Jamaica dares to dream of sprint triple

Usain Bolt's imperious defense of his Olympic 100 meters title might have been enough for most nations, but on their 50th anniversary Jamaicans are still dreaming of more glory.

The Caribbean island has so far dominated both men's and women's sprints and, amid a raucous party for a half century of independence, many here dare believe that they can shut out the rest of the world in the 200m.

Bolt and teammate Yohan Blake devastated the field in the 100m final and have both qualified for the 200m final. Few would bet against them winning gold and silver between them in Thursday's final.

But such is the excitement here that many also dare hope Warren Weir, the third Jamaican in the race, might even grab the bronze, a less probable result but one that would be in keeping with a golden anniversary year.

Jamaica's women runners Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown won gold and bronze respectively in their 100m and have both qualified for Wednesday's 200m final as well, confirming the island's dominance (later on, Fraser-Pryce finished the 200m final second, with personal best of 22.09sec, while Campbell-Brown came in 4th).

Indeed, in Jamaica the only question left is which of Bolt and Blake will prove the fastest on Thursday. In "Lightning" Bolt's home area around Montego Bay the debate is predictably a little one sided.

"Usain is a better 200 meter runner than Blake. He is in excellent shape and will deliver again," declared sports administrator Albert Ferguson, organizer of the annual Western Jamaica Primary Schools Athletic Championships.

"You saw how he blew away the field in the 100 meter event on Sunday? Thursday's race will be no different," the 37-year-old said, predicting "Beast" Blake will once again have to settle for silver behind his teammate's gold.

"Maybe Weir will take the bronze?" he added, summing up the confident mood as he made arrangements to watch the race at Cage, a popular general store in the historic Sam Sharpe Square in Montego Bay, Jamaica's tourism capital.

Former athletics coach and sports enthusiast Leon Jackson agreed.

"It will be Bolt for the gold and Blake the silver," he said.

"Nobody in this world can beat a fit Bolt and right now he is fit and is in good shape. Bolt is one of a kind in this world," says the Jackson, a veteran in his sixties who hails from Bolt's hometown, Sherwood Content in Trelawny.

Lorna Thorpe, head of sports at Bolt's alma mater, William Knibb High School in Trelawny, was always sure her here would defend his 100 meters title, arguing that he will go down is history as a true Olympic legend.

Now, the highly respected educator believes the defending 200m champion and 100m world record holder will produce another blistering run to smash the 200m field on Thursday.

"He might even break his own record in the event," said Thorpe, who is one of the persons credited with mentoring a young Bolt when he started his track and field career at William Knibb in the 1990s.

But not everyone in Jamaica is convinced that things will turn out that way for the 25-year-old, and they have recent history on their side.

Bolt lost both sprints to Blake at national trials held in Kingston in June and Blake has also hit a faster pre-Olympics time over 200 meters this season than Bolt, with a best of 19.80 seconds to the champion's 19.83.

On Sunday, after Bolt had won the 100 meters, Blake's father Shirley Blake was undaunted, telling AFP: "I believe that Yohan will take the 200 meters."

Blake comes from Bogue Hill in Trelawney's neighboring parish St James, and his community is looking forward to a tight race -- with glory for Jamaica in the Commonwealth island's former colonial capital whichever man wins.

"I can hardly wait for the race to run. Right now I am feeling a bit nervous but I believe we will be taking all the medals," said sports fan Devroy Innis.

Innis plans to travel 32 miles (51 kilometers) from his rural hometown of Annotto Bay to Half-Way-Tree in the capital Kingston, to join thousands of his countrymen cheering their heroes on big open-air screens.