martes, 14 de febrero de 2012

One Thousand Reasons to Love Shelly-Ann Fraser

Shelly-Ann Fraser gets excited, surrounded by the students from Stella Maris Preparatory School
Photo: Ian Allen
              Shelly-Ann Fraser made history when she became the first Jamaican woman who won the 100m event at the Olympic Games, in 2008 in Beijing. Besides she led a highly successful and totally unprecedented sweep of the medals for her country in that race, along with mates Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart. On the following year, in spite of having her preparation hiccupped by an appendectomy, Shelly went on to add the world crown to the Olympic one, in Berlin, in a time of 10.73, thus breaking Merlene Ottey national record in the process and placing herself third in the all-time lists. Only Gail Devers from the USA had achieved that double before. She also performed a stunning backstretch leg in Jamaica's victory at the 4x100m relay at that same championships.  A series of minor injuries and the arrival of the irresistible Carmelita Jeter, author of an extraordinary 10.64 at the end of the 2009 season, relegated Fraser to the fourth position in Daegu World Championship, just outside of the medals. Anyway the Jamaican sprinter is up for a fresh new star in 2012, hoping to defend her Olympic title.  Out of the track, she has further targets, related with her endeavours in order to help improve the social conditions of  children and women of her community.

                Shelly-Ann is not just any Olympic champion. Her lovable personality and how she got to overcome her difficult upbringings in one of the toughest neighbourhoods in Jamaica to obtain international recognition in sport are a unique inspiration for her countrymen. Yet much of the merit of Shelly’s success belongs to her mother. In Waterhouse, where criminal gangs and drugs roam free and murders are committed every week, Maxine was just another member of a large family of brothers and sisters who got pregnant being a teen and soon became a single mother of three. However, Maxine did not want the same unlucky doom for their children. The family grew up in a one-room tenement with a single bed to be shared for all four members, but the mother worked hard as a street vendor to assure her dear ones could have access to a good education in schools as George Headley and Wolmer’s Trust and thus eventually break the circle of misery. (1) Acknowledging the danger, Maxine prevented Shelly and her siblings from hanging on the street. "When you look at the situation that you are in, you work hard at what you want. The crime was a disadvantage and you had to be very careful of who you talk with, because not everybody is who you think they are,” was quoted the future Olympic champion. (2) Maxine was a former runner and her daughter had inherited the genes. She would often be seen running barefoot tirelessly, determined to find through her athletic skills her dream, a way out of poverty. Now Shelly is a world famous sprinter and her triumph is a source of pride for her whole community. After returning from her gold medal in Beijing, the runner was in shock of seeing her image immortalised in a mural by local painting artists: “The only time they draw your face in a wall where I live is when you are dead.” (3)

                    Besides her sportive achievements, Shelly-Ann Fraser is the only person in her family who has undertaken tertiary education. Currently, she is in her last academic year in order to obtain a degree in Child Care and Development at Kingston’s University of Technology. Keeping in mind her experience as a poor girl growing up in the inner-city, she expects to make a contribution in the task of improving social and mental conditions for future Waterhouse’s children. Talking about her plans she intends to set up a foundation to aid under-privileged kids; to build a community centre in Waterhouse; to get Jamaicans to toss away guns and ensure the island becomes a woman's as well as a man's world; to become a child psychologist to help develop more people in the world with better values and better morals. (1) In her crusade she will have the convincing argument of her own living example which proves you can make it if you have the right motivation even in the hardest environment; you can become something good even coming from the ghetto. Nevertheless, before graduating, her success in sport has allowed her to start already with her altruistic endeavours. Since 2010 Shelly-Ann is the first UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Jamaica and also Grace Food’s official Ambassador for Peace. (4) In a visit to her former school Wolmer’s, whom she gave a donation in return for the excellent education she received in, she left in awe the audience of young students with her eloquent speech:  "The next Olympic champion or the next Prime Minister could be any one of you sitting right here. Believe in yourself. Never give up on your dreams and goals." (5) Shelly also would like to contribute to the liberation of Jamaican women. In spite of her outstanding victory and clean sweep of the medals at the 100m in Beijing by three girls of the country, all this was completely overshadowed by Usain Bolt and his world records. All the journalists’ questions when arriving to the press conference in Jamaica were asked to him. Fraser or Campbell-Brown are still far behind in popularity and media attention in comparison with Bolt and Asafa Powell but the student in child development expect one day “this man’s world” is going to change. 
              And if Shelly can not change the world with her words she will do with her smile and altogether adorable personality. The 100m Olympic champion can be easily named the most lovable person of the whole athletic field. Much of it comes from her upbringing in Waterhouse which is also the legendary reggae music cradle by excellence, along with the neighbouring Trenchtown. The likes of King Tubby, U Roy and Black Uhuru all come from this place and it would not be strange, Shelly, who states if she had not been a runner would have enjoyed being a dancer or a singer, could claim the spot of the sadly gone Sandra "Puma" Jones. Her former  schoolmates remember her as jovial and funny and she has not changed much. The Waterhouse sprinter owns an irresistible children smile and an overwhelming spontaneity and bubbly ways, which combined with her shyness makes worth coming to an athletic meeting, only to watch Shelly’s lively celebrations (6) bouncing overjoyed or screaming full of happiness on the ground -If you still do not know the girl please watch the video above. And if she is lovely to be seen in her winning days, when she loses she still keeps her smile and also her humbleness and sportsmanship. Yet despite of her demeanour, her cute looks and her braces, she has always considered herself a tomboy. In her childhood she was always playing her brothers’ games and her favourite toy was a tiny soldier. Furthermore there are less encouraging memories involving a couple of lizards, a syringe and some blood. (3) Shelly has always had more male friends than female, as track club mate Asafa Powell. However now she is happily married with long time boyfriend, not related to sports, Jason Pryce. Lucky guy!

