RIO DE JANEIRO—One country has had a stranglehold on sprinting at the Rio Olympics. It's not the U.S., it's not Great Britain and it's not Canada.
Jamaica, with a population of roughly 3 million, has maintained its domination in sprinting at the Rio Games and more than likely will continue to own the 100 meters, 200 meters and perhaps the 400 meters for the foreseeable future.
Usain Bolt captured the gold in the 100 meters on Sunday for a record third consecutive Olympics. By his own admission, the 100 meters isn't even his best event even though he is the world-recorder holder at 9.58 seconds.
"I was thinking about execution," Bolt told a packed press conference at Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange. "As long as I execute right … and just run through the line, I will be fine.
"I know Justin Gatlin is always going to get his signature start, so I had to stay cool and just run through the line. When I saw that I won I felt good. It was a relief because I personally think it is my weakest event so it was a relief to get it done."
Yes, winning has become so commonplace for Bolt that it's almost as if each top competition is a formality for him to get out of the way. The 29-year-old often seems more interested in how to celebrate afterward than savoring a gold-medal moment in arguably the most visible Olympic event. Many gold-medal winners struggle to contain their emotions after they win their event. The affable Bolt, on the other hand, would go on to carry a giant stuffed replica of the Rio Olympics mascot off the track.
Oh, and Bolt is the heavy favorite to win the 200 meters on Thursday. It's not a surprise considering he won it in 2008 and 2012 and is the world-record holder. Bolt has already gone on record to say the Rio Games will be a disappointment if he doesn't win three gold medals again.
But it's not just Bolt who leaves the competition in the dust. His fellow Jamaicans are accomplished, as well. In the women's 100 meters this week, Elaine Thompson won gold by holding off 2008 and 2012 gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who settled for bronze while battling a toe injury. Thompson, 24, also captured gold in the 200 meters and should still be a force at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
Others like Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart have all tasted glory. Added to that are sprinters like Linford Christie, a gold-medal winner in the 100 meters at the 1992 Barcelona Games, who represented Great Britain but was born in Jamaica.
So how does one country become such a powerhouse in a single sport? Since the 2004 Olympics, the track-obsessed island nation has been on a hot streak, mainly due to youth fulfilling their potential but there are other factors to consider.
"A lot of kids walk to school and some run to school," said Ivor Nugent, a Kingston native who was draped in Jamaican colors on Sunday night.
Nugent was among a group of 13 Jamaican track fans who made the trek to Rio, but he claims there are far bigger contingents. Indeed, it might be fair to mistake the Rio's Olympic Stadium crowd for a concert by Jamaican reggae artist Barrington Levy rather than a track event with samba flare. Jamaicans come out to support their sprinters, and they do it in packs.
Nugent explains what just about every Jamaican already knows: the youth meets are where champions are born. The biggest track and field meet event in Jamaica is the Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Championships, known commonly as the "Champs," and sells out the 35,000-capacity National Stadium in Kingston. The Olympic Stadium in Rio holds 60,000, and wasn't full to capacity on Sunday night, so there isn't all that much difference between the number watching Bolt and those paying to get a glimpse of teenagers aiming to become the next Jamaican star sprinter.
Sprinting has also morphed from an activity to a career opportunity in Jamaica. "Over the years, [sprinting] has not only become a way of life, but a means to life. You can have a job running," Nugent said.
But what about doping, the current scourge of track and field? Well, Bolt was winning races when he was 15 and has never tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug, so, he, at least, has no case to answer.
A dark cloud may always hang over athletics when it comes to PEDs, particularly sprinting. Still, it seems difficult to pin Jamaica's success on doping. While some Jamaican sprinters have in the past tested positive and the adequacy of the country's drug-testing program has come under severe scrutiny in recent years, other countries have also had their fair share of doping.
Richard Moore, author of "The Dirtiest Race in History: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the Seoul Olympic 100m Final" and "The Bolt Supremacy: Inside Jamaica’s Sprint Factory," feels that doping is probably not the explanation for Jamaican domination.
"There are quite a few Jamaicans who have tested positive, but the ones who are based in Jamaica have all tested positive for stimulants or badly labeled products—not to excuse them or exonerate them," Moore told International Business Times in a phone interview. "But if you got a spectrum of doping offenses, it leans towards the milder end."
There are also financial constraints to assume Jamaicans have avoided doping. Current Jamaican youths breaking Bolt's run times from the early 2000s are kids who can't afford running shoes let alone PEDs.
Moore compares Jamaica's success in sprinting to New Zealand's success in rugby, as the sports are firmly embedded in their respective countries. He also equated the culture of sprinting in Jamaica schools with Texas' high school football culture, which is nothing short of a state-wide obsession.
A lot of Jamaica's success can also be attributed to coaching, their history with the sport and their overall demeanor.
There are several assistant coaches who work as unpaid volunteers and do it five days a week. These coaches provide fundamentals to sprinting that are probably overlooked in places like the U.S.
Dating back to the 1948 London Games, Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley took home gold and silver, respectively. George Rhoden would capture gold in the 400 meters in Helsinki in 1952, with McKenley taking silver again and also winning the silver in the 100 meters. Despite not winning gold, McKenley became a national icon and went on to coach the national team from 1954 to 1973. Along the way, the developing sprinting program cut into American dominance behind the successes of Lennox Miller and Don Quarrie. It took a while for the women to gain ground, with Grace Jackson a notable 200-meter silver medalist who lost to world-record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner at the Seoul Games in 1988.
Meanwhile, Jamaicans, known for their laid-back personalities, appear to have mastered staying calm. The skill of relaxing gives their sprinters an edge, according to Moore.
A 1981 book by American track and field coach Bud Winter, "Relax and Win," has been instrumental to Jamaica's growth in the sport. Former legendary Jamaican coach Dennis Johnson studied under White and those teachings were later adopted by current coaches Stephen Francis and Bolt's coach, Glen Mills. It's likely through Mills' relaxed approach that Bolt, who considers Mills a father figure, is able to prepare for heats in his own unique way.
"I think Bolt works hard at achieving that state of relaxation," Moore said. "And all the tricks and the tomfoolery before the start is a way of relaxing. It is very much part of his armory, I suppose."