Sci­en­tists scram­bling to trace source of Ja­maica’s Light­ning Bolt syn­drome

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

CHECK out your ring fin­ger. If its un­usu­ally long then get some spikes and start train­ing, you could be the next Usain Bolt.

Fast-run­ning Ja­maicans are known to have some­thing called “a low2D:4D ra­tio” in their dig­its and this is one of many ge­netic fac­tors in­trigu­ing sports sci­en­tists as they ex­plain the ut­ter dom­i­nance of the Kings from Kingston Town in sprint­ing.

Their suc­cess has been brew­ing for a while, Ja­maica won a re­lay gold as long ago as 1952 and Don Quar­rie claimed the 100m in 1976, but it ap­peared in full force at the Bei­jing Olympics and has been con­firmed at the Berlin World Cham­pi­onships.

What the Ja­maicans have done in the past two years is ar­guably the great­est na­tional achieve­ment ever in any sport.

From a rel­a­tively im­pov­er­ished pop­u­la­tion of less than three mil­lion they took six sprint­ing golds in China and are on course to re­peat that trick in Ger­many. And it’s not a one-man show – all the hype might be around Bolt but he is backed up by Asafa Pow­ell, a tal­ented re­lay team and a for­mi­da­ble women’s squad which pro­vided gold, sil­ver and half the fi­nal­ists in the 200m.

The Kenyans and Ethiopi­ans have a com­pa­ra­ble dom­i­nance in dis­tance run­ning but be­tween those two na­tions you have more than 100m peo­ple in the tal­ent pool.

Talk about own­ing a niche. The Ja­maicans are to­tally fo­cussed on their spe­cial­ity.

Of all their 53 Olympic medals ev­ery one is in sprint­ing apart from one un­ex­plained de­viant who won a track cycling bronze in Moscow.

Their only other fa­mous Olympic prod­uct was the plucky fail­ure of the Cool Run­nings bob­sled team at the 1988 win­ter games.

Re­searchers have long known that the best sprint­ers phys­i­o­log­i­cally have come from West African stock.

There’s plenty of com­plex stuff about fast-twitch mus­cle fi­bres and ACTN3 genes plus some Dar­winian his­tory about de­scen­dants of, what one Ja­maican doc­tor de­scribes as, “the fittest of the fit slaves”.

It’s a racially charged de­bate which the sci­en­tists try and keep fac­tual.

It’s a stark statis­tic that, as Bolt shat­ters the 9.6sec bar­rier, no white per­son has yet run a cer­ti­fied sub-10sec.

There’s an un­der­stand­able cyn­i­cism about such a sud­den per­for­mance leap both col­lec­tively and in­di­vid­u­ally.

It took 28 years to lower the 100m record by the 0.11sec Bolt slashed off it last Sun­day and the con­spir­acy the­o­rists and blog­gers are talk­ing about drugs.

There are some se­ri­ous ques­tions about out-of-com­pe­ti­tion test­ing regimes in Ja­maica, but the lo­cals say those who have been caught or are un­der a cloud tend to be those who live and train in the United States.

Bolt re­mains a very lo­cal hero who has not headed off for the com­fort of the Amer­i­can col­le­giate.

He is a prod­uct of The Champs, the fa­mous lo­cal high school com­pe­ti­tion, which has al­most mytho­log­i­cal sta­tus in ath­let­ics.

And, think­ing of speed, this is the is­land which also pro­duced Michael Hold­ing and Court­ney Walsh, al­though I can’t ge­net­i­cally ex­plain the ul­tra-lan­guid Chris “Cool Am­blings” Gayle.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.