'Reggae power' rules as Jamaica sweeps 100

Beijing 2008

August 18, 2008|By Los Angeles Times

BEIJING - The Olympic sprints are officially Jamaica's world, and we're all just spectators at a rollicking party.

Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart ran off with an unprecedented sweep of the women's 100-meter dash yesterday, an exhilarating victory that withstood American officials' protest that the field should have been called back after Torri Edwards' admitted false start.

It was the first time since 1976 that no American woman finished in the top three in the 100 at a fully attended Olympics. Marion Jones won gold in 2000, but her performance was nullified after she confessed to doping before the Sydney Games.

While Fraser, Simpson and Stewart wrapped themselves in the green-and-gold flag of their homeland and celebrated the sixth sweep of a women's event in Olympic history, the Americans wondered how Caribbean rhythms had become the soundtrack of the sprints at the Bird's Nest stadium.

"It definitely hurt," said Lauryn Williams, the Athens 100-meter silver medalist but fourth yesterday, one spot ahead of Muna Lee and four ahead of Edwards.

"I think we take for granted the fact we've been on top of the game for I don't know how many Olympics before. I know it was really hard for us that nobody got a medal."

Fraser attributed her success to "reggae power." It didn't hurt that all three women were inspired by compatriot Usain Bolt's world-record run 24 hours earlier in the men's 100.

"He definitely set the pace for us," Stewart said.

Powering her way out of Lane 4, Fraser burst away from the pack about 35 meters down the track and sailed to the finish line in a personal-best time of 10.78 seconds. Simpson and Stewart were each timed at 10.98, and each received a silver medal.

"Wow," said Jeanette Kwakye of Britain, who finished sixth and was the only European in the final. "Who's better than Jamaica, mon? I need to go there, mon."

Jamaican men and women had won silver and bronze in the 100 several times, but before these Games none had reached the top of the Olympic medal stand. That ended when Bolt flew to a 9.69 on Saturday and Fraser led an impressive finish that had her grinning widely and revealing a mouthful of silver braces.

What's even more impressive is that, like Bolt and unlike many elite Caribbean runners, Fraser has stayed home to train instead of going to a college in the United States. And, like Bolt, Fraser is only 21 years old.

"It's about time. We've been waiting on this," Stewart said. "We've had so many great athletes come close."

Fraser ended that frustration with a vibrant flourish.

"I'm excited. Oh my God, I can't believe I actually won," she said, giddy and giggly and utterly unaffected.

"Nobody expected me to win, so there was no pressure," she said. "All I had to do was execute. I was dreaming of it, honestly."

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