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Jamaica sprints far ahead of wide world at Olympics.

Byline: George Schroeder The Register-Guard

BEIJING - Wearing skin-tight suits, they're accomplishing superhuman feats, and some are now wondering if Usain Bolt and his friends should add capes. Yes, the people back home want to know if their sprinters can fight crime.

Not the way you're thinking. Jamaican government officials want to use Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown and the rest of the speedsters as role models, not superheroes. They hope kids will decide the athletes are worthy of emulating, rather than the brutal pop culture that pervades the small island nation.

But if you were thinking cartoon blurs in green and yellow, no one here would laugh.

The Olympics end today. China will win the gold medal count, and the United States will win the most overall - though in track, Team USA's showing has been disappointing. But the Jamaicans might have won the most acclaim.

Led by Bolt, whose out-of-this-world records defy description - in keeping with our theme, Michael Johnson called him Superman 2 - they've made Jamaica the sprinting capital of the world.

They'll haul home six gold medals and four world records, all in the sprints.

Bolt won the 100 and 200 meters, and he and his teammates in the 4 x 100. All were world records, because gold wasn't enough.

They swept the women's 100 meters. They took gold in the 200, and in the 400-meter hurdles.

"Jamaica did well at this Olympics," Bolt said after the 4 x 100. "We practically took it over."

No one is arguing. In events once dominated by the United States, the Jamaicans are so good, it's scary. It is probably a very good thing they do not care much about swimming, or Michael Phelps might have eight silver medals. Or bronze.

The baton has been passed (unlike the Americans, the Jamaicans are usually able to complete that task). And this is an amazing thing, if you look at the numbers.

The Carribbean island measures 4,243 square miles. It would fit neatly into Lane County (4,722 square miles), and its population is only a little larger than metropolitan Portland's. Yet the Jamaicans have sprinted away from a nation 100 times more populated.

Earlier this week, someone asked Shelly-Ann Fraser, who won gold in the women's 100 meters, their secret, and she replied: "Reggae power." I don't know about that, but if you visit the Web site of the Jamaican Amateur Athletic Association, you'll hear a song with these lyrics:

We've been running ever since we came here, many years ago. Now the whole world wanna know how we running so. They say there must be something in the air, down there in Jamaica, that Jamaicans run like the wind.

Right about now, some of you are thinking they're fueled by something else.

You should know that during the Olympics, the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) apparently paid close attention to the Jamaicans, whose independent testing organization is fledgling, and might not be all that independent.

Several of the sprinters complained they were tested multiple times, and Dr. Herb Elliott, vice president of the Jamaican Track Federation, invited further testing anytime, anywhere.

So far, they've all come out clean. What's clear is America's sprinting dominance has ended, and this Jamaican surge feels similar to what happened 30 years ago with east African distance runners.

"All I can say is, `Yo, Jamaican sprinters, taking over the world,'e_SEnS" Bolt said.

Last Thursday, before the women's 200 meters, I sat two rows in front of Bert Cameron, the former Jamaican 400-meters runner. Bolt already had won the 100 and the 200, and the Jamaicans had swept the women's 100.

"I do not like this race," he said.

A moment later, Veronica Campbell-Brown won gold and Kerron Stewart, another Jamaican, grabbed bronze. Someone asked, "Do you like it better now?"

Cameron smiled, nodded: "Yes!"

And a conversation began about the nation's sprinting success.

"It's not like it's something that started yesterday," Cameron said, and he listed the long tradition. Don Quarrie, Herb McKenley, Lennox Miller.

More recently, Ben Johnson (Canada), Linford Christie (Great Britain) and Donovan Bailey (Canada), who won gold in 1988, '92 and '96, respectively, were from Jamaica.

Also a tradition, though, was the guys in green and yellow taking silver. That is, until the last few days.

"You ask if we expected this," Cameron said. "We expect more."

About that time, Bolt was awarded the gold medal for the 200 meters he'd won a night earlier, and they played the Jamaican national anthem.

"Everybody should know it by now," Cameron said.

By Saturday night, I knew more than the first few bars.

George Schroeder can be reached at george.schroeder@registerguard.com. His regularly updated blog is at rgweb-c.registerguard.com/blogs/index.php/georges
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Title Annotation:Sports Columnist
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 24, 2008
Words:792
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