Is nature or nurture behind Jamaica's need for speed?
Some say it’s in the genes. Others credit the local yams and green bananas. Sports analysts reckon world-class coaches played the key role. Cultural commentators credit a straightforward love of speed which, in previous eras, inspired the nation’s most gifted sportsmen to devote their careers to sending cricket balls towards rib cages at high velocity.
The utter domination of sprinting by a small Caribbean island with a population of less than three million has left commentators reaching for superlatives. Of the 12 individual medals so far awarded in London’s 100 and 200 metre events, eight have gone to Jamaicans. Three were gold. In 2008, they won all four of the men’s and women’s races.
Usain Bolt will tonight attempt to increase the haul by leading his country’s men to a second successive victory in the 4x100m relay. The women went late last night. Whatever the results, Jamaica now represents as unrivalled a force in sprint running as Kenya at the middle and longer distances. But why?
One obvious answer is genetic. Average Jamaicans are blessed with long limbs, low fat levels, and narrow hips. Previous Olympic champions such as Donovan Bailey, who won Gold for Canada in 1996, and Britain’s Linford Christie, showcased the natural potential of the build: they were born in the country, before emigrating as children.
So much for “nature.” On the “nurture” front, Jamaica’s relatively healthy staple foods play a role. Most star athletes come from rural areas, where they grow up walking long distances and drinking water instead of soft drinks, and eating lots of vegetables. When Bolt won gold in Beijing in 2008, his father, Wellesley, told reporters that his speed stemmed from yams that grow in his native north-west of the island.
Coaching has almost certainly also been pivotal. In previous eras, Jamaica's top young athletes often emigrated to top US colleges. Often they never returned. Now the world’s best coaches, including the great Dennis Johnson, and Bolt's mentor Glen Mills, are based at home. So they tend to stay.
The final piece of the jigsaw is cultural. Sprinting is now Jamaica’s de facto national sport. Children start at the age of three, and begin competing at six. They generally train on grass, which many believe is more effective than artificial surfaces for developing athletes. The national school track championships, known locally as “Champs,” are now more closely watched that West Indies test matches and national football fixtures.
Of course, to the heroes of any fashionable sport come spoils. For ambitious young Jamaicans, sprinting has duly come to represent a path out of poverty. Bolt earned an estimated $20m last year, according to Forbes. He drives fast cars, dates beautiful women, and was this week described by Reuters as: “the island’s top celebrity after... Bob Marley.” In the land of reggae, you don't get any bigger than that.
Chelsea vs Manchester United player ratings: Match-winner Eden Hazard leads the way, but Radamel Falcao endures game to forget
Chelsea 1 Manchester United 0: Eight things we learnt as Blues step closer to the Premier League title
Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao: Where are the tickets for the fight?
Chelsea transfer news: Jose Mourinho plays down news signings Nathan and Yoshinori Muto but talks up Ruben Loftus-Cheek
Arsenal transfer news: Mikel Arteta needs 'five minutes' to sign new contract and remain with the Gunners
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate