- Jackie MacMullan, ESPN Senior Writer
- 0 Shares
LONDON -- Win a gold medal and you immediately are given a lifetime pass to strut with serious Olympic swagger.
But let's be candid, shall we? Some events carry a little more cachet than others. If you win the women's 100 meters, for instance, you score the glittery hardware and the coveted moniker as the fastest woman in the world.
No wonder America breathlessly awaited the speediest women's event in sports. The reigning world champion, Carmelita Jeter, was donning the red, white and blue of the United States and expectations were justifiably high that she would win Saturday's race. The added bonus was that teammates Allyson Felix and Tianna Madison had also qualified for the final.
You may recall that in Beijing in 2008, the Jamaicans swept the prestigious 100 meters, leaving the U.S. to contend with a harsh reality of the Games: no medal, no love. Fourth- and fifth-place finishers Lauryn Williams and Muna Lee were quickly forgotten (then again, at least they qualified; Jeter failed to secure a spot on the U.S. squad that year).
These Games felt like Jeter's moment. Aside from owning the title of world champion, she had posted the quickest time (10.83) in the qualifying heats here. Her stated goal of winning a world title and an Olympic gold seemed well within reach.
And then, just like that, the Jamaicans did it again. Defending Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce returned with a new husband and a resolve to put a tumultuous two years behind her.
She started strong out of the blocks, held on through the middle of her race, then leaned over the line 0.03 seconds ahead of Jeter. Her time of 10.75 is the best of 2012.
Thus, it is Fraser-Pryce who earns the right to be billed the fastest woman in the world after becoming the first woman since American Gail Devers to win back-to-back gold medals in the Olympic 100 meters.
"I'm happy I came out with a win," said the gracious Jamaican. "It takes eight women to run a final. If we didn't have the kind of field we had today, none of this would be possible. I know everyone says it's about winning, but everyone deserves applause for making the final."
Perhaps Fraser-Pryce was providing a pre-emptive strike against the inevitable second-guessing of whether Jeter lived up to her considerable pre-Olympic hype as the great American hope in a race that has eluded the U.S. now for three straight Olympics.
If Jeter was disappointed with silver, she did a marvelous job of concealing it. She correctly pointed out it was her first Olympic Games and her 10.78 time was her fastest of the year.
"I left my heart and soul on that track," she said. "When you do that, you can't be upset."
The bronze medal went to (surprise) another Jamaican, the decorated Veronica Campbell-Brown, who, when asked about Jamaica's recent dominance in the 100 meters, said bluntly, "We never fail to deliver, and it continues."
Just as in Beijing, two American sprinters finished just out of medal contention; Madison and Felix trailed Campbell-Brown by .04 and .08 of a second, respectively, leaving U.S. coaches grimacing over fourth and fifth again.
So what does Jamaica have working for it that the U.S. women don't?
"I definitely feel they train hard like we do," Jeter said. "Sometimes people execute better than others. We both try to get the job done."
The last American who won this race in the Olympics was Marion Jones, but that 2000 gold medal was subsequently vacated when she admitted to taking performance-enhancing drugs.
London will be remembered for a slew of new world records in swimming; not so for track and field.
The women's 100 isn't quite as elusive as Joe DiMaggio's hitting streak, but the world record has remained intact for 24 years. The mark of 10.49 was set by American Florence Griffith-Joyner during the 1988 Olympic trials. Griffith-Joyner was known for her nickname (FloJo), fingernails so long they resembled the talons of a ferocious hawk, her untimely death of an epileptic seizure in her sleep at the tender age of 38, and one more unseemly detail -- allegations of doping that were never proved, but continue to persist in the wake of her death.
You want to be the fastest woman in the world? Then be prepared to be drug tested, and questioned if your time is, well, so fast it's hard to believe. Track and field athletes are tested regularly, but even so, their exceptional accomplishments are often met with skepticism.
Include the amiable Fraser-Pryce among those sprinters who felt the sting of a drug scandal. She was suspended for six months after testing positive for a drug that she took to help with the pain of a toothache. It was not deemed performance-enhancing, but rules, after all, are rules. The Olympic champion made a passing reference to the heartache of her suspension in her news conference Saturday, conceding that the past two years have "been up, down, all over."
Jeter, too, has been required to address questions regarding her former agent, Mark Block, who was slapped with a 10-year ban from the sport for his association with the BALCO steroid scandal.
The silver medalist attributed her startling improvement over the past three years to changing coaches and making track "a profession instead of just playing around with it. I definitely made it a lifestyle. That's how I've been able to step up and do the things I've done."
While Fraser-Pryce enjoys her brief moment as Jamaica's shining star (one she readily admits will be snuffed out as soon as fellow countryman Usain Bolt starts to do his thing), Jeter will return to the track to run the 200 meters. She said she will be more relaxed in that race, and expects it will be fun.
Jeter insisted Saturday she is quite fine with being the second-fastest woman in the world.
Perhaps, then, we should be fine with it, too.
2dBonnie D. Ford