Bolt… For A Medal

by Dr. Reeja Tharu on  August 26, 2008 at 5:55 PM Health In Focus
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In a dazzling display of dominance Usain 'Lightning' Bolt   struck gold to become the fastest man on the planet and establish Jamaica's supremacy on the tracks.

It was the Jamaican athletes all the way at the Beijing Olympics. They dominated the 100-meter sprint event where Bolt set the world record. Not to be left behind, his female teammates reaped three medals, which included Shelly-Ann Fraser's gold in the 100-meter women's event.

This sprinting dominance, from a poor, pint-sized nation of three million, threw the 'Sporting Mighties' off-balance. There were discussions galore on how the Jamaicans hit the jackpot! It has been concluded that a magical combo of nature and nurture favored these islanders!

Runners of West-African descent including Jamaican and African -American athletes are packed with explosive speed and are designed for 100-meter sprints. Of the 43 medals that Jamaica won in Olympics, 42 went to the sprinters. The East Africans, on the other hand, rule the roost in long-distance running.

Scientific studies have unraveled biological factors responsible for the speed and stamina of these sprinting sensations. A study conducted in 1980 in Quebec, Canada, revealed   that a significant increase in the amount of "fast-twitch" muscle fibers was noticed in black West African students in comparison to white French Canadians. These fibers are responsible for short, explosive bursts of energy that propels these individuals to race with the wind.

At the University of Glasgow and the University of the West Indies, exercise physiologists are currently analyzing the nutritional, sociological and genetic factors behind West Africa's sprinting glory. Initial studies reveal the presence of an active form of ACTN3 gene in 70 percent of Jamaicans. These genes produce a protein that enhances an individual's sprinting skills.

Not all individuals with ACTN3 gene rise and shine in the sphere of sports. That is because other factors such as family, diet, culture and society play a role. Shelly-Ann Fraser, the female champ even attributed the Jamaican success to 'Reggae power'.

When quizzed about his speedy might, it was revealed that the 21-year old Bolt has never eaten breakfast; neither did he resort to a power -packed diet regime. However, it appears that he likes to feed on chicken nuggets religiously for lunch and dinner. He also favors the Trelawney yams, a kind of sweet potato grown in the West Indies, known for its extra nutritional benefits. Compared to Michael Phelps, who fed on a 12,000-calorie mammoth feed, Bolt seemed like a tapeworm on diet.

Jamaica has a history of Track and Field victories which dates back to the London Games of 1948.The winners not only brought home their laurels but also managed to inspire the youth of the land, for whom the escape routes from abject poverty were far and few.

Running is intricately woven into the fabric of Jamaican culture.  As far as 1910, a sporting event, aptly named 'Champs' was organized to identify and groom the best sprinters from school. Today Champs, which draws a crowd of 30,000, is the mother of all sporting events in Jamaica. Every sprinting champion worth his salt has graduated through this system.

The University of Technology in Jamaica has evolved to become the paramount training centre for track and field. Running has also found a place in the university curriculum. Today running is to Jamaicans what football is to Brazilians and baseball is to Cubans.

A genetic predisposition, an ideal attitude, improved training and meticulous nurturing have added to Jamaica's medal haul and have sealed her place among the sporting greats, for ever.

Source: Medindia

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