters run in front of 30 000 spectators and the international media.”
– Grace Jackson, vice president of the JAAA. A former sprinter, Jackson won silver in the 200m at the 1988 Seoul Olympics