lunes, 27 de febrero de 2012

Ilke Wyludda now Aims for a Gold Medal at the Paralympic Games

Ilke Wyludda, the day she became Olympic champion
Photo: DPA
                 London Olympic Games are just around the corner and every athlete is training hard to rise to the occasion. Usain Bolt would like to run the 200m under 19sec so his legend can continue growing and similar thoughts has Yelena Isinbayeva, who is happily back to her best with a new world record. On the other hand, Haile Gebrselassie, 20 years after his international breakthrough, suffered another setback in Tokyo on his aspirations to compete in his 5th Olympic Games but still do not throw the towel. In the female discus throw event, after some lacklustre years, there is a new generation helping to reinvigorate the discipline. Yanfeng Li will try to follow up her victory at Daegu Worlds with the Olympic title but Yarelis Barrios and young stars Sandra Perkovic and Nadine Muller are up for an upset, hoping to get the first 70-meter throw of this century. The latter has won in consistency in the last two years and thus targets to become the next number one athlete in the discipline coming from Germany, the discus throw powerhouse by excellence. No less than 6 women belonging to that country rank into the all-time top-10, which is entirely made up of performances from that controversial 1980s decade: Gabriele Reinsch, Ilke Wyludda, Diana Sachse-Gansky, Irina Meszynski, Gisela Beyer and Martina Opitz-Hellmann. A member of this illustrious club, Wyludda, was also the last German Olympic champion at the discus back in 1996. Now 42, she expects to compete at her 4th Olympiad but in very different circumstances to Bolt, Isinbayeva, Gebrselassie, Muller and her own previous appearances, after having her right leg amputated one year ago. 
                The Leipzig-born Wyludda was one of the most prodigious talents to ever step on an athletic throwing circle. She still owns the thirteen best junior performances at the discus, including a huge 74.40m from September 1988, which is, besides the existing world junior record, the fifth overall mark in the history of the event. She threw more than seven metres longer than any other junior athlete has ever done. Accordingly, Ilke was twice a World junior champion at her pet event and excelled also at the shot put, reaching 20.23, which ranks her only behind Astrid Kumbernuss and Heidi Krieger at the junior tables but ahead someone as 1980 Olympic champion Ilona Brisenick-Slupianek. Ilke was already representing the East German team, being 18, at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, where she finished just out of the medals. However, she was not named for Seoul Olympics with such competition inside of her own country. The more experienced Martina Hellmann, Diana Gansky and record holder Gabriele Reinsch made the trip to Korea. Martina, who once threw the implement beyond 78 metres in an unsanctioned meet, was back then the dominating force in the discipline. She clinched the gold medal at the Olympic Games, in the same way she had won it at Helsinki and Rome World Championships.
              Wyludda was biding her time, which would come in the following decade. The hopeful German never improved on her massive 74.56 from 1989 in Neubrandenburg but gained in consistency, thus winning her first international senior title at the 1990 European championships in Split. (1) She recorded 41 successive victories between 1989 and 1991 but surprisingly her streak came to an end at the world championships, where she was beaten by Bulgarian Tsvetanka Khristova. For the first time injuries would hinder her progression the following season so she had an unfortunate Olympic debut. Wyludda would need up to 15 times knee surgery but always had the willpower to continue on her athletic career. Even more than once she was on a wheelchair for months to come back stronger than ever. In 1994 she defended her European and World Cup titles and the next year she won again silver at the World Championships in Goteborg, behind Belarusian Ellina Zvereva. Then came her sensational victory at Atlanta Olympics, where she threw the implement to a masive 69.66 to get the better of Natalya Sadova and Zvereva. In successive years she would struggle with recurring injuries and eventually gave it up, after the impossibility of regaining her past fitness. In such technical discipline as the discus is, age is a bonus. Ilke Wyludda could still be competing by now. Actually some of her long time rivals as Zvereva, Dietzsch and Yatchenko only retired recently and Nicoleta Grasu, just two years younger, won the bronze medal at 2009 Berlin Worlds; but reality is sometimes tougher than you want to.      

