Even before the advent of Usain Bolt, Jamaican men owned the sprinting world. Since 2006, in the 100 meters, they've had no less than six of the top 10 times of the year, peaking at nine of the top 10 when Bolt set his first world record in 2008. But in 2014, Jamaica's best athletes are missing, and there is no relief in sight.
Asafa Powell came to dominate sprinting in the middle 2000s, setting the world record in the 100m in 2005. But Bolt's rise to global dominance in the 2008 Olympics seemed to ignite the next generation in a way the Powell never did. Where once it was only Powell and Bolt, Nesta Carter (100m bronze, 2013) emerged in 2010 and Yohan Blake (100m/200m silver, 2012) the following. They were Bolt's peers or younger and already challenging him—sometimes even beating him.
And there were others: Steve Mullings and most recently Nickel Ashmeade and Kemarley Brown. With that depth of a pool from which to draw from, it's not a surprise that Jamaican men have held the fastest 4x100-meter relay every year since 2008 save one, and they held the majority of the top 10 times in the world in the 200-meters as well.
But then, 2014. Powell, the old lion, was slapped with a first-offense doping ban. It was right around the time that Bolt disclosed his foot injury, which has so far prevented him from competing this season. Carter has been running mediocre, and in early July Blake injured his hamstring. In the span of a few months, Jamaica suffered a Job-like cataclysm to its best athletes, and to date, only one, 22-year-old Kemarley Brown, resides in the year's top-10 list. He's ninth.
Where one could chalk it up to a bad year, looking at the year's juniors (under 20) is equally bleak: it's filled with Americans—seven of the top 20, with only four Jamaicans. If the faucet was wrenched open in 2008, it's slowed to a trickle in 2014.
This is the nature of track and field. Before there was the East African dominance in distance running, the best runners in the world came from Finland. It was as much a given as saying the best sprinters come from Jamaica—and then Finland's depth dried up. The same thing could happen to Jamaica.
Athletic success is self-perpetuating until there's a break, and after that it's anyone's guess what emerges. (In sprinting, it could be Japan.) Jamaica has had her day on the world stage for the better part of 10 years. But in 2014, the Jamaicans struggle, and in a sprint no one waits for you to catch up.
[Photo: AP Images]