KINGSTON: Shelly-Ann Fraser can thank her mother's uneasy relationship with the Jamaican police for helping her become an Olympic sprint champion.
Maxine Fraser, who brought up her daughter in one of the Caribbean's meanest ghettos, believes her quickfire genes have been passed on to the 21-year-old, who led a Jamaican clean sweep in the 100m final in Beijing on Sunday.
Maxine has had to live on her wits all of her life and working as a street vendor she regularly has to put in a blinding turn of pace if police are chasing her for illegal trading.
"This is to show that something good can come out of the ghetto. Ghetto can't hold you back as long as you have ambition," said Maxine after watching her daughter take gold.
For Fraser, Olympic success will guarantee an escape from the island's grinding poverty.
Her family still lives in a tenement yard in one of Jamaica's toughest inner-city communities known as Waterhouse.
It is a place where zinc fences, bad roads and high levels of crime are a feature.
The young sprinter does not live there in Waterhouse now. She boards at the University of Technology, where she is a second-year student.
Education and sporting prowess are seen as keys to a better life.
"In school many people see track as a means of gaining an academic scholarship. There is also more to it," said high-school coach Michael Oliviera, who trained Olympic medallists Winthrop Graham and Deon Hemmings.
"If an athlete is able to balance track with studies the rewards are great. One good season on the track and you are OK."
It's been estimated that Asafa Powell, the former world record holder who was fifth behind compatriot Usain Bolt in the men's 100m in China, made approximately $1.5 million from the track in 2006.
Jamaica's track program starts as early as the kindergarten level with children as young as four running in championships at the country's national stadium.
Sprint queen Merlene Ottey, who now runs for Slovenia, first ran at a girls' championship barefooted before she reached her teens.
Ottey, along with the likes of Juliet Cuthbert, Herb McKenley, Bert Cameron and Donald Quarrie have all helped to hoist the Jamaican flag.
But it was not until Jamaica's dominance in the short sprints that the world was forced to take a serious look at the Caribbean country.
As always, however, there have been questions over what fuels the recent successes.
Adrian Lorde, head of the Caribbean Regional Anti-Doping Organization, recently lambasted Jamaica for not doing enough doping tests.
However, locals have scoffed at suggestions that drugs may be the reason for the country's recent success.
In fact, many argue that the heavy consumption of yam, banana and breadfruit have helped power the sprinters.
(China Daily 08/19/2008 page7)