Ilke Wyludda, training for the 2012 Paralympic Games
In December 2010 Ilke Wyludda was again in hospital but this time there were further complications. Her knee was infected by septicaemia and she had to choose between keeping either her leg or her life. After the amputation that miraculous back to fitness she had achieved so many times in the past was impossible. Yet Ilke did not fall in self-compassion and had the will of going on, in spite of the tragedy. “However much you cry you are not going to get your limb back. You cannot stand in the past but keep living with new aims, because life is a gift.” (2) Ilke studied medicine, with a doctoral thesis in pain therapy and now she is working as an anaesthetist at Bergmannstrot Hospital in Halle, the same place where she had her leg amputated. Being helpful to other people suffering the same kind of sad experiences, Ilke can find a motivation from now on. Her new situation brought her also to embrace track and field anew. The Olympic champion in Atlanta is a true fighter and she learned to be it through the practice of sport. (3) Now to be back in training contributes to maintain physical shape and also allows her to fight for a new dream: to grab another title at the Olympic Games, this time at the Paralympics category. Only Hungarian fencer Pal Szerkeres has won medals at both Olympics and Paralympics and Wyludda could become the first athlete in winning gold in both categories. (4)    
Ilke walks now with the help of prosthesis; her apartment and also her car had to be redesigned to fit the new needs of her daily life. She wakes up at 4:30 to reach hospital at 7:00, where she works full time. Then she trains five times a week. Gerhard Boettcher, who was her coach for 20 years has come back to guide her again, in spite he is now a pensioner. Wyludda states it is a new situation but she is already training at 80% of volume, compared to her past workouts. Last December, without any previous training she made her Paralympian debut in a competition in Dubai. She shot putted 6.20 and landed the discus to 20.69m. Not much to cheer about but she expects to improve to 9m and 30m respectively by the time of the Olympics. If she qualifies she will be competing there at the shot put (F 58 category), because the discus is not included in the program. Now she will not be targeting world records, becoming the best athlete in the world, yet her competition will be for life itself. Whatever she achieves in London, Ilke Wyludda is an inspiration for everybody about how to keep struggling for new dreams in life, despite fatality has struck you in the most dramatic way. 

Abebe Bikila was also an Olympic champion who had to endure the experience of
 a physical disability, after his dramatic car accident 

jueves, 16 de febrero de 2012

Aldershot Girls: are London Olympics coming Too Soon?

Esther Chemutai and Charlotte Purdue running in foggy Antrim in 2011
Photo: Mark Shearman
               Both Sebastian Coe and Steve Cram have complained lately British milers do not enjoy anymore competing through cross country trails during the winter season. In the 80s every distance runner used to do it, apart from the popularity of the speciality back then, as a basic preparation to gain in endurance and strength for his summer track campaign. For both legends of track and field this current lack of interest in cross country inside the UK is one of the secrets of the long crisis the nation is living in middle distance running. No current British athlete can be compared to Coe, Cram and Ovett; not even to Elliott, McKean or Williamson. Baddeley has fallen short of the expectations, Michael Rimmer is not consistent enough and Osagie is still on the making. Yet nowadays there are different times and even the World Cross Country championships are not going to be held this year for the first time since World War II. There is still the consolation of Mo Farah, who, by the way, was born in Somalia and whose amazing breakthrough came as he left the UK to join Alberto Salazar’s stable in Oregon. Still a British world champion at the 5000m, in a moment 80% of the kids of the country who are involved in track and field when they are 12 years old have given up the sport when they reach their twenties. Why keep it up if there is not a chance of getting close to the East Africans? Is it not the argument used by high school wonder in the USA Lukas Verzbikas when he decided to switch to triathlon? In Great Britain there is also now a never seen before passion for cycling, which has brought to the victory of Cavendish at the world championship.  
            But this is a man’s world. We have not thought about British female yet. And if there is no worthy heir in the country of past running legends among the men field, we can not say the same about the women’s. Not going very far away in time Jennifer Meadows won a bronze medal at the 800m at Berlin World Championships and Hannah England struck silver at the 1500m in Daegu. However role models are closer in time: Dame Kelly Holmes obtained her sensational double only two Olympic Games ago and Paula Radcliffe, whose world record in the marathon stands out of reach even for Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes, is still training hard to win at last a well-deserved Olympic medal, along with the younger generation. And, apart from some track and field drug addicts, has anybody really realised about the outstanding performances British teen girls are accomplishing in the last couple of seasons in Cross Country? Do not fear these youngsters the hardness of this kind of competition and the terrific East Africans? Listen to the words of the veteran of the group, three time European junior cross champion Stephanie Twell:  “Cross Country gives me strength of character because it is tough when you are racing in the mud, in the hills and in horrible weather. I think it gives you a sense of what being a real runner is all about; you are outdoors and you are facing adversities, both physical and mental. Plus the over-distance training you need for cross-country complements track events.” (1) It looks like these kids are really old-school in their approaching to athletics. And this revalorisation of Cross Country is common among her mates, even the youngest ones as Emelia Gorecka: “The course at Stanmer Park in Brighton was incredible! I can only describe it as a true cross country course – it had hills, mud, woodland, small paths and huge fields… a really enjoyable course to run on.” (2)    

