Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce became only the third woman in Olympic history to defend her gold medal in the 100-meter dash Saturday, joining luminaries Wyomia Tyus from 1968 and Gail Devers from 1996.
But that doesn’t mean she will achieve celebrity status back home in Kingston.
“Sometimes when I go to the supermarket they ask me questions — about Usain, ‘Where is Usain?’ ‘How is Usain?’ ‘Do you train with Usain?’ ” Fraser-Pryce said. “I’m OK with that because I’m not one of those persons who likes the limelight.”
Fraser-Pryce may usually be upstaged by her charismatic countryman, Usain Bolt, who hopes to go for his own repeat gold in the men’s 100 on Sunday. But Saturday was her day on the podium, well deserved after she sustained her quick start with a furious, flailing finish to out-lean American Carmelita Jeter and teammate Veronica Campbell-Brown in a time of 10.75 seconds.
Jamaican women, who swept the 100 medals in Beijing, won two out of three this time.
“Jamaican women never fail to deliver,” said Campbell-Brown, who trains in Clermont, Fla., a hub for sprinters.
It was a productive night for Jamaica. The opening heats of the men’s 100 provided a first look at Bolt, who smoothed his hair and kissed his index finger while preening at the start line to the delight of fans. He stumbled in the initial steps but recovered to win his heat. Bolt’s training partner, Yohan Blake, barely exerted himself in cruising to first in his heat. Americans Ryan Bailey and Justin Gatlin posted the fastest heat times in Olympic history in smooth efforts that Gatlin likened to “a day at the office.” Tyson Gay also easily advanced to Sunday’s semifinals.
Delirious British fans were treated to an entertaining session on the fast track that is earning raves from athletes. The home team won three gold medals and dubbed it “Super Saturday.”
Great Britain’s Jessica Ennis confirmed she is the World’s Greatest Athlete with a convincing 6,955-point win in heptathlon, the third-highest total behind Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s in 1988 and 1992. She fought back to win the last event, the 800 meters.
Mo Farah, who grew up in London, outsprinted his Ethiopian rivals in the last lap of the 25-lap 10,000 meters to win in 27:30.42 as his friend and training partner in Oregon, Galen Rupp, finished steps behind him to claim the first U.S. medal in the distance event since Billy Mills won in 1964.
Greg Rutherford was the surprise winner of the long jump, and Britain’s first Olympic champ in the event since Lynn Davies in 1964. Will Claye, a former UF Gator, placed third.
Sanya Richards-Ross cruised into Monday’s 400 finals with the fastest time of 50.07. Botswana’s Amantle Monsho finished a close second to American Francena McCrory in their heat. American LaShawn Merritt wasn’t as fortunate, pulling up lame with a sore left hamstring.
“I need to execute my own race,” Richards-Ross said. “In Beijing I didn’t do my own race and now I have that opportunity.”
Jamaica’s athletes were cheered on by a vocal, flag-flapping contingent of fans. London and Birmingham have large Jamaican populations. Ennis and Richards-Ross are of Jamaican heritage.
Fraser-Pryce was the only woman in the final eight who trains in Jamaica, with coach Steve Francis at the MVP (Maximum Velocity Possible) club.
“I can always just take a bus home,” she said. “I love the comforts of being in Jamaica. It’s laughter, it’s fun. I don’t think I could survive in a cold place.”
She said she barely held on in her race.
“The first 30 meters was really good and the last 30 my form started to fall apart,” she said. “I had a side glimpse of somebody coming. I over-extended.”
She said she expects the Jamaican men to be just as successful as the women.
“What makes this exciting is we got our independence from England 50 years ago and I won our first gold in London to top it off,” she said.
Francis predicted “fireworks” in the men’s 100 semis but said Bolt’s fitness remains a question mark.
“If he’s in shape he’s going to win pretty easily,” Francis said. “If he is in the same shape he was in two months ago it’s going to be a disappointing race. The advantage Blake has is that he’s beat Bolt in practice.”
The one-two finish of Farah and Rupp was the brainchild of their coach, Alberto Salazar, the Cuban-American distance great who is seeing the fruits of his 11-year-old Oregon Project, a program designed to upgrade American distance-running fortunes.
Farah, who was born in Somalia, uprooted his family and moved to Portland, Ore., two years ago to train under Salazar and with Rupp. The collaboration paid off as Farah and Rupp — nurtured by Salazar since high school — executed their tactical plan to perfection, staying close to the opposition until the last half lap.
“They’ve had good speed work the last two weeks so it was very simple,” Salazar said. “They wouldn’t try to win it until the last 400, or even 200. I told them, ‘You’re both faster than anyone in there.’ I was confident we’d go 1-2 or 1-3. I told Galen, ‘You have a chance but only in the last 100. You have to wait.’ ”
Said Bolt of his heat: “It was a bad start but I’m glad it happened now. My legs felt good so I’m happy.”