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...And Jamaica challenged American hegemony

Last updated on: August 24, 2009 

...And Jamaica challenged American hegemony



When Bert Cameron won the 400m gold beating American Michael Franks at the inaugural World Athletics Championships at Helsinki (Finland) in 1983, little did anyone realise that he had laid the foundation to something that would challenge, and eventually topple, what is traditionally considered an American stronghold.

Yes, you heard it right. And if you follow the sport on a regular basis, you might as well agree.

Athletics is mostly about an American domination in the shorter distances (sprints), and a triumph of African resolve over the longer distances.

There have been aberrations, no doubt.

The likes of Donovan Bailey, Linford Christie, Ato Boldon, Katrin Krabbe and Irina Privalova dared to overpower the American dominance and had decent success as well.

But the American assembly line kept producing names like Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Maurice Green, Michael Johnson, Florence-Griffith Joyner,Gwen Torrence, Gail Devers and many others to ensure that their fortress may suffer temporary damage but will survive a takeover bid.

As things stood for years, the United States, despite losing in one or two stray events, would eventually pick the bulk of the sprint gold medals too underline its hegemony.

The just-concluded World Athletics Championships at Berlin has ensured an end to that glorious run.

And the American hegemony in the sprint events was ended by a little Caribbean island -- Jamaica.

A look at the overall medal tally at Berlin shows that the Americans finished top with 10 golds and Jamaica second with seven.

But what needs to be taken into account is the fact that four of the American gold medals came from field events.

And that essentially implies Jamaica had more gold medals (7) vis-a-vis the United States (6) in the various sprint events.

It is for the first time in 26 years -- since the World Championships began -- that the United States was toppled in the category it excelled in all these years.

It was also for the first time that Jamaica, which had garnered a total of seven gold medals in the 11 editions at the worlds, won more than one gold in a single championships.

And the second time in a year -- for Jamaica also got the better of the US at the Beijing Olympics last year.

Image: Supporters of Usain Bolt of Jamaica hold a flag during the world athletics championships at the Olympic stadium in Berlin
Photographs: Reuters

For years Jamaica had a lone hope for gold

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For an island with less than three million people it is without doubt a remarkable achievement.

It probably marked the culmination of years of effort.

And this brings us back to Cameron, the one who started it all.

The biggest difference between the Jamaican squad for which Cameron raced and the one at present is the presence of a number of stars, athletes whom the nation could rely on to win the yellow metal.

Prior to Berlin, or for that matter Beijing, Jamaica was always among the medals at international events.

But for years Jamaica had a lone hope for gold.

After injury prematurely ended Cameron's career, it was Marlene Ottey (since 2002 she is a citiizen of Slovakia) who carried the burden of the nation on her shoulders.

Ottey, who started with a silver and a bronze at Helsinki, would go on to win a plethora of medals, 14 to be precise.

But the fact that only three of those were golds, including successive ones in 200m (in 1993 and 1995), meant Ottey was a perennial bridesmaid.

She always struggled against the likes of Marita Koch, Florence-Griffith Joyner, Katrin Krabbe, Gwen Torrence, Gail Devers and even Zhana Pintusevich at various stages of her career and never managed an Olympic gold.

That honour went to Deon Hemmings, who at Atlanta became the first ever Jamaican woman to win an Olympic gold when she won the 400m hurdles.

But it was the advent of the new millennium that witnessed an increase in the number of quality athletes surfacing from Jamaica.

At Osaka in 2007, in what was arguably the closest World Championship 100 metres final for women, Jamaican Veronica Campbell edged American Lauryn Williams to win gold.

The same championships witnessed someone by the name of Usain Bolt win two silver medals.

And then Beijing happened.

Bolt, with three golds, and an equal number of world records, became a household name.

Bolt repeated his feat at Berlin. But since a lot has been written about him already, we will instead focus on the others who ensured the Jamaican dominance was complete. 

Image: Usain Bolt
Photographs: Reuters
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Fraser, Stewart ensured a Jamaican 1-2

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Shelly-Ann Fraser, a gold medal winner at the Beijing Olympics, exploded from the blocks to win the world 100 metres title in 10.73 seconds.

It was the joint third fastest women's run of all time.

The 22-year-old burst into the lead before thwarting a late challenge from Beijing Games' joint-silver medallist Kerron Stewart, who ran a personal best 10.75s and ended in Fraser's lane in the last steps 

Stewart's silver and the Jamaican 1-2 consigned American Carmelita Jeter to the bronze.

Jeter, who was also third at the 2007 World Championships, claimed the bronze in 10.90s ahead of holder Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica

As in last year's Olympics, Jamaica have won both the blue riband 100 metres events at Berlin after Usain Bolt smashed the World record to take the men's gold in 9.58s.

Image: Shelly-Ann Fraser of Jamaica celebrates after winning ahead of her compatriot Kerron Stewart in the women's 100 metres final
Photographs: Reuters
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Walker's timing was the second fastest in history

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Olympic champion Melanie Walker of Jamaica won the gold medal in the women's 400-meters hurdles in the second fastest time in history.

And it was again an American who came second best.

Walker finished in 52.42 seconds to win by a big margin over Lashinda Demus, who took the silver in 52.96s.

Demus was very close behind Walker coming out of the bend but the Jamaican pulled away before the final hurdle and powered home.

Demus, also a silver medallist at the 2005 Helsinki worlds, came into the race with the fastest time in the world this year at 52.63s.

However, Walker's time was behind only Yuliya Pechenkina's world record of 52.34s, which the Russian ran in August 2003.

Image: Melanie Walker of Jamaica holds up her national flag as she celebrates winning the women's 400 metres hurdles
Photographs: Reuters
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Foster-Hylton ensured a Jamaican first

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Brigitte Foster-Hylton mined more gold for Jamaica with a 12.51 seconds victory in the women's 100 hurdles.

The 34-year-old veteran, who won world bronze in Helsinki in 2005 and silver in Paris in 2003, took the gold medal at the Berlin Olympic Stadium with 12.51 seconds, this season's best mark for her.

She is the first Jamaican to ever win gold in the category.  

Brigitte was shocked after she found out that she won the race.

She had already planned to retire next year ..

Compatriot Delloreen Ennis-London, who also won medals at the 2005 and 2007 world championships, added to the island's tally with bronze (12.55) behind Priscilla Lopes-Schliep of Canada (12.54).

Image: Brigitte Foster-Hylton
Photographs: Reuters
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Jamaicans dominate the relays

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Finally, Usain Bolt made it three out of three as he helped Jamaica claim gold in the 4x100 metres relay on Saturday in the second-fastest time ever run.

Their victory in 37.31 seconds was bettered only by their winning time of 37.10s at last year's Beijing Olympics.

It might not have attracted the same publicity as Bolt's heroics in the 100 and 200 but it earned a gold medal and the same $100,000 cheque.

With the United States disqualified from the 4x100 relay after the semi-finals, Jamaica merely had to get the baton round safely to secure gold.

Steve Mullings led them off, Michael Frater ran a solid back straight and Bolt took command on the bend. He ensured a safe handover to Asafa Powell and the individual bronze medallist roared home.

In the women's event, Jamaica were handed the advantage after the US went out in the semi-finals, having dropped the baton.

Shelly-Ann Fraser took Jamaica clear after the second leg and 100 silver medallist Kerron Stewart brought them home in 42.06s.

It completed another great event for the Jamaican sprinters, an event highlighted by their dominance and their triumph over US hegemony.

Image: Bolt of Jamaica celebrates with team mate Powell after winning the men's 4x100 metres relay final during the world championships in Berlin
Photographs: Reuters
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