Emelia Gorecka, the European junior champion

               Great Britain won all three female team titles at last European Cross country championship in Velenje and two of the individual races, thanks to Emma Pallant in under-23 category and Gorecka in juniors. It was just the continuation of a streak which started with the upset of a 16-year-old Steph Twell in 2006. Thanks to the Colchester girl, Charlotte Purdue and Emelia Gorecka, the Brits have grabbed five out of the last six junior titles, including a stunning sweep of the first six places in the 2008 edition, when Steph completed her hat trick. (3) Some of the United Kingdom Cross Country standouts are older as Hattie Dean, Freya Murray and Gemma Steel, who has been the senior leading Brit this winter, third in Velenje and second in Edinburgh and Antrim, only inferior among Europeans to the amazing Irish Fionnuala Britton, winner in all those three races. Nevertheless the most interesting athletes of the country are quite young and precocious runners: Twell won gold at the championships at 16; Purdue snatched bronze at 16, silver at 17 and eventually gold at 19; Gorecka, who had won 15 consecutive cross country races in 2008, obtained bronze two years afterwards at the European Champs, being 16 years old and gold at 17. Only Emma Pallant seems to be performing right within the parameters of her age.  Besides, Purdue became the youngest winner of the senior national trials in 20 years, and went on to cross the line at Punta Umbría World championship as the first European in place 14th. On the other hand, Gorecka, was the youngest contender at the junior race at the precedent edition in Bydgoszcz, finishing a creditable 23rd, which she improved to 15th in Punta Umbría. Twell, Purdue, Pallant and Gorecka belong all four of them to the same athletic club, Aldershot Farnham and District AC and train together under the supervision of acclaimed coach Mick Woods.
            Woods, a 63-year-old former marathoner from Ireland, has also an outstanding résumé. The mentor of the new generation of British female athletes has been coaching since 1986. Until 1993 he was also working as a full-time telecom engineer but decided to concentrate in his track and field profession once she got a job at St. Mary’s High Performance Centre at Twickenham University College, the main base of Aldershot club and the place where Charlotte is studying History. Mick Woods has coached at least one athlete in every World Championship since 1996. At the last one in Punta Umbría, 8 representatives out of 24 belonged to Aldershot. (4) Furthermore, three of his charges won in consecutive editions the British Rising Athlete of the Year award: Stephanie Twell in 2008, Charlotte Purdue in 2009 and Emelia Gorecka in 2010. Sprinter Jodie Williams eventually broke the streak in 2011, when no wonder Mick Woods was named Mentor of the year by the same prestigious magazine, Runner’s World. (5) 

