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Jamaican women rule, too

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Associated Press
August 18, 2009
— Shelly-Ann Fraser closed her eyes as she crossed the finish line, almost afraid to open them back up and glance at the Olympic Stadium scoreboard.

As if she had anything to worry about.


Fraser won with apparent ease in a time of 10.73 seconds, edging Jamaican teammate Kerron Stewart in the final of the 100 meters Monday at the world championships. American Carmelita Jeter held off a charging Veronica Campbell-Brown for third, preventing a Jamaican sweep.


So, what does this performance in the sprints tell the world?


“That we’re dominating,” Stewart said.


These days, that’s very true. The Caribbean island with a population of 2.8 million people is crushing the big, bad Americans, who go nearly 307 million strong.


The Jamaicans’ command began in Beijing, where the country won five of the six sprints events.


Now, it’s rolling over to the worlds.


First, Usain Bolt ran right past top rival Tyson Gay and the rest of the field in a world-record time of 9.58 seconds on Sunday. Then Fraser follows that up with a convincing win of her own.


For a rivalry, this sure has become one-sided.


“As a country, we have worked really hard,” said Fraser, who won Olympic gold in Beijing. “We’re young and we have so much fire burning for our country. Our country is so small. Every day they talk about the crime and corruption and all that. We want something different for them to mention.”


Like sprinting. There, the country is in a league of its own.


The Americans’ chances of evening the score anytime soon don’t look good. Not after Gay pulled out of the 200-meter competition with a sore groin. Given the way Bolt is running, it would’ve been a tall order even if Gay was healthy.


Stewart drew inspiration from watching Bolt’s electric run the night before when he wowed the world with his world record.


Soon after she saw the result, she sent him a congratulatory text.


“(He) is not human at all,” Fraser said, smiling. “I was so excited.”


Once she crossed the line, Fraser’s eyes flew open and locked onto the scoreboard. Seeing her name pop up was all affirmation she needed to set off a giddy celebration.


“When I opened (my eyes), I was like, ’Please don’t tell me this isn’t real”’ she said.


It was.


Fraser, complete with a mouth full of braces and a bubbly spirit, hopped up and down on the track, before draping a Jamaican flag around her shoulders and doing a victory lap—similar to the jaunt Bolt took the night before.


These celebrations are becoming quite commonplace for Jamaican sprinters.


At the beginning of the championships, it looked as if Fraser might not even get the chance to run. Because she did not attend a mandatory training camp with some of her teammates, the Jamaican federation wanted to punish the absentees by keeping them out of the starting blocks.


But IAAF president Lamine Diack intervened and helped convince the federation to reverse its stance.


Ever worried?


“It’s not my job to think about that stuff,” she said.


Her real scare came last April. Fraser complained of soreness in her stomach that only got worse.


She was taken to the hospital and had her appendix removed. That caused her to miss nearly three weeks of training.


“It’s a really tough year,” Fraser said. “But once a champion, always be a champion. I would never stay down.”


The major surprise of the day came in the pole vault, where Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia lost her first major competition in five years. That opened the door for Anna Rogowska of Poland to win the event.


Other winners Monday included Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia (10,000), Marta Dominguez of Spain (steeplechase), Yargeris Savigne of Cuba (triple jump) and Primoz Kozmus of Slovenia (hammer).


And now the Americans, who got their only other medal of the day — a silver — from Chelsea Johnson in the pole vault, are attempting to get their swagger back. They’re looking for ways to close the gap on the mighty Jamaicans.


So far, there have been few answers. Lauryn Williams even gave up sweets on July 6 to try to bridge the gap.


“Maybe if I put them down earlier, who knows where I would be?” said Williams, who finished fifth. “Just stay focused. Don’t let them run away from us. Don’t start to think they’re better than us. We’ve got to believe we’re good Americans and we can do anything they can do.”


So, is this a bona fide rivalry to the athletes?


“I wouldn’t say rivalry,” said Jeter, who won a bronze medal at worlds in 2007 in Osaka, Japan. “We line up and all want to get to the finish line first ... There’s no bad blood between the two.”


Stewart, for one, thinks a rivalry between the countries could help elevate track, give it more notoriety. The two sides will even square off in a series of challenges beginning in 2010.


“Our sport has been tarnished for too long. We, as young athletes, are changing the face of track and field,” Stewart said. “This rivalry, as you say, between the countries, it’s good. I’m happy I’m playing a part.”



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