Champs the start of Jamaica’s world domination on the track

From the New York Times.

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Sound rises like a cliff wall — drums, trombones, trumpets, the ubiquitous vuvuzela, the odd French horn and 10,000 fans screaming.

On the blue track below, 15-year-old boys have shot out of the blocks for the 400 meters, postures erect, arms slicing through the tropical air like knives. Faster, faster, they curl around the track as if astride that wave of sound.


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This is the high school competition known as Champs, in which long-limbed schoolchildren from valleys and fishing villages and industrial cities descend on this capital city. For five days, they lay down astonishing times, often only a few ticks off world records.

For this track-obsessed island nation — its sprinters won four events at the London Olympics in 2012 — even a 400-meter preliminary counts as a moment to immediately find a television set. Three days later, for the finale, the cement bowl of a stadium will be packed with 33,000 fans, all but levitating.

I came here to interview the mellifluously named Usain Bolt, certifiably the fastest man in the world. He is preparing for another Olympic push, his last. There are serious questions to ask about his plans and his future.

To understand how Jamaica came to dominate sprinting like the Swiss dominate the clock business — and therefore to make sense of Bolt, who came flying out of the country village Sherwood Content — it helps to take the measure of the national mania that is Champs, in which Bolt ran as a schoolboy.

Late one evening, after watching a day of races, I hopped in a taxi, a rattling contraption piloted by Sam Carty, a reggae musician with gray-flecked dreadlocks. He had the Champs races on the radio.

Did you run as a schoolboy?
He nodded and said, “Of course.”

“I ran the 100 meters in 10.6,” he said of a time when the world record was 9.9 seconds. “I still run to satisfy myself.”
He steered his taxi onto a dirt patch. The last sprint of the night at Champs was about to commence, and he needed to concentrate.

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