Mick Woods and outstanding pupil Stephanie Twell 
             And what is the secret behind that stunning success of those young girls, of that single coach? Some has compared this athletic club with the one Kiyoshi Nakamura, the coach of Toshihiko Seko and Douglas Wakihurii, used to have. (6) It is a question of total loyalty, blind trust in Woods’ methods. Charlotte Purdue arrived to the club being 11, when she was spotted by Woods in a school race and Emma Pallant has been there as long as her mate. Steph Twell joined Aldershot even younger, when she was 9. The simple reason was she was living 600 metres from the track and her father was involved in the club. However nowadays she would never quit her coach. The prove is she was adamant in her decision of sticking with him in a moment it seemed St. Mary’s was going to be excluded from the high performance centres chosen to prepare British endurance athletes for London Olympics and she was asked to relocate to Loughborough with another coach. (7) Purdue and Pallant share her mate’s faith towards their lifelong trainer. Other athletes as Emelia Gorecka and Georgia Peel came later in their careers from other clubs but they are as enthusiastic about Aldershot. Gorecka states running is her relaxation time from studies, thanks to the extraordinary atmosphere created in training by her fellow athletes and Woods, which help her to stay at any time calmed and focused . Her Aldershot mates are also her best friends out of the track. (8) 
              Aldershot will never be a running elite-building factory. Mick Woods’s personality will never be up for that. For the successful coach the more pupils the better, especially when the sport drop rate is so high. And he does not necessarily recruit the most talented youngster. Purdue finished 16th at the race she was spotted by Mick, just at time because she did not expect to keep further her running career. "She was not an athlete with perfect movement. She had little leg lift and was very much a heel striker, but what I saw was someone who could have an engine - endurance - and that has always been Charlotte's success.” (5) What Woods praises in a trainee is commitment and perseverance, the willpower to keep going even in adverse circumstances, when results are not coming or injuries weaken confidence. In his privileged bunch there is no room for egos either. He places team over individual results, in a modus operandi similar to a pyramid, in which role models as Twell, Purdue (the top), inspire those around them (the base), creating the ethos inside the group. Then the target is to channel the base towards the top. (5) These amazing girls have also been a souce of inspiration for their male counterparts, who have raise their standards, as Jonathan Hay, stunning runner-up in the race of the Olympic champions last month in Edinburgh. Besides, working together, athletes with different skills or capacities support each other, as for example Emelia Gorecka contributes to Georgia Peel’s endurance improvement, benefiting at the same time from the superior speed of her mate. It helps engender the commitment and work ethic; this builds on the club’s success and, in turn, the athletes’ individual goals and performances.  

Georgia Peel, the trackster of the group... or maybe...? 

           There is always room for making friends and laughs but work have to be done. And it is quite tough. Mick Woods is someone who believes high volume is the base for subsequent quality work, as Lydiard or the same Nakamura. It is something many of the current coaches, who prefer shorter staff, have neglected, according to Woods’ opinion. And yes! Cross country in the winter is the best way to start the year. Even teen Georgia Peel whose longest event during the track season will be the 1500m, log the miles and competes happily through the mud, forest hills and the snow to acquire endurance and toughness for her summer races. And eventually, intensity is also required in training. If you want to be fast in championships you first need to be fast during your workouts. 
             In the last two winters some of the Aldershot standouts have also had the opportunity of training in altitude in Iten, Kenya, enjoying the facilities of Lornah Kiplagat’s training centre. One year ago, Twell and Pallant made the trip, along with other British athletes, and recently Steph repeated the experience with Charlie. Mick Woods could stay with them most of the time, getting fit following them riding a bike. (9) For natural runners like them it was an ambivalent journey. Emma was elated of her stage in Kenya and came back with positive feelings about everything from the food to the landscape. (10) Purdue was not as relaxed in Iten. She praised the work of the Kenyan staff at Lornah’s but the shower was “shit” and the gym was too crowded and noisy. Specially she did not get to adapt to the muddy and rocky trails and had to return home with a hurting knee. (11) Both expeditions were unlucky with climatic conditions. The first time it was too dry and too much dust was in the air. The second time the weather was unexpectedly rainy and it made difficult running. Anyway, injuries had been an obstacle too much frequently in the way of Mick Woods’ disciples, often as consequence of the highly demanding Aldershot’s workouts. Pallant faced retirement after a knee operation in 2009 and ongoing struggles in following seasons. Purdue did not race in six months in 2011 because of a stress fracture of the knee. Finally, Twell broke her ankle in five pieces in a Cross in Brussels one year ago and has been back only recently. The courageous athlete was prevented against running cross country again but she took the risk and achieved a praiseworthy fourth place in Velenje.          

