Only West Indians Can Run

Leroy Burrell: The nearly man of the 100m

Watching the men’s 100m final in Berlin made me think about another final that really stuck in my head.

It was Tokyo 1991. This was the peak of US dominance in the 100m.

The world record stood at 9.90s held by Leroy Burrell, but Carl Lewis was the favourite for the gold. The buildup was all about Lewis Vs Burrell. Leroy Burrell ran 9.94s in his semi final heat, Lewis ran 9.93s, ratcheting up the tension for the final.

Lewis winning gold in a new WR

The final was an epic, and closely fought battle with records being smashed left, right and centre. Carl Lewis won, with a world record time of 9.86s, Burrell was second in 9.88s and Dennis Mitchell completed the US one, two, three in 9.91s. The USA’s position as the world’s pre-eminent sprint nation seemed unassailable.

Just out of the medals was Linford Christie in a British and European record of 9.92s, behind him was Frankie Fredericks in 9.95s, an African record. Next was Ray Stewart in 9.96s, a Jamaican record. A record that stood for 13 years.

End of an Era

Things went downhill from there. Lewis didn’t make the Olympic team in 1992, due to a dodgy start at the US trials, but Burrell, Witherspoon and Mitchell would be flying the flag and virtually assuring a US one, two and three. In the end however, Christie won, Fredericks was second and Mitchell picked up the bronze. Burrell was fifth, Ray Stewart was seventh, between the two Nigerians.

In the 1993 world final Linford Christie won, beating the Americans into second, third and fourth. Ray Stewart finished last. Stewart was last again in 1995 but it was a Canadian one and two (Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin – Surin had finished last in 1991 and fifth in 1993) and Ato Boldon of Trinidad in third. 

Christie takes Gold in Barcelona and ends US dominance

Linford Christie finished sixth, just behind the only American, Mike Marsh. It wasn’t much better at the Olympics in Atlanta the following year; Mitchell fourth, Marsh fifth, with Bailey, Fredericks and Boldon getting the medals.

Maurice Greene papered over the cracks in 1997 (with Tim Montgomery), 1999 and 2001 (with Bernard Williams), all three later involved in drugs scandals.

The Olympics in 2000 saw another US champion, Greene, but a Caribbean silver and bronze (Boldon and Obadele Thompson).

2003 saw a Caribbean one and two (Collins and Brown) with Darren Campbell third and then a US world champion in Justin Gatlin in 2005 (but a Caribbean silver and bronze), but Gatlin was caught doping the following year, banned and stripped of his joint world record.

The 2005 final saw two Americans in the final, four from the Caribbean Islands and two Africans (counting Obikwelu). When Olapade Adeniken, David Ezinwa and Frankie Fredericks reached the Olympic final in 1992, there was much talk of being on the cusp of an era of African 100m dominance. Thirteen years later, whilst the shift in dominance was correct, it wasn’t Africa, but the Caribbean Islands that would become pre-eminent.

The Windies

Tyson Gay won the 100m in 2007 and I am sure that many Americans saw this as a return to sprint supremacy, but it wasn’t. Gay was the only American in the final, but once again there were four from the Caribbean.

In Beijing Usain Bolt won, Richard Thompson was second, Walter Dix third. There were six West Indians in the final, two Americans.

In yesterdays final there were five from the Caribbean, two Americans and just one European. Tyson Gay’s run was incredible, but take Gay away from the team and there would have been no US medal, Darvis Patton the only other American finished last.

Bolt in Berlin: 100m races just aren’t as close as they were in Tokyo anymore

Aside from dopers, the last US world record holder was Maurice Greene, in 1999. This is the end of US sprint dominance, at least at the 100m. Winning the US trials no longer even guarantees a place in the final, let alone a medal or the gold, like it once did.

In 1993 I thought that it was a great thing that the US was no longer winning all the medals, now I am not so sure. 

Whilst Usain Bolt’s 9.58s is unbelievable, take Bolt away and the West Indies still have four of the five fastest sprinters in the world, they now truly dominate the sport.

I am not even sure whether to watch the women’s 100m final today, after all a Jamaican one, two, three and four is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Are the Americans, and the rest of the world to follow white men and disappear from top level sprinting altogether?


However this dominance, at least in the men’s 100m, isn’t as recent as we might believe.

Olympic 100m Champions Since 1992

  1. Linford Christie
  2. Donovan Bailey
  3. Maurice Greene
  4. Justin Gatlin
  5. Usain Bolt

World 100m Champions Since 1993

  1. Linford Christie
  2. Donovan Bailey
  3. Maurice Greene
  4. Kim Collins
  5. Justin Gatlin
  6. Tyson Gay

Of all the champions, three were from the Caribbean. Linford Christie was born in Jamaica and moved to London aged 7, Bailey was also born and raised in Jamaica, moving to Canada aged 13. Collins of course was born and raised in Saint Kitts Nevis and Usain Bolt in Jamaica. Silver medallist and former world record holder Bruny Surin was also born and raised in the Caribbean (Haiti).

It is also worth noting that Ben Johnson, the last man before Bolt to stagger the world with an amazing time, was also born in Jamaica. Those that believed that Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt, like the Canadian duo of Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin, were just a one off and that normal services would resume when they retire, are mistaken.

Michael Frater’s best days may be behind him, but 20 year old training partner of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake has already run 9.93s. At that age Bolt was running 10.03s. Add to that the likes of Richard Thompson, Daniel Bailey, Marc Burns and many others and it looks as though Jamaican/West Indian supremacy in the 100m is set to continue for quite a while. 

