U.S. vs. Jamaica rivalry thrills fans, athletes
30 April 2006
Justin Gatlin of the USA blue team crosses the finish line to win the USA vs the world men's 4x100 during the 112th Penn Relays track and field meet Saturday, April 29, 2006, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/H. Rumph Jr.) |
By Sam Carchidi
If you closed your eyes and absorbed the sounds yesterday, it was easy to imagine that this was the closing seconds of the 1960 NFL championship game and that Chuck Bednarik was not allowing Jim Taylor to get up and that the Eagles were about to become world champs.
The roar was that deafening, that energetic, that lasting.
But this wasn't an NFL title game that was being played at good old Franklin Field; it was the storied Penn Relays, and all the commotion was being caused by the first of yesterday's six "USA vs. the World" races before nearly 50,000 sun-splashed spectators.
Heck, there's so much excitement for these races that even the long lines at the Jamaican jerk chicken stands grow short. Fans rush back to their seats, chant their country's name, wave their flags. And turn Franklin Field into a frenzied outdoor version of the Palestra. Only instead of Penn-Villanova on the hardwood, it's the United States vs. Jamaica on the track.
"I love the crowd here. When you hear Ja-maic-a, it gets you so excited," said Muna Lee, who ran the second leg on the USA Blue's 4x100-meter relay team that won in 42.81 seconds.
For the record, other countries compete against the United States. But no country brings more fans - or more passion - than Jamaica.
"You perform better here because you feel the pressure of the fans and you want to get there before Jamaica," said Lauryn Williams, the anchor in the victorious 4x100. "The crowd here reminds you of the Olympics."
The fans' green, gold and black Jamaican flags seemed to outnumber the Americans' by, oh, 50 to 1. The American fans, however, rocked the ancient stadium with thundering chants of "USA, USA, USA" before, during and after the races.
The Americans had the most success, winning five of the six USA vs. the World races between the professional runners. (Kenya was the only non-USA winner.) None of the wins was more confusing than the USA Blue's triumph in the men's 4x100. The team, with Justin Gatlin running the anchor, won in 38.33 seconds, then was disqualified when a baton handoff was ruled to have taken place outside the zone, giving the win to USA White (38.72).
A short time later, USA Blue won an appeal and was declared the winner, after all.
"I think we better take the win and get out of here before they change their minds," kidded Shawn Crawford, who ran the third leg.
USA White's Jason Smoots, whose team went from finishing second to first and back to second in a confusing 10-minute span, said he was amazed by the crowd's reaction to the USA vs. the World competition.
"This," Smoots said, "is the best crowd in the United States because of the big rivalry with Jamaica."
Gatlin, the world's second-fastest sprinter, agreed.
"The crowd is crazy, especially on my leg," he said, smiling. "In one section, I hear cheers, and in the next section, I hear boos."
Different sections, different rooting interests.
"In one section, you're feeling like a villain, and in the next section, you're feeling like a hero," Gatlin said. "It's great. It feels complete."
The Jamaican fans were so loud that when their countryman, Asafa Powell, won the Olympic development 100 in 10.1 seconds, he felt he was in his homeland. "I looked around, and it's like I'm in Jamaica," he said.
The Jamaican crowd reached a fever pitch when Jamaica's Korene Hinds passed two runners down the stretch to help her team finish second in the women's sprint medley. The crowd's reaction may have spurred USA Blue anchor Hazel Clark to a strong finish that helped her relay finish in a world-best 3 minutes, 37.16 seconds.
"When you hear the 'Whoo, whoo,' " she said, referring to the noise the crowd makes when someone is about to overtake another runner, "you start thinking, 'Please don't pass me'... and you push harder."
In most cities, track is an afterthought. The USA vs. the World competition, which started at the Penn Relays in 2000, may help change that. Track bigwigs have noted the series' popularity at Penn and say they are open to expanding it to other venues.
That's a good thing for everybody, especially the folks who sell Jamaican souvenirs.
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Heck, there's so much excitement for these races that even the long lines at the Jamaican jerk chicken stands grow short. Fans rush back to their seats, chant their country's name, wave their flags. And turn Franklin Field into a frenzied outdoor version of the Palestra. Only instead of Penn-Villanova on the hardwood, it's the United States vs. Jamaica on the track." target="digg"> Digg
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