By Gary Tim with additional
reporting from Rawle Toney
They won all the short sprints at the Beijing Olympics last August and the resulting track and field euphoria was evident in their everyday gait afterwards.
Now, Jamaican athletes are getting challenges to their newfound swank as ‘the world’s fastest and best’, even from those who once tightly held those reigns.
The latest dare is coming from … who else? The United States of America!
The once invincible Yanks who, for years, basked in the glory of being the world’ sprint enclave – almost to the point of smugness – have come up with an audacious proposal to test the ‘tallawah titans’. It comes in a pitch by USA Track and Field last weekend to engage the world’s two sprinting powerhouses in a made-for-the-media challenge that will be in a unique, dual-meet format which could see some of track and field’s current superstars match up like never before.
USATF has formally invited the Jamaica Athletic Association (JAAA) to engage in a home-and-away series in 2009 that that will pit the two nations’ sprinters and hurdlers against each other in head-to-head, team-scored competition.
As described in a letter hand-delivered on Saturday morning by USATF CEO Doug Logan to Jamaican Neville “Teddy” McCook, the meets would feature male and female athletes in the 100m, 200m and 400m; 100m, 110m and 400m hurdles; long jump; and the 4x100m, 4x400m and sprint med ley relays (SMRs).
One competition would be in the United States, with the other taking place on Jamaican soil. Dates for the meets are proposed for May and June.
“It was obvious to everyone that with the rise of your country’s great sprinters and hurdlers, a compelling rivalry between Jamaica and the United States had developed,” Logan wrote to McCook, who is also the North America, Central America and Caribbean Athletic Association Area Group Representative. “These competitions would offer a means to showcase our phenomenal strengths to the NACAC region and the world, as well as offering each of our nations’ fans the chance to see the very best competition track and field has to offer, on home soil.”
Logan delivered the letter to McCook at the fifth annual NACAC Cross Country Championships at Chain of Lakes Park in Titusville, Florida. He proposes using a cumulative scoring format for the meets, and allowing three to four athletes per team in individual races and two teams per country in the relays.
The proposal comes on the heels of World Championship and Olympic competition in which American and Jamaican sprinters dominated.
At the 2007 IAAF Worlds in Osaka, Japan, Americans won the men’s 100m, 200m and 400m, sweeping the longer race; as well as the women’s 200m, both relays, women’s 100m hurdles and men’s 400m hurdles. Jamaica won the women’s 100m, as well as handful of silver and bronze medals. All told, an American or Jamaican won 10 of 12 medals in the men’s and women’s 100m and 200m and went 1-2 in three of the four relays.
A year later in China, it was Jamaica’s turn.
Led by global athlete of the year Usain Bolt, they won the men’s and women’s 100m and 200m, including a sweep in the women’s race. Bolt broke three world records in men’s 100m and 200m, and the 4x100m relay on which he ran third leg. Jamaica draped their flag over the women’s 400m hurdles in Olympic record time. The US swept the men’s 400m and 400 hurdles; won two medals in the men’s 110m hurdles and took gold in the women’s 100m hurdles. Collectively, USA and Jamaica won 11 of 12 medals in the 100m and 200m events; 16 of 18 in the 100m through 400m; and five of six medals in the 400m hurdles.
Track and field buffs who caught wind of the challenge are pushing for it to be a reality, and are urging a quick response by McCook to “take up the brawl,” as in the words of US-based Jamaican Yvaine Gibbs. “Though it’s a challenge, sort of like how the Goodwill Games got started between the US and Russia, it will be good for everyone as athletes or fans.”
Gibbs, a New York marketing and sports executive, once served as commissary and interpreter for Jamaica’s World Cup soccer. She notes that the proposal should be seen in the light of a unique and opportune cultural and sports exchange that will benefit, not only the US and Jamaica, but the entire Caribbean and the wider athletics world.
In terms of bragging rights as ‘sprint capital of the world’ – at least until the next major meet – the IAAF Worlds in Berlin in August – she conceded that “We’ll also get to see which ‘ton’ carries the more weight in today’s track, whether Washington or Kingson.”