Jamaican Sprinters Owe Their Olympic Success to Nature and Nurture

When we think of the country Jamaica, two primary things come to mind: Bob Marley and a certain kind of herb. After this 2008 Olympics, the image of the Jamaican sprinters running at mind-boggling speeds will likely be sandwiched in between these two more traditional images.

Jamaica is proudly home to the two fastest men in the world, 100m champion Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. And women, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart are the gold, silver and bronze medallists in the women’s 100m.

Usain Bolt

What is it about this tiny country of only 2.8 million people that makes it able to corner the market on running and produce the world’s fastest sprinters? It’s not steroids. For the past two decades, Jamaica has been scott-free in testing positive for steroids.

Maybe it’s island life.

Take the food, for instance: Jamaican cuisine is known for its “jerking” method of cooking that relies on slow-cooking food with spices like ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Perhaps it’s the “punch” of the spices that helps these star athletes break world records.

The bottom line is that Jamaican cuisine is healthy: The fish from the Caribbean Sea provides athletes with abundant amounts of lean protein and the tropical fruit, which is loaded with vitamins, fiber and tons of flavor, can satisfy any athletes’ sweet tooth.

Or maybe it’s the system in which these young runners are plucked sometimes well before age five, when their natural speeding abilities catch the eye of scouts. From then on, they are groomed and primed to cultivate their talent and carry on the legacy of former Jamaican sprinters. Whatever it is, these runners have been spectacular to watch in their emblazoned yellow jerseys. Their legs which cycle at a dizzyingly fast pace make it seem as if you’re watching the race while hitting the fast-forward button your television. They are that fast! And they have been that much fun to watch! Here’s another thumbs-up for the adage “size doesn’t matter:” This tiny island, smaller than the state of Connecticut, has blown us all away this past Olympics with its speed and spirit.

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