             Fortunately all these amazing runners have currently left all their injuries behind and are training at full power for London Olympic Games. Yet it had been nice if their beloved specialty, Cross Country, would have been included in the Olympic programme. Lacking it, they will have to concentrate their efforts for the track. To date, the only Aldershot athlete whose performances on the stadium match the ones on the fields is Steph Twell, who won the final at the World Junior championships in 2008, in a race Emma Pallant struck bronze. (12) That victory over Kenyans and Ethiopians, notably over Kalkidan Gezahegne, current world indoor champion and 4th placer outdoors in Daegu, was a huge boost of confidence for Steph, who also made her Olympic debut in Beijing that same year. Afterwards she has improved her marks to 4:02.54 at the 1500m and 14:54.08 at the 5000m, alternating up and downs in major championships. In her reappearance year after a whole season cut down by her broken ankle, she is entering the turning point of her career. Almost 23 by the Games, she will have to prove herself she can now face anybody. It will be an excellent opportunity for her in an event quite open and besides cheered by her own public. Look at also for Emma Pallant, for years at the shadow of giants Twell and Purdue, who eventually won her first international title in Velenje and can be in the year of her breakthrough.
            Charlotte Purdue proved she was born for tough cross country challenges, ever since she sensationally endured extreme heat and humidity in Mombasa in 2007, to end up the first not-African in the junior contest at age 15.  Lately we have seen her also successfully mastering the roads, as at last Bupa Edinburgh Great Run, where only one of the best, Lucy Wangui, could beat her. Charlie has entered next New York City half-marathon and her future may well be at the longest of the Olympic events. Twell is on the way of becoming the new Kelly Holmes, while Purdue might be a worthy heir of Paula Radcliffe… but for Rio de Janeiro in four years time. Meanwhile, she would try to qualify for the 10.000m for London, but her far-from-economic style of running does not seem to fit the track. For another pure cross country runner, Emelia Gorecka, these Games come too soon but if Jordan Hasay has focused all her season for the Olympic US trials, why should not try such extraordinary youngster as Emelia. Her teen companion Georgia Peel, who like Pallant (13) attended the “On Camp with Kelly” mentoring project for promising middle distance runners, would like to give joy to Dame Holmes qualifying for the host Games at the 1500m. (14) Winner at her first international outing, the World School Games in Doha in 2009, where we also discovered Gorecka, Georgia suffered later two successive setbacks at the Youth Olympic Games and Youth World championships, returning home without a medal. (15) Now she will be up for revenge. Too much too soon, but when there is so much talent and athletic passion you never know.         
Emma Pallant at her training stage in altitude in Iten, Kenya, in February 2011

martes, 14 de febrero de 2012

One Thousand Reasons to Love Shelly-Ann Fraser

Shelly-Ann Fraser gets excited, surrounded by the students from Stella Maris Preparatory School
Photo: Ian Allen
              Shelly-Ann Fraser made history when she became the first Jamaican woman who won the 100m event at the Olympic Games, in 2008 in Beijing. Besides she led a highly successful and totally unprecedented sweep of the medals for her country in that race, along with mates Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart. On the following year, in spite of having her preparation hiccupped by an appendectomy, Shelly went on to add the world crown to the Olympic one, in Berlin, in a time of 10.73, thus breaking Merlene Ottey national record in the process and placing herself third in the all-time lists. Only Gail Devers from the USA had achieved that double before. She also performed a stunning backstretch leg in Jamaica's victory at the 4x100m relay at that same championships.  A series of minor injuries and the arrival of the irresistible Carmelita Jeter, author of an extraordinary 10.64 at the end of the 2009 season, relegated Fraser to the fourth position in Daegu World Championship, just outside of the medals. Anyway the Jamaican sprinter is up for a fresh new star in 2012, hoping to defend her Olympic title.  Out of the track, she has further targets, related with her endeavours in order to help improve the social conditions of  children and women of her community.

                Shelly-Ann is not just any Olympic champion. Her lovable personality and how she got to overcome her difficult upbringings in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Jamaica to obtain international recognition in sport are a unique inspiration for her countrymen. Yet much of the merit of Shelly’s success belongs to her mother. In Waterhouse, where criminal gangs and drugs roam free and murders are committed every week, Maxine was just another member of a large family of brothers and sisters who got pregnant being a teen and soon became a single mother of three. However, Maxine did not want the same unlucky doom for their children. The family grew up in a one-room tenement with a single bed to be shared for all four members, but the mother worked hard as a street vendor to assure her dear ones could have access to a good education in schools as George Headley and Wolmer’s Trust and thus eventually break the circle of misery. (1) Acknowledging the danger, Maxine prevented Shelly and her siblings from hanging on the street. "When you look at the situation that you are in, you work hard at what you want. The crime was a disadvantage and you had to be very careful of who you talk with, because not everybody is who you think they are,” was quoted the future Olympic champion. (2) Maxine was a former runner and her daughter had inherited the genes. She would often be seen running barefoot tirelessly, determined to find through her athletic skills her dream, a way out of poverty. Now Shelly is a world famous sprinter and her triumph is a source of pride for her whole community. After returning from her gold medal in Beijing, the runner was in shock of seeing her image immortalised in a mural by local painting artists: “The only time they draw your face in a wall where I live is when you are dead.” (3)

