US showdown with Jamaicans begins with women's 100
The only way for the United States to turn the Olympic sprints into a real rivalry with Jamaica is to start winning every now and then.
When the women begin the 100-meter heats Friday, the Americans might find that's easier said than done.
Lining up for Jamaica will be 2008 gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, silver medalist Kerron Stewart and Veronica Campbell-Brown, who has five Olympic medals but wasn't fast enough to qualify for the 100 in Beijing.
And the U.S.?
Well, there's 100 world champion Carmelita Jeter of Gardena, Calif., but she's joined by a converted long jumper, Tianna Madison of Sanford, Fla. And there's Allyson Felix of Santa Clarita, Calif., who readily admits the 100 is little more than a warmup for her ''real'' event, the 200.
''We do enjoy racing against each other,'' Campbell-Brown said.
The Jamaicans really do. They keep outdoing the Americans. There was Jamaica's three-medal haul in the 100 four years ago. And two of the three medals in the women's 200, too.
''It didn't matter who it was who beat you, you wanted a rematch and you wanted to get out there and prove yourself,'' Felix said.
Heading into the last Olympics, this was actually viewed as a genuine rivalry, with opinions divided about which country was better.
In the 100 final there was no doubt. All three American runners, Muna Lee, Lauryn Williams and Torri Edwards, got off to slow starts, delayed off the block because they thought Edwards had false started. Jamaica was so good it won gold (Fraser-Pryce) and not one, but two silvers, after Stewart and Sherone Simpson finished in a dead heat.
In London, Jeter may have the best shot at breaking Jamaica's 100 monopoly.
''If Carmelita runs the way she knows how to and stays within herself, she will win,'' said Maurice Greene, who won gold in the 100 at the 2000 Olympics. ''But if Shelly-Ann puts pressure on her and gets out like she normally does, and if Carmelita starts pressing, she's going to lose.''
But this is a new and improved version of Jeter, one that's brimming with confidence. Long known as the sprinter who couldn't win on track's biggest stages, Jeter ended her drought by holding off Campbell-Brown to win the 100 at last year's world championships.
''Made me feel better about myself more than anything,'' Jeter recent said. ''But I wouldn't say now I'm running with less stress. It's a new year. This is a new ballgame. You can't live off of last year. You have to be ready for right now.''
And right now means beating the Jamaicans.
Fraser-Pryce is just hitting her stride, running 10.70 seconds at the Jamaican trials in June - the fastest time in the world this season.
Campbell-Brown can never be counted out, even if the 100 isn't her strongest event. She's beaten Felix at the last two Olympics for gold in the 200.
That's another subplot to this rivalry.
''Allyson and I have been competing with each other for many years and it just happened that when it's time for Olympic years, I'm normally in very good shape,'' Campbell-Brown said. ''I've put in all the work. I know it will be absolutely difficult, but anything can happen and I'm fully aware that I must keep my mental focus right and get my race together. Eventually, it all comes down to execution.''
Once heralded as the future of American jumping, the 26-year-old Madison recently switched to sprinting and instantly found success. She was second to Jeter at the U.S. trials.
Right behind them were Felix and her training partner, Jeneba Tarmoh, who finished in a dead heat for third. USA Track and Field had never come up with a way to break a tie like that, and after much scrambling to figure out what to do, the sprinters were given a choice of a winner-take-all runoff, a coin flip or one could simply concede the spot.
After agreeing to a head-to-head race, Tarmoh elected to hand the berth in the Olympic 100 to Felix.
''The situation was just unfortunate, you know,'' Felix said. ''It was an emotional situation.''