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U.S. fired up by Jamaican gold rush in Beijing Olympics

U.S. sprinters such as Justin Gatlin hope to get back on top. REUTERS/Mike Blake

LONDON: Jamaica’s superb sprinting at the Beijing Olympics was a wake-up call for American athletes who usually dominate the raw speed events, according to U.S. coaches.

Americans won no golds and only four medals in total in the men’s and women’s 100 and 200 meters and 4x100-meter relays as Jamaica surged to victory in all four individual races and the men’s short relay, claiming eight medals overall.

“I think it was a good wake-up call,” U.S. men’s coach Andrew Valmon told reporters.

“You will find that every event has stepped up in the U.S., [and] that is because we needed to.”

World records fell to Jamaica in all three men’s races and the women swept the 100m medals.

The Americans did not even get the baton around in the 4x100m relays, dropping it in both the men’s and women’s first round.

“I think it is very important for the U.S. to really try to get back on top in the sprints,” said U.S. 100m record holder Tyson Gay.

“I think it is very important for us to win the [4x100m] relay.”

But it is not just the Jamaicans that have awakened the Americans, said U.S. women’s coach Amy Deem.

“You want to go out and be a medalist,” she said, whether the person in the next lane is a Jamaican or Australian hurdles favorite Sally Pearson.

“I really feel like the women can get medals in places where we haven’t traditionally got medals.”

While many American athletes have shied away from discussing the rivalry, Jamaicans seems to delight in it.

“I think [we] have been going back and forth for several years, especially in the sprints,” said Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown.

“We do enjoy racing each other because we are very competitive,” said the four-time Olympian who has twice defeated U.S. champion Allyson Felix for the Olympic 200 meters gold medal. “It is great for the sport.”

Felix said she would leave rivalry talk to the media.

“If there wasn’t [a rivalry], I think you guys have made it one,” America’s most decorated female sprinter told reporters.

“Of course with the relay, that is always added motivation,” Felix said of racing against the Jamaicans.

“When it comes to individual events … it didn’t matter who it was who beat you, you want a rematch You want to get out there and prove yourself.”

Jamaican 100m world champion Yohan Blake will also leave the rivalry talk to others.

“I try not to build a rivalry, because at the end of the day, it is just a race and [you] just go there and focus what you want to do,” he said.

But the pressure is clearly building on the Americans to improve on their Beijing showing.

Former track federation CEO Doug Logan set 30 athletics medals as the goal for London and current chief executive Max Siegel has endorsed the idea.

To do so, sprinting medals must increase for the U.S., which won 23 total athletics medals in Beijing.

If that does not fire up American sprinters, nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis added his own challenge this week.

“I think they [the U.S.] will get the most gold medals in the sprints,” America’s greatest sprinter said. “And I think they will get the most medals all round.”

 

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