In Jamaica, sprinter Usain Bolt electrifies a nation
KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Jamaicans broke into wild celebrations in the streets of the capital on Thursday as they watched the island's sprinters pull off a historic clean sweep of the 200-meters at the London Olympic Games.
Usain "Lightning" Bolt, 25, and Yohan "The Beast" Blake, 22, or the "Double B" duo as they have been dubbed in Jamaica, left the rest of the field in their wake on Thursday to take gold and silver, only days after they did the same in the 100-meters.
Hundreds of Jamaicans danced in the streets, honked horns, waved flags, hugged each other and screamed with delight, after the black, green and gold Jamaican colors left the world behind.
"This is glory, I can't even talk," shouted Jeanette Brown of Kingston.
"Oh my God, 1-2-3, that maaad running, maaad running," said Desmond Samms, using Jamaican slang to describe his wonderment, as the crowd chanted spontaneously: "Usain Bolt, Usain Bolt, Usain Bolt," close to where the sprint star crashed his BMW in early June.
Bolt became the first man to complete the sprint double at back-to-back Olympics. Adding to the feat, a third Jamaican, debutant Olympian Warren Weir, won bronze in the 200-meters, underlining Jamaica's dominance in the sprint events.
"Gold, silver & bronze! Incredible! The country has gone nuts," wrote Kingston attorney Taynia Nethersole in an email moments after the race. She was in a board meeting that broke to watch the race. "The euphoria (including my own) was overwhelming!" she added.
Now, expectations are rising Jamaica will take gold again in Sunday's 4 x 100-meter relay final to round off what is shaping up to be the most successful Olympics in Jamaican history.
For the past week, Jamaicans have congregated daily around giant video screens placed strategically in downtown Kingston for fans to watch as they go about their daily business.
FLAG SALES SURGE
Although police called out reinforcements in anticipation of an massive out-of-control crowd, traffic came to a halt a full five minutes before the start of the race, despite the urgings of the police for vehicles to keep moving.
The biggest gainers were vendors selling flags. "I have made a lot of money since the Olympics," said Half-Way-Tree vendor Joyce Braham. "I don't know if Jamaica flags will ever be sold like this again."
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who television cameras showed sharing in the joy as the three Jamaicans passed the finish line first, praised the athletes.
"Once again our athletes have done us proud," she said. "This is a wonderful day for Jamaica's athletics."
Opposition Leader Andrew Holness also joined in the accolades. "They have made us proud and are the toast of the world this evening," Holness said.
"So emphatic is the stamp he has placed on the sprints at the Beijing and London Olympics, that there can be no denying that Bolt has cemented himself as a legend of the game and a true exponent of sporting genius," Holness said of Bolt.
Bolt, who turns 26 later this month, was already a legend in his home country before his latest golds, and is the island's top celebrity after reggae's Bob Marley. Bolt's signature archer-like victory pose has become a symbol of Jamaican pride.
In the last week the number of followers on Bolt's Twitter page shot up from 700,000 to more than 1 million.
"Millions of dreams need strong shoulders," reads one giant 50-by-60-foot billboard on the exterior of a tall building in Kingston featuring Bolt's face juxtaposed on the Jamaican flag.
Bolt's father, Wellesley Bolt, told Reuters after his son won his first gold in 2008 the secret to his speed lay in the yams grown in the northwestern area of Jamaica where the sprinter was born.
The Olympic triumph added a special luster to Jamaica's celebrations this week of its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, including gold in both the men's and women's 100-meter finals.
Athletes are held in special regard in Jamaica, which has a long record of Olympic success since its first participation in the 1948 London Games.
At the 2008 Games in Beijing, Jamaica had its biggest medal haul, taking home six golds, three silvers and two bronzes, ahead of Canada (population 34 million) and Brazil (population 196 million). Bolt won three golds - in the 100- and 200-meter competitions, as well as the four-man 100-meter relay - all in world record times.
The London Olympics have presented a golden opportunity for Jamaica to promote its best features, which contrast with more negative traits like a 21 percent poverty rate, mounting unemployment and one of the world's highest murder rates, largely due to gang-related violence fueled by drug money.
(Additional reporting and editing by David Adams and Todd Eastham)