Mumbai: Once the powerhouse in sprint events, United States are struggling to keep pace with Jamaica of late. Led by Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the tiny Caribbean island have given the Americans a tough time and the domination looks set to continue at Rio Olympics which kicks off on August 5.
Since 2008, the men from the Caribbean island, led by Bolt, have swept all the six gold medals available in marquee events – 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay – in the last two Olympics. While Bolt shattered records at will, once the domain of US sprinters, the high point was the clean sweep of all three medals in 200m at London 2012 by Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Wier as the US slipped to a new low.
During that period, the Americans returned with just one silver and three bronze medals. In the pre-Bolt era they had won 16 of the 27, 100 metres titles.
Similarly, in the women’s section Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown have made sure the island nation’s flag is kept flying high. While Fraser-Pryce has won 100m sprint at the last two Olympics, she also has silver in 200m from London. Campbell-Brown won the 200m gold in 2004 and 2008. The only saving grace for the giants was Allyson Felix’s gold in 200m at London.
The US team never recovered from the BALCO scandal which engulfed some of their top sprinters like Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery among others. The last of the big names from the US were Michael Johnson and Maurice Green – the global superstar, who dominated the 200m and 100m in mid-90s and early 2000s respectively.
Some of their biggest recent stars – Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Lashawn Merritt – head into the Olympics with a tainted record.
Seasoned campaigners Bolt, Yohan Blake, returning after an injury-riddled couple of seasons, and Nickel Ashmeade will lead the Jamaican charge in Rio in the 100m and 200m. America’s effort to reclaim their lost throne in 100m will be spearheaded by Gatlin and two youngsters – 21-year-old Trayvon Bromell, a 100m bronze medallist from the 2015 World Championships and 22-year-old Marvin Bracy, a first-time Olympian. In 200m, Gatlin will have the company of Merritt and newbie Ameer Webb.
In the women’s section as well, the advantage tilts in Jamaica’s favour, at least on paper. While Fraser-Pryce leads their challenge in 100m, Campbell-Brown will carry their hopes in 200m.
Their experience will help the others on the roster. Keeping Fraser-Pryce company in 100m will be Elaine Thompson, a silver medallist from the 2015 Beijing Worlds in 200m, and greenhorn Christania Williams.
Campbell-Brown will have to guide the first-time Olympians -- 21-year-old Kali Davis-White and 31-year-old Simone Facey, a late bloomer when it comes to sprints.
Americans, on the other hand, are an unknown commodity but they will be looking to the youngsters to pick up the gauntlet. In 100m, 30-year-old Tianna Bartoletta, a long jump specialist and Beijing Worlds gold medallist, 25-year-old Tori Bowie, a 100m bronze winner from 2015 Worlds, and 24-year-old English Gardner, part of silver winning 4x100m relay team from Moscow and Beijing, will lead their charge.
In 200m, they will bank on Brown, 23-year-old Jenna Prandini, a first-time Olympian and a relay specialist, and 21-year-old Deajah Stevens.
The Jamaican domination has extended to the World Championships as well with the Caribbean team clinching the last four men’s 100m gold - Bolt winning on three occasions. The US team’s last gold was way back in 2007, won by Gay. Till that edition they had clinched gold in eight of the 11 editions.
It follows a similar pattern in the women’s section as well with the Jamaicans winning four of the five 100m gold medals since 2007. Fraser-Pryce won three of them while Campbell-Brown won once. The only occasion they missed out was in 2012 when Carmelita Jeter pipped Campbell-Brown to the post. Before the Jamaican surge started, Americans had taken six of the seven gold medals between 1993 and 2005.
In 200m, Bolt has been victorious in last four World Championships and has faced no real competion from the Americans. It’s tough going for the Americans in the women’s segment, having gone without a medal in the last two Worlds.
Campbell-Brown and Fraser-Pryce won in 2011 and 2013 respectively but Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers won in 2015 to emerge as the one to challenge the heavyweight nations.
In the men’s relay, the last four gold medals have gone to the Jamaicans and during that period just one silver was added to the Americans trophy cabinet, which came in 2013. The Jamaican women are champions in the last two editions with the Americans settling for silver on both occasions.