LONDON — Back home in Jamaica, when Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce visits the neighborhood supermarket, inevitably the questions will arise. Sure, she’s recognized across the small island, but they don’t ask about her Olympic gold medal from the Beijing Games.
“Where is Usain?” they want to know, inquiring about fellow sprinter Usain Bolt. “How is Usain? Do you train with Usain?”
Fraser-Pryce, all of 5-feet-3 with a voice even smaller, can only smile. “If he’s ahead of me in terms of being famous, I don’t mind,” she said.
For at least 23 hours, Fraser-Pryce is ahead of Bolt in one important category: Olympic 100-meter titles. She became just the third woman to win 100-meter gold in consecutive Olympics, finishing in an impressive 10.75 seconds in Saturday night’s exciting final. Bolt will try to become just the second man to accomplish the same feat Sunday night at Olympic Stadium.
American Carmelita Jeter earned silver in her Olympic debut, crossing the finish line in 10.78 seconds, while Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown won her second career bronze in the event with a time of 10.81.
“I left my heart and soul on that track,” Jeter said. “And when you do that, you definitely can't be upset.”
After the Jamaican women swept the 100-meter race in Beijing, Jeter became the first American to medal in the 100 since Lauryn Williams took silver at the 2004 Games. The race was a milestone for a sprinter who couldn’t even make the finals four years earlier at the U.S. Olympic trials. But at 32 years of age, Jeter’s been posting some of the fastest times of her career in recent years.
“I took track and field as a profession instead of just playing around with it,” said Jeter, the 2009 world champion. “I got more serious with it. I got more devoted with it. It wasn’t just, I go to practice and I was done. I definitely made it a lifestyle.”
Jeter’s medal was the fourth for the U.S. track and field athletes in London. After shot putter Reese Hoffa won bronze Friday night, Will Claye flew 26 feet, 73 / 4 inches to win bronze in the long jump Saturday, and Galen Rupp took silver in the 10,000-meter race, finishing in 27:30.90, less than one-half second out of first.
The podium for the 10,000 meter was an unusual one. Since 1988, every Olympic medal in the event had gone to a runner from an African nation, including eight alone to Ethiopians. But at the end of Saturday’s race, Rupp was chasing down Oregon training partner, Mo Farah, who won gold for Britain, not one of the talented Africans.
“It’s still a little weird to see Great Britain and United States on the medal stand in a distance race,” said Rupp, 26. “I’m still on cloud nine. It hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t believe how the race went.”
Farah, 29, was born in Somalia but moved to the England when he was 8 years old. He now trains with Rupp in Oregon under Coach Alberto Salazar.
“To be able to be first and second with my training partner, one of my best friends, I couldn’t be more thrilled,” Rupp said.
While Olympic Stadium shook as tens of thousands cheered on a British gold, it was the next race, the women’s 100, that was the night’s main event.
While Bolt might have the star power, Fraser-Pryce still entered the race with the year’s fastest women’s 100 time and was a favorite to bring Jamaica its first gold medal of these Olympics. The small island nation, with a population of around 3 million, won 11 track medals in Beijing and is looking to exceed that mark in London.
“I wouldn’t call them greedy,” Fraser-Pryce said, “but they expect a lot from us now.”
Fraser-Pryce did not disappoint. She was quick out of the blocks and flew down the stretch. She pulled ahead of most of the field in the final 25 meters, leaning at the finish line to beat Jeter by just three-hundredths of a second. Fraser-Pryce became the first sprinter to defend her gold in the event since Gail Devers at the 1992 and ‘96 Summer Games.
“I’m honored to be part of the club. . . . It feels good to be in that category,” she said.
Saturday’s final featured a blistering pace, and first place and last were separated by just 0.26 seconds. Four years ago, only the top three sprinters in the Olympic final broke the 11-second barrier. This year, six of the eight were under 11 in both the semifinals and finals — and the other two were within one-hundredth of a second of the mark in both rounds. Americans Tianna Madison (10.85) and Allyson Felix (10.89) finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
The race’s results were not immediately announced, and when the victor finally flashed on the scoreboard, Fraser-Pryce crumpled to the ground in tears. She might take second-billing to the popular and charismatic Bolt back home, but for at least one night in London, Fraser-Pryce, parading a flag around the stadium she had just wooed, had accomplished something Jamaica had never seen before.