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BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME
S.L. PRICE
October 20, 2008
After winning Jamaica's first Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters, sprinters Shelly-Ann Fraser and Usain Bolt returned to a party that is still jumping—from the slums of Kingston to the country roads in Trelawny
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October 20, 2008

Bringing It All Back Home

After winning Jamaica's first Olympic gold medals in the 100 meters, sprinters Shelly-Ann Fraser and Usain Bolt returned to a party that is still jumping—from the slums of Kingston to the country roads in Trelawny

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The music stops. Shelly-Ann's mom, a street vendor named Maxine Simpson, who supported three kids selling underwear, socks and rags, takes up the microphone. She sings, "God is goooood, God is good to me." One voice from the crowd joins in, then three, then more with each word. They sing, "How could I let Him down? How could I let Him down? So good to me...."

Maxine stops singing. "All hands now," she commands, calling for prayer. "Father, my Father, I come to you with everything. I thank you for strength, life. Lord, without you, we are nothing. When we have you, we have everything...."

A man pulls up on a bike. "It would make you weep, the things Shelly-Ann went through, but she's persistent," he says. "A great example. Plenty more kids want to be like Shelly-Ann."

Now Maxine is shouting, "Hear me out! I want the future for the kids.... We want them to grow, to come and support the parents. Pick them up so they can walk again in love and Christ. Let them live...."

But the crowd has grown restless. It's breaking up when a sudden stir can be felt rolling our way, up the middle of Ashoka Road. Heads turn: Fifty feet away, approaching fast, hundreds of bodies are at once falling back from and pushing in on this one small face, trying to clear a path while all of Waterhouse leans in to see. A voice yells, "She coming!"

TUESDAY, SEPT. 16

WHEN BOLT and Fraser won the 100-meter finals, they altered the way Jamaicans regard themselves. Jamaica, a sprinting power since its first Olympics, in 1948, had produced gold medalists such as Arthur Wint and Donald Quarrie, world-record holders such as Asafa Powell and proud warriors such as Herb McKenley, but their achievements seemed perfectly scaled for an island of its size. Prime talents such as Donovan Bailey emigrated and competed for bigger, richer nations. Merlene Ottey, with eight Olympic medals, none of them gold, best embodied the Jamaican track persona: always feared, but doomed to place or show.

Then Bolt struck and Fraser followed, and if they had merely been the first Jamaicans to win the Olympic 100, that would have been plenty. But there was also the matter of style. Fraser romped to the gold in 10.78 seconds, grinning so hard at the finish, leaping and punching the air with such glee, that it seemed she might levitate for her victory lap.

Then again, she had the toughest act in history to follow: The night before, Bolt, gliding in with arms outstretched for the last 30 meters, crushed the field in a world-record time of 9.69, then pulled off his shoes, danced two goofy dances with the Jamaican flag about his neck and pointed his fingers in a pantomime of lightning. Jamaicans named his victory stance "To the World!"

The display provoked a public chiding from Jacques Rogge, but forgive the IOC president his mistake. Steroid busts and a two-decade parade of dour egos would blunt anyone's ability to recognize ... fun. Like Fraser, Bolt was only giving "a Jamaican flavor to what happened," says Michael Carr, Fraser's coach at Wolmer's High School for Girls in Kingston. "Pure passion and joy."

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