'Pocket Rocket' in perspective

'Pocket Rocket' in perspective

... Has this phenom been overshadowed?

From the Sports Desk With Hartley Anderson

Sunday, December 30, 2012

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AS one reflects on Jamaican athletics in 2012, it occurred to me that the phenomenon of Usain Bolt inadvertently, but plausibly, subdued the performances of a handful of other local athletes at the showpiece event in London; in particular, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

This is, however, not surprising as Bolt's larger-than-life persona will inevitably hog the spotlight once he continues to compete at that extraordinary level. Nevertheless, one should spare a thought for the 'Pocket Rocket' who this year achieved what only Americans Wyomia Tyus (1964 and 1968) and Gail Devers (1992 and 1996) accomplished in history — successfully defending their Olympic 100m titles.

For, in reality, Fraser-Pryce played bridesmaid to no other female athlete in 2012.

This comes against the background that prior to Deon Hemmings' 400m hurdles gold medal in 1996, and Veronica Campbell Brown's successive 200m victories in Athens and Beijing, Jamaican female athletes had never won an individual or relay event in our lengthy participation at the Olympics.

Certainly, were it not for Bolt's repeat of his triple gold medal success, closely followed by the burgeoning pre-Games rivalry between himself and a young 'beast' called Yohan Blake, Fraser-Pryce's achievements would have attracted far greater attention and been much more revered in the public domain.

Nevertheless, her accomplishments must be hugely valued in an age where the motivation to win — not to mention the stakes — is at an all-time high among world-class athletes, made even more special by the fact that she is a home-grown talent meticulously and expertly groomed by a world-rated Jamaican coach right here on local soil.

Rather than according her just accolade in the larger scheme of things, Fraser-Pryce has thus been indirectly forced to play second fiddle to perhaps the greatest athletes the world has ever known. For this singular reason, she could ironically be said to have emerged at the 'wrong' time, which itself is a manifestation of the abundance of sprinting talent currently at our disposal.

However, as a deeply reflective and spiritual individual, Fraser-Pryce has taken it in stride and has wisely contented herself with sharing the honours, along with the coveted title of top female sprinter in the world for a second straight Olympic Games.

Further, the public excitement generated by Bolt and Blake at the ensuing national celebrations was not entirely lost on Fraser-Pryce who was typically amused.

Placed in another context, Fraser-Pryce again achieved what Merlene Ottey and Juliet Cuthbert were repeatedly denied — for whatever reasons — and as such, symbolically reaped for her country what her predecessors had sowed. As such, hers is as much a personal as it is a national triumph, and so we all exhale.

Likewise, seemingly submerged in the victory in the short dash in London was the creditable silver medal the pint-sized superstar copped in the 200m — an event in which she rarely competes, but was a genuine contender up to the final 10 metres or so when the experience and sprint-endurance talent of Allyson Felix proved to be the crucial catalyst.

Interestingly, VCB's gold medal run in 2004 at the Athens Games was given the deserved public acclaim, coming as it did after an almost decade-long drought following Hemmings' Atlanta jackpot. Further, it occurred at a time when there were no male individual gold medallists with which to share the spotlight, with Danny McFarlane's 400m hurdles silver the only medal won by Jamaican men that year.

Not to be overlooked in this discussion, therefore, is the gender factor, whereby the men's events, especially the sprints, perennially spark more interest, which is an unfortunate state of affairs that doesn't necessarily speak to quality, but is not expected to change any time soon.

On another note, as we look ahead to the IAAF World Athletics Championships to be held in Moscow, Russia next year, it could be yet another phenomenal achievement by Jamaican athletes, particularly in the Men's 200m.

Indeed, one recalls the unprecedented 1-2-3-4 finish by the Americans at Helsinki, Finland in 2005, with Justin Gatlin, Wallace Spearmon, John Capel and Tyson Gay finishing in that order. Incidentally, that was the race in which an out-of-sorts young Bolt placed eighth.

That Jamaica has a chance of emulating that feat symbolises the massive shift of power in world sprinting, courtesy of this golden generation led by Bolt, Blake and Asafa Powell. As defending champion, Bolt is an automatic entry into the half-lap event in Moscow. This means that Blake, Warren Weir and Nikel Ashmeade (who ill-advisedly shunned the 200m for the shorter dash at the Olympic Trials and subsequently missed out on a chance at medalling at the London Games) are all expected to join Bolt in a rush for the wire.

The fact is that there is currently a paucity of competition in this event outside Jamaica, with Spearmon seemingly a spent force and the injury-prone Gay veering more towards the shorter event only. This leaves Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre and the ageing Churandy Martina — whom the Jamaicans have on occasions bested on the Diamond League circuit — as the only other genuine contenders at this point.

This exciting possibility in itself makes the 2013 Worlds one of the most anticipated events of the upcoming season.

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