Sunday, August 17, 2008

'Nobody jams like the Jamaicans'

Jamaica sweeps women's 100; Lauryn Williams 4th

From Detroit Free Press

August 17, 2008 BEIJING –- Sometime today, American sprinters should corner the Jamaicans in the athletes' village and demand that they jump in a pool. What else can the U.S. do?

The Olympics have shifted from swimming to track, and the Bird's Nest has been a Hornet's Nest for the Americans.

First Jamaica's Usain Bolt won the men's 100 while running the last 20 meters on his hands. Then, today in the women's 100, the Americans had to look up at the scoreboard and see this:


Nobody jams like the Jamaicans. This is true in the sprints, after the sprints and as far as I can tell, in life. I've heard a lot of athletes say they are "just happy to be here."

I've never seen anybody show it like Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser, the women's champion.After crossing the finish line, Fraser jumped up and down while she was still in fifth gear. She wrapped herself in her flag. If she stopped at all, it was only to pen a reggae song about her accomplishment.

Meanwhile, Lauryn Williams stood on the track and stared, and I was sure she was staring at Fraser's celebration. But Williams, who spent a good portion of her childhood in Detroit, said afterward that she was just trying to see where she finished. (The scoreboards are often in Chinese.)

Williams knew there was a photo finish and thought she was part of it.

No such luck. Williams, who win silver in Athens in 2004, finished fourth. "I got on that line to win," Williams said. "At the end of the day, I'm not upset. I put my heart on the track. It wasn't a stellar time for me either, but I did well today."

The photo finish was between Jamaica's Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart for third. Somehow, the Jamaicans did better than sweep. They got a gold and two silvers out of one event.

Did they talk about a sweep beforehand?

"No, we didn't," Simpson said. "But we had the times … it was about time that Jamaica did it."

I don't know if Fraser's celebration was over the top, any more than Bolt's dance around the National Stadium Saturday was over the top. Certainly, it would be hard to argue that it was understated.

But this is Jamaica, mon. It is the island of Rastafarians and Red Stripe beer. Jamaica is known for its fun-loving culture. Did you really think one of the greatest sporting weeks in Jamaican history would be met with polite applause?

The conversation about showboating in sports reminds me of George Carlin's line about driving. Carlin said anybody driving slower than you is an idiot and anybody driving faster than you is a jerk.

I think showboating is like that. Anybody who celebrates too much for your taste is a jerk, and anybody who celebrates too little is dull.

Watching Bolt's race live, I did not for a moment think he was being unsportsmanlike. Yes, he posed beforehand, but half the guys in the race did some sport of pose – that kind of buildup is just part of the men's 100. It's sort of like an underground freestyle rap competition or a heavyweight fight. This is part of its appeal.

When Bolt held his hands out 15 meters from the finish, then pounded his chest as he crossed the line … well, he was amazed, like everybody else in the Bird's Nest. I mean, at least he wasn't running up the score.

While the Jamaican women celebrated Sunday, the American women were miffed. They were sure that Torri Edwards had false-started, but it was not called. Several runners, especially American Muna Lee, got off to slow starts because they were thrown off.

So a race that probably should not have started ended with three Jamaicans on a medal stand. And if you're an American, what's worse than three Jamaicans on a medal stand?

That's right: four Jamaicans on a medal stand. The women's 400 relay final is Friday."We are confident," Simpson said. "I think we are the team to beat."

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