14 responses to “Only West Indians Can Run

  1. We are living in “The Age of Bolt”.

    9.58 seconds after his foot was somewhat injured in a car accident earlier this year — that is pretty much a blur.

    Wow — good for Bolt and good for Jamaica and good for the Caribbean!!!

    • Wow — good for Bolt and good for Jamaica and good for the Caribbean!!!

      Yes, unless you are one of the poor blokes that have to run against him! It looks as though he will be dominating for some time to come.

  2. Pingback: Only West Indians Can Run « Charlie's Space | Jamaica today

  3. Love this article! Very good points, bigup!

  4. False. Guliyev and Hering are the best young 200m runners, and both are caucasion. The second best young 100m runner is Lemaitre. If anything the trend is coming to an end.

    • Thanks for commenting Jake.

      This was really about the 100m more than the 200m, but Alonso Edwards is the same age as Guliyev and the better runner, I’m expecting him to medal in the 200m, but Guliyev is certainly the second best young 200m runner. Hering is good, but not in the same league as Guliyev.

      Lemaitre is one of the top 100m runners for the year, and it is a shame about his false start, but I believe that his PB may have been a one off, rather than a sign of things to come. He’s in the top 25 fastest for the year, but unless he does the same or better next year, I am not going to start putting him in the same league as Yohan Blake or Usain Bolt. White sprinters tend to have one great run, and then that’s it.

    • You likely know better now than to make such rash statements!

  5. Guliyev is in the 200 finals in lane 1. Gillick in lane 2 of the 400. Guliev and Edward are competing for the bronze medal tomorrow.

    • I’d like to think that Guliyev has a good chance of bronze but he doesn’t seem to be in top form, at least going by the heats and the way he is running (but maybe he always runs that way?).

      Bolt is going to win, that is really a foregone conclusion, but Spearmon, Crawford, Mullings and Edward are all in it for Silver or Bronze. Unfortunately I don’t really see Guliyev running fast enough to medal. Personally I think Mullings or Edward will get bronze, Spearmon silver, but you never know.

  6. Blake is impressive. Daniel Bailey is impressive (rumors spread that he tested positive after the WC 100 but nothing came of that). Powell has been a monstrous talent, though a championship disappointment.
    Jamaican Dexter Lee is going to be good, don’t think you mentioned him.

    But Bolt is such a huge cut above the rest that it’s hard to say anyone will really inherit his throne.

    America could well put out another Tyson Gay – the 2nd fastest man in history. And Gay himself has another 3-4 good years at least.

    Of course, he will continue to finish second behind Bolt, but if it were just the other West-Indians minus Bolt, we wouldn’t be looking at Caribbean dominance – we’d be looking at a lot of good racing with a disproportionate number of people from that region.

    Guliyev looked bad throughout the rounds, I don’t know what was wrong with him. He did make the final, which is certainly impressive, but he did not match up to his earlier performance.
    Missed peak? Intimidation? Who knows.

    Did Usain run a 10.03 at age 20? I don’t think he was running any 100s at that point.
    Even if he did, saying that Blake’s headed for similar results because of a faster earlier time isn’t convincing – just as Lemaitre’s 10.04 doesn’t mean he’s running faster than gay in 2012 just because Gay was nowhere near that time when he was 19.
    Early success is a poor predictor.

    Good post overall. Shows how much culture means.

    Trinidad had a spectacular games, which I think may have been lost in all the Jamaican hype.

  7. Pingback: Fastest White Man | Charlie's Space

  8. here we are nearly 2 1/2 years later and Carribean dominance in the 100 has continued. One decent American in Dix, a still ever so slightly improving Lemaitre but few other Americans or Europeans worthy of note in 2011.
    Meanwhile Lemaitre has proven a better 200 metre man despite his often woeful but usually just average (in this company) bend running.
    One thing’s for sure – sprinting is as interesting as it’s always been.
    Now to see what London brings. It won’t be a change in the guard though.

    • Thanks for commenting Steve.

      I agree about Lemaitre, he really could be something special in the 200m if he perfects his bend running, and his start for that matter (I think he had the worst start in every race in the Euro Championships). Personally I think he should ditch the 100m, aside from major champs and concentrate primarily on the 200m; he seems to be doing the reverse now. He hasn’t been under 10s this year, and is ranked 25th in the world going into the Olympics.

      With Yohan Blake now the Jamaican No.1 it looks as though Jamaican/West Indian dominance is going to continue for the foreseeable future, despite a resurgent US team with drug cheat Gatlin and Gay. Although I have to say that in both races (100m and 200m) in the Jamaican Trials, if you watch them several times it does appear that Bolt is purposely not catching up with the Blake, most notably in the 200m race, so I still think that Bolt is the man to watch in London.

      Interestingly Michael Johnson has a TV programme going out on Thursday night in the UK propounding his belief that Jamaican spring dominance to due to selective breeding and hardships endured during slavery, leading to a superior breed/race.

      Something else of interest in the 2012 games is going to be Adam Gemili. He’s already run a 10.08s and a 10.11s this year, so there is the possibility of a sub 10s from a person of Iranian/Moroccan descent. Which could very well be the final nail on the coffin of the myth that only black athletes can run under 10s. That would certainly make sprinting very interesting in the next few years, assuming it happens of course.

      • Just a note to suggest that someone of mixed Moroccan/Iranian descent may very well have a sub-Saharan genetic input on the Moroccan side. Perhaps on the Iranian side as del, but far less likely. I say this knowing nothing of the individual in question.

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