x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Jamaica reaps the reward after respecting sprint preparation

Jamaicans are dedicated to speed - with 10,000 hours spent preparing for a crucial 10 seconds. And the results at London 2012 showed the benefit of that training.

Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Sherone Simpson, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kerron Stewart celebrate their 4x100m silver medal win at London 2012
Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Sherone Simpson, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kerron Stewart celebrate their 4x100m silver medal win at London 2012

Bud Winter, an American sprint coach who mentored a generation of world record holders including Tommie Smith and John Carlos, held a series of seminars in Jamaica in 1966.  Among those listening to the man who revolutionised sprint training were Glen Mills and Steven Francis.

Forty-six years later, Mills coaches Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake while Francis guides Asafa Powell and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Between them that quartet collected three individual gold medals and three silvers at the London Olympics as the Caribbean island of 2.7 million people reaffirmed it is the cradle of world sprinting.

Bolt and Blake also took gold in the men's 4x100m relay and Fraser-Pryce was in the Jamaican quartet who claimed relay silver.

A determination and pride swept through the Caribbean.

"There is a tremendous sense of pride, if two Jamaicans run in to each other in the street they say 'Respect'," said Jason Hall, deputy director of tourism at the Jamaica Tourist Board. "Respect is very important. National pride is an extension of that."

Winter's visit to Jamaica came at the invitation of Dennis Johnson, who equalled the world 100 yards records four times in the space of six weeks in 1961. Johnson was coached at San Jose State University by Winter.

On his return to Jamaica, Johnson resolved to help mentor coaches who would help produce world-class athletes. They in turn would not then feel they needed to accept university scholarships in the United States to progress.

As a promising young athlete Hall, now 41, clocked 10.2 seconds over the 100 metres and studied in the United States.

"My personal experience was that it allowed you to get an education, which is important. It was very important to have this education as a foundation. But the track system there was very brutal, in fact many of our top athletes of the time burned out," he said.

Jamaican sprinting took its place on the world stage at the 1948 London Olympics when Arthur Wint won the 400 metres. He breasted the tape a fraction of a second ahead of teammate Herb McKenley, who had uniquely qualified for the finals of the 100, 200 and 400 metres.

McKenley, a distant relative of Hall's, coached the Jamaican team from 1954 to 1973 and then served as president of the national athletics association.

During his time, another generation of sprinters emerged including the 1976 Olympic 200 metre gold medallist Don Quarrie and Merlene Ottey, who competed at the 1980 Moscow Games and was still running for her adopted country of Slovenia at the age of 52 this year.

Track and field in Jamaica is all about speed. On one side of the capital Kingston is Herb McKenley Crescent, on the other is Arthur Wint Drive. In the centre, lies the Tracks and Records bar, part-owned by Bolt.

"They start at a national level and from grades there's a huge island-wide all schools championship," Hall said. "From an early age they're exposed to the pressures of 100 metres. …

"The reason for success is really a combination of factors, including some genetic attributes; it's what typifies fast twitch muscle fibre traced back to west Africa."

Then there is the sheer hard work the sprinters do in often the most primitive conditions.

"These guys, I watch them train, they basically train until they vomit. I look at other countries with such remarkable facilities and I would say, 'Wow, we could really use some of that.' But do we really need it?," Hall said.

Mills, 62, took over as Bolt's coach after the teenage sprinter limped out of the Athens 2004 Olympics when he failed to advance from the 200 metres heats.

In the next two Games, Bolt twice won gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4x100m relay and set two individual world records.

"I have made track and field a major part of my existence and I work at it for long hours," Mills said. "Maybe I have a talent to coach in a manner that brings results. My knowledge is not exclusive as I believe that other people have similar information.

"We all get it from the same research, the same scientific data, but maybe I can use it better than most. I'm constantly seeking knowledge, whether it's in books, on the internet or even talking to other practitioners."

Hall said Johnson and Mills had been critical to Jamaica's success.

"Glen Mills has so much experience and when you see him sit down and break down 100 metres you realise there is so much more to this race than meets the eye. You have 10 seconds to justify your existence and you spend 10,000 hours getting there.

"It's an unfair exchange. I really take my hat off to Glen Mills."

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