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