By Barrington M. Salmon and Ann A. Walters
News Americas, PHILADELPHIA, PA, Sun. April. 28, 2013: The specter of the Boston bombing did little to quell the almost rabid enthusiasm of almost 50,000 fans that made it to Franklin Field in Philadelphia, PA, on the last day of the Penn Relays, Saturday, April 27th.
Close races at every level – high school, collegiate and professional – had spectators jumping out of their seats, encouraging the runners on and screaming themselves hoarse as they yelled support for individuals and teams.
All around Franklin Field at the University of Pennsylvania, the throng in the stands enjoyed all the atmosphere, color and ambiance of the 119-year-old event.
As has become commonplace at the relay carnival, the colors of the Jamaican flag dominated. Green, black and gold dotted the landscape in the form of clothing, bandanas, sneakers, earrings, scarves, capes, T-shirts, shades and running gear. Not to be outdone, American supporters proudly donned their national colors and prior to a number of races, the chants of USA! USA! USA! blended in with the rival cheers of JA-MAI-CA! JA-MAI-CA! JA-MAI-CA!
More than 15,000 athletes from track clubs, colleges and high schools around the U.S. and points abroad, vied for supremacy and bragging rights during the three-day relay carnival, site of America’s oldest and largest international track and field competition.
In one of the most anticipated races of the day, the Jamaican national women’s team – comprised of three Olympic silver medalists – beat the USA women’s Blue Team in one of signature US vs. the World events. Jamaica crossed the finish line at the end of the 4x100m race in a sparkling time of 42.42 seconds.
Anchor Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was ecstatic after the win in for the sprint quartet ended a nine-year drought against their American rivals.
“This was great. Every year, we came 2nd, 2nd, 2nd. This year was special. We came out and decided that we’d do our best to win,” said Fraser-Pryce, two-time Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 100m. “It was a team effort. We had four girls showing grit, determination and good execution. We’re doing well going into the World Championships. This definitely bodes well for the future.”
Fraser-Pryce was joined on the podium by Kerron Stewart, Sherone Simpson and Anneisha McLaughlin, cheered on by the throaty cheers of their Jamaican supporters and all who love track and field events.
Jamaica Makes Its Mark
Last year, the US dominated the US vs., the World races; this year offered a mixed bag both countries. US men and women owned the longer distance races and split with Jamaica in the 4x100m. The men’s 4x100m was won by the team of Justin Gatlin, Doc Patton, Ryan Bailey and Mike Rodgers, in a time of 38.26 seconds.
2008 marked the re-emergence of Jamaica as a track and field powerhouse and a fitting rival to America’s previous dominance in the sprints and 4x100m relays at the Olympics and World Championships.
Jamaica completed a clean-sweep of all the individual sprints (100 and 200 m), and confirmed the island-nation’s superiority when Usain Bolt took the 100m in a time of 9.69 seconds and eclipsing Michael Johnson’s 200m world record with a time of 19.30 seconds. In the women’s 100m, Fraser-Pryce stormed to the finish line ahead of her compatriots Kerrone Stewart and Sherone Simpson. Stewart and Simpson earned joint silver medals after clocking identical times, making Jamaica the first country to effect a clean sweep of the medals in the women’s 100m during the Olympic Games.
Then in the 200m Veronica Campbell-Brown defended her 200m title ahead of Allyson Felix and Kerrone Stewart.
These performance led Jamaica to be dubbed “The Sprint Factory” and America has been looking over its shoulder ever since. One factor that has been of enormous importance to the development of the new crop of Jamaican talent was the decision by track coaches including Glen Mills and Stephen Francis to encourage athletes to stay in Jamaica rather than go overseas to study and run.
“Our emphasis on sports in Jamaica has largely been at the high school level (especially for track and field),” said a longtime observer of Jamaica track and field. “The University of the West Indies and U-TECH has traditionally not devoted resources or effort to encouraging sporting excellence (in contrast to the US college system). Thus, it’s not surprising that our college teams have had difficulties matching US college teams.”
“But this is changing or has changed. Coaches Stephen Francis, Glen Mills and others have encouraged star athletes to stay at home, and have taken them to the highest levels. And both U-Tech and UWI have embraced these initiatives. GC Foster [has also contributed much to improvements in this area. Thus, we see the quality at the high school level continuing, but now joined by U-TECH taking the gold in the 4x100m.”
U-TECH’s Andrew Fisher, Adolphus Nevers, Nicholas Watson, and Julian Forte won the College Men Championship of America 4x100m in 38.92 seconds. St Augustine finished second and Auburn University third. Jamaica’s Hydel High School replicated U-TECH’s feat, winning while competing in Philadelphia for the first time. In the High School Boys 4x100m category, five teams from Jamaica – Kingston College, Wolmers, Munro, Green Island and Calabar finished in the top five spots.
Jamaica’s schools also excelled on the field, winning the high school boys’ triple jump, long jump and high jump. Wolmer’s Christoff Bryan won the high jump in successive years with a clearance of 2.15m. Jamaica College’s Ashani Wright (2.06m) was third.
Former 100m world record holder and UCLA track coach Maurice Greene said Jamaica has surpassed America’s as a sprinting juggernaut adding that Jamaica’ rise to sprinting prominence “didn’t just happen.”
“America is in trouble and it will take some time to come back,” he said during an interview on the stadium infield. “I’ve always seen the talent Jamaica has. They have really dominated.”