                    Besides her sportive achievements, Shelly-Ann Fraser is the only person in her family who has undertaken tertiary education. Currently, she is in her last academic year in order to obtain a degree in Child Care and Development at Kingston’s University of Technology. Keeping in mind her experience as a poor girl growing up in the inner-city, she expects to make a contribution in the task of improving social and mental conditions for future Waterhouse’s children. Talking about her plans she intends to set up a foundation to aid under-privileged kids; to build a community centre in Waterhouse; to get Jamaicans to toss away guns and ensure the island becomes a woman's as well as a man's world; to become a child psychologist to help develop more people in the world with better values and better morals. (1) In her crusade she will have the convincing argument of her own living example which proves you can make it if you have the right motivation even in the hardest environment; you can become something good even coming from the ghetto. Nevertheless, before graduating, her success in sport has allowed her to start already with her altruistic endeavours. Since 2010 Shelly-Ann is the first UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Jamaica and also Grace Food’s official Ambassador for Peace. (4) In a visit to her former school Wolmer’s, whom she gave a donation in return for the excellent education she received in, she left in awe the audience of young students with her eloquent speech:  "The next Olympic champion or the next Prime Minister could be any one of you sitting right here. Believe in yourself. Never give up on your dreams and goals." (5) Shelly also would like to contribute to the liberation of Jamaican women. In spite of her outstanding victory and clean sweep of the medals at the 100m in Beijing by three girls of the country, all this was completely overshadowed by Usain Bolt and his world records. All the journalists’ questions when arriving to the press conference in Jamaica were asked to him. Fraser or Campbell-Brown are still far behind in popularity and media attention in comparison with Bolt and Asafa Powell but the student in child development expect one day “this man’s world” is going to change. 
              And if Shelly can not change the world with her words she will do with her smile and altogether adorable personality. The 100m Olympic champion can be easily named the most lovable person of the whole athletic field. Much of it comes from her upbringing in Waterhouse which is also the legendary reggae music cradle by excellence, along with the neighbouring Trenchtown. The likes of King Tubby, U Roy and Black Uhuru all come from this place and it would not be strange, Shelly, who states if she had not been a runner would have enjoyed being a dancer or a singer, could claim the spot of the sadly gone Sandra "Puma" Jones. Her former  schoolmates remember her as jovial and funny and she has not changed much. The Waterhouse sprinter owns an irresistible children smile and an overwhelming spontaneity and bubbly ways, which combined with her shyness makes worth coming to an athletic meeting, only to watch Shelly’s lively celebrations (6) bouncing overjoyed or screaming full of happiness on the ground -If you still do not know the girl please watch the video above. And if she is lovely to be seen in her winning days, when she loses she still keeps her smile and also her humbleness and sportsmanship. Yet despite of her demeanour, her cute looks and her braces, she has always considered herself a tomboy. In her childhood she was always playing her brothers’ games and her favourite toy was a tiny soldier. Furthermore there are less encouraging memories involving a couple of lizards, a syringe and some blood. (3) Shelly has always had more male friends than female, as track club mate Asafa Powell. However now she is happily married with long time boyfriend, not related to sports, Jason Pryce. Lucky guy!

