The Jamaican women look set to sweep the World Championship podium

The Jamaican women look set to sweep the World Championship podium

As Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir posed for a photo with the Jamaican flag after their jumps in the 200-meter final at the 2012 Olympics, Jamaica’s dominance in men’s sprinting seemed limitless.

But after 2012, Jamaica’s dominance in men’s short sprints outside of the bolt waned. And since Bolt retired from track and field after the 2017 world championships, Jamaica’s 100-metre and 200-metre sprinters have become an afterthought at the sport’s top level.

Jamaican women, meanwhile, have moved to the front, fleeing the rest of the world.

Led by Shelley-Anne Fraser-Pryce, Elaine Thompson-Hera and Sherika Jackson, Jamaica’s women are in the midst of a period of dominance that could see them win a medal in the 100m at the World Track and Field Championships on Sunday night in Eugene, Ore.

At last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, it was Thompson-Herrah, Fraser-Pryce and Jackson who held the Jamaican flag as they were photographed after sweeping the 100m Olympic final. Thompson-Herrah won in 10.61 seconds, an Olympic record and the second fastest time in the race. (A week later, she improved her personal best to 10.54 seconds, just five hundredths off the world record.) It was the fourth straight 100m Olympic gold for Jamaican women, dating back to Fraser-Pryce in 2008. Thompson-Hera later won. 200m title at the Tokyo Olympics, and teamed with Briana Williams to win gold in the 4×100 relay with the second-fastest time of three women.

Jamaica has produced some of the world’s top female sprinters, with athletes such as Merlene Otey, two-time 200m world champion, and Veronica Campbell-Brown, the first Jamaican woman to win the Olympic sprint title. Yet the recent feats of Fraser-Pryce, Jackson and Thompson-Hera are unmatched.

“There has been no consistency in the high performance of Jamaican sprinting women,” said Paul Francis, head coach of Jamaica’s Maximizing Velocity and Power Track and Field Club.

Fraser-Pryce, Thompson-Herah and Jackson trained with MVP, which was founded in 1999 to develop Jamaica’s top track and field talent instead of sending athletes abroad. (Jackson still trains with the group, but Fraser-Pryce and Thompson-Herrah have recently left the club.)

It’s a golden era for Jamaican women’s short sprinting, Francis said, adding that the women have always approached training with a “higher” discipline, focus and work ethic than their male counterparts at the club. “It’s just a difference in attitude,” Francis said.

After the 2012 Olympics, it looked like Blake, who was just 22, was poised to become the small island’s next superstar. In 2011, he ran the second-fastest 200-meter time in history, and later that summer, ran the second-fastest 100. A month before the Olympics, he beat Bolt in both events at the Jamaican national championships, and in 2011 he became the youngest world champion to win the 100m crown.

Ware, then 22, ran the third-fastest Jamaican 200 times and the 4×100-meter relay team of Bolt, Blake, Nesta Carter and Asafa Powell broke their own world record for gold. It was easy to foresee another golden era on the horizon for Jamaican men’s running.

“Both these guys are 22 – I’ll be 30,” Bolt told reporters in 2012, looking ahead to Blake and Weir’s future after sweeping the 200m. “I think I have time.”

But it has been nine years since Usain Bolt, a Jamaican man, won a medal in the 100 or 200 meters at the World Championships or the Olympics. At last summer’s Olympics, Jamaica did not have a male in the 100m final for the first time since the 2000 Olympics. The Jamaican men failed to make the podium in the 100m, 200m and 4×100-metre relay at the Tokyo Games.

“I think athletes like myself and Asafa Powell paved the way for Jamaican men,” Bolt said in an email, “and the next generation may not understand the level of hard work that goes into being among the best in the world.”

Bolt also pointed to injuries that have blighted Jamaica’s top talent: Blake suffered serious hamstring injuries in 2013 and 2014 that prevented him from returning to peak form. Weir won silver at the 2013 World Championships but retired at the age of 27 at the 2017 World Championships after failing to make it out of the 200m preliminary heats.

The downward trend looked set to change this year, as Jamaica’s chances of a medal in the men’s 100m at this year’s world championships looked as promising as they have in recent memory. Blake, 32, has been making a resurgence, running 9.85 seconds in the 100m to win the national championships in Jamaica last month, his fastest time since 2012, which tied him for the third-fastest time in the world. Oblique Seville, 21, finished just behind him in 9.86 seconds.

But Blake struggled at the world championships and did not qualify for the 100-meter final. Seville ran 9.90 seconds in the 100 final, good enough for fourth place, and seemed destined to medal at future Olympics and World Championships. Still, the days of Jamaican male dominance in the short sprints seen with Bolt, Blake and Weir in 2012 seem long gone – although the women’s superiority looks eternal.

“There are whispers that the 2004-2016 crop of sprinters represent Jamaica’s golden generation of track,” Campbell-Brown said in an email. “Given our talent pool and organized athletic development program, only time will tell if that happens again.”

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