BEIJING (AP) - A few fun-loving fresh faces have suddenly turned
Jamaica into the "World's Fastest Nation."
And that supposed U.S. track and field juggernaut? Well, things aren't quite going to plan.
Right fist thrust overhead as she crossed the finish line all alone, silver braces shining in the Bird's Nest lights as she hopped in celebration like the 21-year-old she is, little-known Shelly-Ann Fraser won the women's 100 meters Sunday night in 10.78 seconds to help make these Olympics a sweeping success for the Caribbean island.
Fraser was followed across the line, steps later, by teammates
Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart, who both finished in 10.98 and
both collected silvers - giving Jamaica the first sweep of medals in a women's 100 by any nation at any Olympics or world championships.
That impressive display came one day after Usain Bolt's easy-as-could-be, hot-dogging, record-breaking victory in the men's 100 - giving Jamaica the first sweep of men's and women's 100 golds at any Olympics since 1988.
Not bad for a nation of 2.8 million, about the population of Chicago. Not bad for a nation that long has produced top sprinters but never an Olympic dash champion, man or woman, before this wonderful 2-for-2 weekend.
"I was speechless yesterday for a while. Today I cried," Jamaica's minister of sport, Olivia Grange, said. "Little Jamaica - our country is blessed with some of the best, if not the best, talent you can find."
Now compare and contrast. The single 100 bronze for the United
States, earned by Walter Dix, amounts to the country's worst combined showing in the men's and women's dashes at an Olympics since earning zero medals in the 100 at both the 1980 Moscow Games
- where, let's remember, a boycott prevented any Americans from
competing - and the 1976 Montreal Games.
"We've dominated for years, and now it's their time," said Lauryn Williams, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist and 2005 world champion - and one of three U.S. women who never mounted a challenge during Sunday's final.
"We're getting a pretty good taste of what it's like to be at the bottom," Williams said.
The United States protested the results in the women's 100, asking that the race be reviewed because of a possible false start by American Torri Edwards - who wound up last. The appeal was swiftly rejected, and the biggest consequence was that the Jamaican women would have to wait until Monday to receive their medals at a postponed ceremony.
Not that a ruling for the U.S. would have made much of a difference. The Jamaicans, particularly Fraser, were so much better that it's hard to imagine the outcome being much different if the race were run again.
It was all part of an all-around rough day for the Stars and Stripes, beginning in the morning, when U.S. record-holder and 2004 bronze winner Deena Kastor quit because of a broken right foot about three miles into the women's marathon won by Constantina Tomescu-Dita of Romania.
Then, in the men's 1,500 meters, two-time Olympic medalist
Bernard Lagat, U.S. team flagbearer Lopez Lomong and NCAA champion Leo Manzano - all naturalized citizens making their Olympic debuts for their new country - failed to reach the final.
"I gave everything I had," said Lagat, who won a silver and
bronze representing his native Kenya at the past two Summer Games.
There was more bad news when 2004 relay gold medalist Dee Dee
Trotter and Mary Wineberg flopped in the women's 400 semifinals.
At least favorite Sanya Richards left everyone in her semifinal
well behind by the halfway mark and coasted home in 49.90 seconds,
the fastest time by nearly a quarter-second in any of the three
Richards could be part of a stronger upcoming presence for the
Americans, with the potential for a sweep in Monday's men's
Still, it'll be tough to top what Jamaica already has done - and
make track and field at these Olympics be remembered as anything
other than Jamaica's coming-out party, replete with reggae music
echoing through the stadium.
Fraser called it a "crazy Bolt Effect."
Bolt talks about his love of dancing and preparing for the biggest moment of his life with a combination of TV watching, nap taking and chicken-nugget eating.
Fraser bared her braces with a wide, gee-whiz smile when her name was announced over the loudspeakers as the contestants waited
to fold themselves into the starting blocks for the final. It was a
striking contrast to the total lack of expression on the faces of
Edwards and Williams.
Bolt and Fraser were both relatively unheralded in the individual 100 before this season. They also share an age - and now so much more.
Like Bolt, Fraser celebrated before her work was done, cocking
her fist back over her shoulder and punching the air as she arrived
at the finish line. Nothing on the scale of Bolt's arms-extended,
palms-up, chest-slapping display, mind you, but an in-stride,
in-race celebration nonetheless.
And, also like Bolt, Fraser won by a whopping two-tenths of a
second, a significant margin in such a short race, and the largest
in the women's Olympic 100 final since 1988, when Florence
Griffith-Joyner broke the world record to win gold.
"When I was thinking about it, I was getting ahead of myself,"
Fraser said about clutching a gold medal. "I was like, 'Calm down.
First you need to go out there and do it."'
Her win came less than two hours after Bolt was back in the Bird's Nest to accept his medal.
Coming Friday is the final of the women's 400-meter relay, where
the Jamaicans figure to be big favorites: Not only do they have the
top three finishers in the individual 100, but now they get to add
Veronica Campbell-Brown, the reigning world champion in the dash.
Campbell-Brown failed to qualify in the individual event at the
Jamaican trials. Her spot essentially went to Fraser, who didn't
have a 100 under 11.3 seconds on her resume before this year.
Back in Fraser's rough Kingston neighborhood, an area notorious
for gang violence, people danced in the streets, banged pots
together and waved their country's green-yellow-and-black flags.
"I can't wait," Fraser said, "to get home."
In other finals Sunday, Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele (men's 10,000
meters) and Cameroon's Francoise Mbango Etone (women's triple jump)
successfully defended their titles from the 2004 Olympics.
Sileshi Sihine gave Ethiopia a 1-2 finish behind Bekele's new Olympic record, but two-time champion Haile Gebrselassie - who cited concerns about pollution in opting not to enter the marathon
- finished sixth.
The second world record of the 10-day Olympic track meet came in
the Olympic debut of the 3,000-meter women's steeplechase. Gulnara
Galkina-Samitova of Russia became the first woman to go under 9
minutes and clipped more than 2½ seconds off her own mark that had
stood since July 2004, finishing in 8:58.81.
Galkina-Samitova smiled broadly as she covered the final 50
meters all alone.
Her reaction was nowhere near as exuberant as those of Bolt and
Fraser, who appear to have just the sort of speed and personalities
to help their sport overcome its recent doldrums.
Track's profile has declined in part due to a spate of drug cases, and Sunday brought word that reigning women's 400-meter hurdles champion Fani Halkia of Greece tested positive for a banned
substance and will not defend her title.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)