Shelly-Ann Fraser celebrates her Olympic victory at Beijing Olympic Games
Photo: Stu Foster/ Getty Images
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is delightfully human and she still was as her positive drug test from oxycodone was revealed. Her management is really to blame on that affair: was it really necessary to make the athlete take that toothache painkiller for running that Diamond League meeting at any price? It really hurt the reputation of this person, the last one you can think of as taking illicit shortcuts to success, once you know her long time hard work and sacrifices to overcome poverty and become a professional athlete; and besides acknowledging the importance of her public image, because of her involvement with children and UNICEF. Anyway, Shelly did not try to hide from anybody. Instead, she decided to face that affair with journalists with sincerity, answering outright any of their questions. It is plain many enjoy this sort of sensationalistic news and quite a lot are convinced Jamaican overwhelming dominance of sprint events around the world is due to the extra help of steroids. It is true there have been some cases of doping offences from athletes of the country but it does not explain the sensational Jamaican success.

               If you look for the secret of the formula, first you must think athletics is the national sport in the island, at the same level as soccer is in Brazil. The United States as a larger country count with as many or even more youngsters talented for sports which require speed and strength, but many take instead football, baseball or basketball. In Jamaica every one of the hopeful teens choose track and field sprints, in the same way Kenyans and Ethiopians embrace distance running. (7) There is a very long established athletic tradition in Jamaica, which most clear manifestation is “The Champs.”   This inter-secondary school competition has been held for over a century with immense success. Boys and girls in the country clash under a crowd of 30.000 spectators and thus get used to competition and pressure since they are very young. Just remember Jamaican high school squads as Vere Tech, Wolmer's, Kingston College, Munro College and Edwin Allen got the better of US teams in most of the sprint races at last Penn Relays. Besides a well structured and intense youth (and senior) calendar, Jamaica has currently two of the best sprint coaches in the world: Stephen Francis and Glenn Mills, which head MVP Track Club and Racers Track Club respectively. Most of the current national stars are training in one of the two foremost teams. Up to 10 years ago, Jamaican hopefuls used to join US Colleges to develop their athletic career but lately teens opt instead to stay in Jamaica, where they can get as good world-class coaching as in any other country in the world. Finally, the government is increasingly investing in sport, there are outstanding role models for youngsters and hard work and commitment of the athletes are a big reason for success too.                 

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is also the product of this encouraging atmosphere for running in the island of Jamaica. She competed as a young teen several times at the Champs, representing Wolmer’s high school. However as was also the case of Veronica Campbell and many others, she suffered shocking defeats until eventually she got to win the 100m title in 2004, aged 17. The following year she struck the bronze medal at another teen contest with outstanding reputation and tradition, the Carifta Games, which are held at Caribbean level. Throughout those battles she learned how to deal with the pressure of a large crowd and as consequence increased her confidence. As a senior athlete, Shelly-Ann joined MVP track club. Under Stephen Francis, who she believes her most important influence in life besides of her mother, and working together with the likes of Asafa Powell, Michael Frater, Nesta Carter, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, Melaine Walker or Shericka Williams, the young athlete made the way to the elite. In 2007, Shelly improved her PB to 11.31 for 5th place at the national championships and for the first time was named for the senior Jamaican team to compete at the World Championships in Osaka. As a member of the 4x100m relay in the semi final she was awarded with the silver medal the squad eventually won. Then in 2008 came her sensational breakthrough, when she finished second after Kerron Stewart at the national trials in 10.85, leaving out of the Olympics in the 100m event the then reigning world champion Veronica Campbell-Brown. In spite of many voices claiming the 21-year-old athlete had to be left in Jamaica to favour the more experienced Campbell, eventually Shelly-Ann Fraser made the trip to Beijing and the rest is history. At the Olympics the world witnessed for the first time Shelly’s trademark: her meteoric outburst. The ultimate “rocket-pocket” after three powerful strides always gets at least one metre clear of every one of her rivals. Yet her problem is sometimes to maintain this gap until the end. Shelly worked especially on her endurance last year, emphasising 400m repeats in training, and seemed to be in the right way when she won the 200m at the Jamaican Invitational in a slightly windy 22.10, beating handily Veronica Campbell. Nevertheless, some injuries did not allow her to keep her progression further during the season. Maybe this Olympic year she can be back to where she used to be. Shelly-Ann Fraser is only training seriously since 2006 and many of her senior seasons have been slowed by injuries or illness. The Waterhouse lad has still many things to say at major global competitions on the track.

Shelly-Ann Fraser in Daegu with her relay 4x100m teammates Kerron Stewart, Sherone Simpson and Veronica Campbell
Photo: Andy Lyons/ Getty Images Asia Pac