Athletics: U.S. coach inspired Jamaican sprint success

LONDON Sun Aug 12, 2012 2:37pm EDT

A Jamaican man holds a flag showing the faces of Jamaica's Usain Bolt, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Yohan Blake after Jamaica wins the men's 4x100 metres final in the London 2012 Olympics Games, in Half Way Tree, Kingston August 11, 2012. REUTERS/Gilbert Bellamy

A Jamaican man holds a flag showing the faces of Jamaica's Usain Bolt, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Yohan Blake after Jamaica wins the men's 4x100 metres final in the London 2012 Olympics Games, in Half Way Tree, Kingston August 11, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Gilbert Bellamy

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LONDON (Reuters) - Bud Winter, the American sprint coach who mentored a generation of world record-holders including Tommie Smith and John Carlos, held a series of seminars in Jamaica in 1966.

Among the attendees listening to the man who revolutionized sprint training were Glen Mills and Steven Francis. Forty-six years later Mills coaches Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake while Francis guides Asafa Powell and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Between them that quartet collected three individual gold medals and three silvers at the London Olympics concluding on Sunday where a Caribbean island of 2.7 million people reaffirmed it is the cradle of world sprinting. Bolt and Blake also took gold in the men's 4x100 relay and Fraser-Pryce was in the Jamaican quartet who claimed relay silver.

Two years after Winter's visit Smith and Carlos shocked the world and infuriated the establishment when they bowed their heads and held black-gloved fists aloft during the victory ceremony for the Mexico Olympics 200 meters final.

Their silent protest on behalf of their oppressed fellow-blacks in the United States still resonates. A similar determination and pride swept through the Caribbean with the music of Bob Marley in Jamaica and the success of the West Indies cricket side.

"There is a tremendous sense of pride, if two Jamaicans run in to each other in the street they say 'Respect'," said Jason Hall, deputy director of tourism at the Jamaica Tourist Board who helped run the hugely successful Jamaica House at the London Olympics. "Respect is very important. National pride is an extension of that."

Winter's visit to Jamaica came at the invitation of Dennis Johnson, who equaled the world 100 yards records four times in the space of six weeks in 1961. Johnson was coached at San Jose State University by Winter.

On his return to Jamaica, Johnson resolved to help mentor coaches who would help produce world-class athletes. They in turn would not then feel they needed to accept university scholarships in the United States in order to progress.

BURN OUT

As a promising young athlete Hall, now 41, clocked 10.2 over the 100 meters and studied in the United States.

"My personal experience was that it allowed you to get an education which is important. It was very important to have this education as a foundation. But the track system there was very brutal, in fact many of our top athletes of the time burned out," he said.

Jamaican sprinting took its place on the world stage at the 1948 London Olympics when Arthur Wint won the 400 meters. He breasted the tape a fraction of a second ahead of team mate Herb McKenley, who had uniquely qualified for the finals of the 100, 200 and 400 meters.

McKenley, a distant relative of Hall's, coached the Jamaican team from 1954 to 1973 and then served as president of the national athletics association.

During his time another generation of sprinters emerged including 1976 Olympic 200 meter gold medalist Don Quarrie and Merlene Ottey, who competed at the 1980 Moscow Games and was still running for her adopted country of Slovenia at the age of 52 this year.

Track and field in Jamaica is all about speed.

On one side of the capital Kingston is Herb McKenley Crescent, on the other is Arthur Wint Drive. In the centre, lies Tracks and Records bar, part-owned by Bolt who drops by regularly.

GENETICS AND DIET

"They start at a national level from grades there's a huge island-wide all schools championship," Hall said.

"From an early age they're exposed to the pressures of 100 meters. They know about all the hype. When you go to these meets they are more hotly contested that an Olympics because all of these schools have their school pride at stake and they're fiercely competitive.

"The reason for success is really a combination of factors, including some genetic attributes; it's what typifies fast twitch muscle fiber traced back to west Africa.

"Muscle development and growth is very dependent on diet. We have yam, there are 50 different types of yam, the most popular is yellow yam, starch which body processes much slower and you have a sustained release of energy. We eat a lot of live food, a lot of greens, a lot of goat."

Then there is the sheer hard work the sprinters do in often the most primitive conditions.

"These guys, I watch them train, they basically train until they vomit. I look at other countries with such remarkable facilities and I would say, wow, we could really use some of that. But do we really need it?," Hall said.

Mills, 62, who has coached since he was a teenager, took over as Bolt's coach after the teenage sprinter limped out of the Athens 2004 Olympics when he failed to advance from the 200 meters heats.

In the next two Games, Bolt twice won gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4x100 meters relay and set two individual world records.

"I have made track and field a major part of my existence and I work at it for long hours," Mills said.

"Maybe I have a talent to coach in a manner that brings results. My knowledge is not exclusive as I believe that other people have similar information. We all get it from the same research, the same scientific data, but maybe I can use it better than most.

"I'm constantly seeking knowledge, whether it's in books, on the Internet or even talking to other practitioners.

"I've learned a lot from the doctors I associate with as it relates to the function of the human body and the different aspects and effects of training on the human body and so on."

Hall said Johnson and Mills had been critical to Jamaica's success.

"Glen Mills has so much experience and when you see him sit down and break down 100 meters you realize there is so much more to this race than meets the eye. You have 10 seconds to justify your existence and you spend 10,000 hours getting there.

"It's an unfair exchange. I really take my hat off to Glen Mills."

(Additional reporting by Kayron Raynor and Steve Keating, editing by Ed Osmond)

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