KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - The Jamaican Olympic athletics trials opened on Thursday without Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake in an empty National Stadium filled only with dreams.
Such is life for starry-eyed speedsters trying to work their way up the sprinting ranks, 10 breathless seconds spent on the blue track before getting back to the ‘real world’.
Under a scorching early morning sun, there is no place for reality as the young sprinters settle into their starting blocks for the 100 meters preliminary races.
Only the winner from each of the five heats along with the next two fastest times will make it through to the evening quarter-finals where they might find themselves lining up alongside triple Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Bolt or world champion Blake.
The first three in Friday’s final earn tickets to next month’s London Olympics.
Two of those spots look certain to go to Bolt and Blake while the third is likely to be taken up by former world record holder Asafa Powell or one of Jamaica’s other decorated sprinters.
For Marlon Robinson and the others who launched their bid in the preliminaries, earning an Olympic spot would be like a qualifier going on to win the Wimbledon tennis.
“Very, very hard, it requires dedication,” said Robinson after winning his heat in 10.56 seconds, nearly a full second slower than Bolt’s world mark of 9.58.
“I have always loved the sport and I can run against him (Bolt).”
Sprinting is to Jamaica what ice hockey is to Canadians or soccer to Brazil, a source of national pride and a way for youngsters to secure a better life.
Bolt and Blake, who earn millions of dollars from endorsements and appearance fees, represent the finish line for thousands of barefooted children who race along dirt tracks and roads and will fill the National Stadium this weekend to cheer on their heroes.
“In Jamaica we start at an early age,” said Taffawee Johnson who has run a best time of 10.33. “You will see children even as young as four competing.
“We have sports days where even the smallest toddlers run. I know I have the talent and I’m going to make it, perhaps, but it won’t be this year.”
Despite owning the quickest previous time of anyone competing in the morning, Johnson could do no better than 10.91 to finish a well-beaten fifth.
Getting to the top of the podium at the trials also means you have a good chance of landing on an Olympic or world championship podium one day.
Long since a force in the sprints, Jamaicans have dominated since the 2000 Sydney Games, capturing 15 gold medals in events of 400 meters or less.
A quick glance at the fastest times recorded over 100 meters confirms that domination. Of the top 18 times all have been clocked by Jamaicans except for American Tyson Gay.
“In Jamaica we train really hard. Track and field is our main sport,” said Johnson. “You have to concentrate on running as fast as you can. It’s in our blood.”
Editing by Tony Jimenez