I ran track as a kid. I wasn’t great, but I did it and had a lot of fun. My brother was a pretty decent pole-vaulter. Would have been great if he had have actually put some effort in. My parents are both athletics officials and very active in athletics in British Columbia. We are a track family. I have watched a lot of track and field. Unlike when I watch Olympic diving or gymnastics, I actually kind of know what I’m talking about when I watch Olympic track. I thought I had seen it all. Until I watched Jamaican Track and Field… in Jamaica.
Watching track in an athletics crazy country like Jamaica is a whole new world. And don’t be confused, Jamaica was track crazy well before Usain Bolt ever won Olympic gold, well before he was even born! Jamaica has been a world athletics powerhouse for years and athletics is one of really only two sports that you can participate in on a large level in this country (the other is cricket, snore).
Someone told me recently that 90% of Jamaicans are born with ‘the fast twitch’ gene, which literally means Jamaican babies are born to be sprinters. Looking around, there are some tall, lean humans on this island (I notice this kind of thing since I am neither tall or lean, and for the record I have ZERO fast twitch muscles). Jamaican athletes have won a total of 69 medals, 68 of which were won in track and field, since 1948. 6 of those medals have been won in Rio (at the moment I was writing this, which was before Usain Bolt won the 200m and the relay team won the 4×100).
I am writing this piece 2 hours before the Men’s 200 meter Final. So that number will probably change in short order (it did!).
If tonight is the 200m Mens Final, that means last night was the Womens 200m Final and the Mens semi, a race that has sparked love and bromance, and complete thrill in Jamaican track.
Imagine if you will, that scene in Cool Runnings, where the rustic bar is full of people staring hopefully at a crap television, all hopes and dreams pinned on the guys and gals wearing yellow and black. Jamaican track stars Elaine Thompson and Usain Bolt are both the 100% odds on favorite in their races and to bet anything different would be gambling doom.
So I’m at Little Ochie, a small seaside restaurant in Alligator Pond on the South Coast. There is 1 television above the bar and about 75 people screaming. I include myself in this number of screamers. Fellow Jamaican Nickel Ashmeade is in the first semi, and under performs, so all excitement is put on the second semi.
Bolt’s entrance gets a massive cheer from the crowd in Rio and an even more massive cheer from the crowd at Little Ochie! Screams, whistles and pure excitement radiates around the wooden hut of a bar, all energy pushed towards the tv.
I am of course cheering on Bolt, but I’m REALLY cheering on Bolt’s newest friend Andre! I mean, it’s been 20 years since we had a Canadian man do so well in the sprints! He already has a bronze in the 100m, and I would love to see him do something great in the 2. I am sweating profusely.
As is custom in the stadium, the crowd quiets for the start. This is not custom in a bar full of Jamaicans in Jamaica. The place is shaking with noise! It could actually fall down, I remember something about sound waves and things breaking from Physics 10. The gun goes, and the faster Bolt goes, the more energy is shaking this whole place! 19.8 seconds isn’t a long time, but you would think it was forever based on the cheers and the screams coming from this crowd.
As will become immortalized as maybe one of the most relaxed finishes to an Olympic 200m semi final ever, De Grasse and Bolt crossed the finish like almost together, smiling and laughing, as if they didn’t just kill it.
Now people are not just thrilled for the win, but everyone is laughing hysterically at their man and his new man friend. The replays only bring more joy and more exuberance, more thrill. And yes, I was screaming too! Screw Canadian reserve, when in Jamaica man! I may have cried a little, lets be honest. I was just so happy for our Andre!!!! And proud he did it with such style! And as if making the Final wasn’t enough, De Grasse and Bolt sparked an internet meme sensation, I mean how could this not become a meme?
Not to be outdone by the guys, the women 200m Final was next. Elaine Thompson, Jamaican track’s latest delivery onto the world stage already had one Gold from the 100m and was looking to make it a double in the 200. Her entrance was met with the exact enthusiasm as Bolt’s in Little Ochie. The bar pulsated with enthusiasm and people were loudly making bets. Makes sense, why should Elaine be the only one who wins anything? Her introduction and beaming smile got the crowd going all over again, and it actually felt hotter. Like, dripping with sweat hotter.
Elaine’s main competition was a giant woman from Holland, and the two of them made it a thrilling race! Over the 22 seconds of the race, the mob tracked Elaine and cheered even more, as if that was possible, as she kicked it into high gear at the 175 mark to clinch the win. More ear drum bursting screaming and Jamaica had themselves another gold! Watching Elaine win was exhausting! I feel like I deserve a medal, I wasn’t even sitting down, I stood the whole time! I was drinking beer mind you, but, meh, details!
Jamaican track athlete Elaine Thompson winning both the 100m and the 200m at the Olympics is nothing to be ignored. No woman has done this since 1988, when American Florence Griffith-Joyner and her fingernails pulled off this feat. Better known as Flo-Jo, Florence was a dynamo at the end of the 1980’s though with her sudden retirement in the same era of the infamous steroid crackdowns and Ben Johnson doping scandal, one does have to wonder.
I often get FloJo confused with her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, one time World Heptathlon record holder so amazing she was too cool to sign an autograph for a 10-year old Emily at the Harry Jerome Track Classic in 1995. Yeah, I remember EVERYTHING. Bitch.
Tragic recollections from my childhood aside, I’m currently sitting in a bar (a decently constructed one with chairs and finished flooring) in Mandeville, watching some field events. How do they throw shot puts that far? It’s mind boggling. So I’m going to stop typing now, and report back after the 200 Mens final, starting in T-2 hours… Go Andre!!!! And Usain.
Ok, that was exciting. Wow. Bolt, incredible, of course. But was it just me who may have welled up a bit with Andre de Grasse’s Silver medal run??? Just me? Doubt it! The whole restaurant was cheering, I couldn’t help getting to my feet and walking closer to the television, it just pulled me in. Despite it being the final, tonight’s crowd was smaller than the mob the night previous, but that’s to be expected. Most people in Mandeville probably have cable, whereas in rural Jamaica, not so much. All viewers were thrilled for Usain, but in a show of true Jamaican track sportsmanship, all were talking about Andre and how we’re looking at Gold in Tokyo right there. I agree.
Watching the Olympic Jamaican track team compete, and Usain in particular, is right up there with watching the Gold medal Men’s hockey during Vancouver 2010. There is just something amazing about being among a people who breathe the sport and give so much support to their athletes! The enthusiasm that is thrown at the screen in Jamaica is infectious, being such a small country, having such success on the world stage is truly remarkable and the people love it!!!!
Nothing about watching track in Jamaica is subdued; they love their athletes! Usain Bolt is clearly a legend, while huge respect and adoration is thrown at all the Olympians whether they medal or not. As more sports in Jamaica grow (fingers crossed for my bobsledders!), this country will be behind them all the way.
For me personally, I loved being a part of it for just a few minutes! Maybe I’ll come back in 4 years for more Jamaican track and field…