Why the Glory Days of USA Track and Field Sprinting are Forever Gone
“He might lose, he’s losing, he’s gonna…. of course he wins!” As millions tuned in to see Usain Bolt defend his back-to-back gold medals in the 100m, very few actually believed he would fail to live up to expectations and not 3-peat. But as the race began, nervousness and astonishment began to creep in everyone’s stomach who watched the race live. Usain Bolt was well behind for a majority of the race. Justin Gatlin of the US was the only hope for the US to regain gold in the 100m, and there was a glimpse of hope for him winning for 60m of the race. But, the greatest sprinter to ever walk this earth responded in the last half of the race to retain gold.
After three straight Olympics of perfection so far from Usain Bolt, the sprinting world has not only been captivated by Bolt’s career, but by the sprinting domination of Jamaica altogether. With Bolt becoming arguably as big an icon in Jamaica as Bob Marley, there have still been several other great Jamaican sprinters, men and women. Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Veronica Campbell-Brown, just to name a few, have also been Olympic and World Championship medalists over the past decade. With Jamaica’s dominating sprinting comes the question: What happened to the US being the center of track and field sprinting excellence?
One cannot take away from the greatness of Usain Bolt and the other Jamaican sprinters, but there are several reasons behind this domination. Besides cricket, there is no other exalted form of entertainment and sport besides track and field sprinting. In a time of Jamaican sprinting excellence and winning, track and field has only risen in popularity in Jamaica, especially after the world breaking times of Bolt in 2008 and 2009. If America and US athletes admired track and field the way, let’s say, American football and basketball are applauded, the focus of track and field excellence would not be a problem. This is not a form of excuse, but instead, a case of reality.
Nowadays in youth sports, many leagues, teams, and organizations are tending to have longer, year-round seasons. With that has resulted in kids specializing in sports today. Instead of many 3-sport athletes, kids are beginning to specialize in one specific sport at very young ages. There is nothing wrong with pursuing one passion and staying focused on that passion, but well-rounded athletes who have experienced other sports is good for our youth as well. The responsibility, teamwork, and leadership skills one develops through a variety of sports and environments is only beneficial for the youth. Many young black athletes today are either sticking to one sport or being forced to pick one sport. Whether it is playing football and attending camps year-round, or playing winter basketball and AAU basketball, the idea of specializing in one sport has reached extremes. The popularity of these sports have left track and field in the dust.
Our black communities need to embrace the idea of being well-rounded instead of relying on one aspiration in life. Being well-rounded can be taken several different ways. Our communities need to encourage experiencing several sports, while also excelling in the classroom and the community. With the idea of specializing in one sport can also bring forth the idea that one doesn’t need a backup plan, in sports and in life. Again, specializing in one sport is not entirely bad, but for youth, it is important to help them keep their options open. There’s no telling how many professional or aspiring football and basketball players could have had remarkable careers in track and field sprinting.
Don’t get me wrong, US track and field sprinting is definitely top-notch and still an example for other countries to look up to, but it could be so much more if shown the appreciation that Jamaica shows. America makes so many headlines in other sports, in politics, in technology, and other areas of life that has caused track and field sprinting to take a backseat. Remember the glory days of US American sprinter, Micheal Johnson, the thrill of Carl Lewis in the sprints, along with the talent of sprinters Maurice Green and Tyson Gay. Remember when the US was expected to win the 4 x 100m in men’s and women’s sprinting. Remember when all of the top athletes in football and basketball also ran track in high school. There are still cases of this today, but the numbers of those types of athletes have certainly diminished.
Whether youth coaches begin to encourage more participation in other sports or the popularity of organizations such as the Amateur Athletic Union suddenly decrease, US Track and Field sprinting will not reach its full potential for a while. With Usain Bolt headlining the 200m and with Jamaica coming in as the favorites in the sprint relays on the men and women’s side, the question left to ask is what if…What if the US admired track and field sprinting the way Jamaica does? What if athletes such as LeBron James, Dez Bryant, Russell Westbrook, and similar athletic juggernauts focused on track and field instead of football and basketball? What if the environment and culture in America and in our black communities praised track and field much more. If only, but for now, we can only congratulate and appreciate the success of Usain Bolt and Jamaican sprinting and hope for the best in the success of American sprinting for the future.