Four track and field athletes from the Caribbean made Time Magazine’s “50 Olympic Athletes To Watch” List. They are Jamaicans Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt and Veronica Campbell-Brown and Cuban Dayron Robles.
Like his countryman Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, 22, grew up poor in the Jamaican countryside. For Blake and other outstanding Jamaican sprinters, escaping poverty was a driving force in their careers. “We’re hungry for something,” Blake says. “We want it so bad.” Blake got it — he won a world championship in the 100 meters last year. But his title comes with a caveat: Bolt, who is also his training partner, was disqualified from the final because of a false start. Blake knows that many fans don’t view him as the true world champ. “I understand why people say that,” he says. “Bolt is the king of track and field.” He’s the king for now: Blake beat Bolt in both the 100-m and 200-m finals at the Jamaican trials, so Bolt must now thwart an upstart rival in London.
If you haven’t kept close tabs on Usain Bolt, the breakout star of Beijing, since 2008, here’s a recap: the 6 ft. 5 in. Jamaican sprinter set new world records in 2009, running the 100-m race in 9.58 seconds at the world championships and the 200 in 19.19. The Jamaican government gave him one of the country’s highest national honors, the Order of Jamaica, and the diplomatic title Ambassador at Large — he’s Dr. the Honorable Ambassador Usain Bolt, OJ to you. A false start at the 2011 world championships cost him another gold in the 100. But in London, don’t bet against Bolt, now 25, breaking more speed barriers.
Because of Usain Bolt, Jamaica’s male sprinters get most of the attention. But the country’s women are just as dominant, thanks in large part to Veronica Campbell-Brown. She’s the two-time defending Olympic gold medalist in the 200 meter and the reigning world champ in the event. She has a chance to make history in London: no one has ever won three straight Olympic golds in the 200 meter. Campbell-Brown hails from Trelawny, the same rural region that produced Bolt, and a coach spotted her talent while she ran barefoot in a grade-school race. “When I was a little girl, my dream was always to get an individual gold medal,” Campbell-Brown, 30, told CNN. “I have two, which is more than I asked for. A third will be the icing on the cake.”
Few matchups were more anticipated at the 2008 Beijing Olympics than the 110-m hurdles showdown between Cuba’s Robles and China’s Liu Xiang. Liu pulled out with an injury, leaving Robles – the event’s world record holder (12.87 seconds) – to breeze to the gold medal. Since then, injuries have also hampered Robles, 25, who has failed to break 13 seconds in recent years. But he’ll still be the favorite in London. And the rivalry with Liu should be even more intense after Robles’ first-place finish in last year’s World Championships was disqualified when judges ruled his arm had obstructed the Chinese hurdler.
Athletes on the list include Australian Sally Pearson who tied with Bolt for the 2011 IAAF Athlete of the Year, South African sprinter Caster Semenya who was withdrawn from and subsequently returned to the World Championships over gender controversy in 2010. American Swimmer Michael Phelps and NBA basketballer Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma Thunder also make the list.
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