Shelly-Ann Fraser celebrates her Olympic victory at Beijing Olympic Games
Photo: Stu Foster/ Getty Images
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is delightfully human and she still was as her positive drug test from oxycodone was revealed. Her management is really to blame on that affair: was it really necessary to make the athlete take that toothache painkiller for running that Diamond League meeting at any price? It really hurt the reputation of this person, the last one you can think of as taking illicit shortcuts to success, once you know her long time hard work and sacrifices to overcome poverty and become a professional athlete; and besides acknowledging the importance of her public image, because of her involvement with children and UNICEF. Anyway, Shelly did not try to hide from anybody. Instead, she decided to face that affair with journalists with sincerity, answering outright any of their questions. It is plain many enjoy this sort of sensationalistic news and quite a lot are convinced Jamaican overwhelming dominance of sprint events around the world is due to the extra help of steroids. It is true there have been some cases of doping offences from athletes of the country but it does not explain the sensational Jamaican success.

               If you look for the secret of the formula, first you must think athletics is the national sport in the island, at the same level as soccer is in Brazil. The United States as a larger country count with as many or even more youngsters talented for sports which require speed and strength, but many take instead football, baseball or basketball. In Jamaica every one of the hopeful teens choose track and field sprints, in the same way Kenyans and Ethiopians embrace distance running. (7) There is a very long established athletic tradition in Jamaica, which most clear manifestation is “The Champs.”   This inter-secondary school competition has been held for over a century with immense success. Boys and girls in the country clash under a crowd of 30.000 spectators and thus get used to competition and pressure since they are very young. Just remember Jamaican high school squads as Vere Tech, Wolmer's, Kingston College, Munro College and Edwin Allen got the better of US teams in most of the sprint races at last Penn Relays. Besides a well structured and intense youth (and senior) calendar, Jamaica has currently two of the best sprint coaches in the world: Stephen Francis and Glenn Mills, which head MVP Track Club and Racers Track Club respectively. Most of the current national stars are training in one of the two foremost teams. Up to 10 years ago, Jamaican hopefuls used to join US Colleges to develop their athletic career but lately teens opt instead to stay in Jamaica, where they can get as good world-class coaching as in any other country in the world. Finally, the government is increasingly investing in sport, there are outstanding role models for youngsters and hard work and commitment of the athletes are a big reason for success too.                 

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is also the product of this encouraging atmosphere for running in the island of Jamaica. She competed as a young teen several times at the Champs, representing Wolmer’s high school. However as was also the case of Veronica Campbell and many others, she suffered shocking defeats until eventually she got to win the 100m title in 2004, aged 17. The following year she struck the bronze medal at another teen contest with outstanding reputation and tradition, the Carifta Games, which are held at Caribbean level. Throughout those battles she learned how to deal with the pressure of a large crowd and as consequence increased her confidence. As a senior athlete, Shelly-Ann joined MVP track club. Under Stephen Francis, who she believes her most important influence in life besides of her mother, and working together with the likes of Asafa Powell, Michael Frater, Nesta Carter, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, Melaine Walker or Shericka Williams, the young athlete made the way to the elite. In 2007, Shelly improved her PB to 11.31 for 5th place at the national championships and for the first time was named for the senior Jamaican team to compete at the World Championships in Osaka. As a member of the 4x100m relay in the semi final she was awarded with the silver medal the squad eventually won. Then in 2008 came her sensational breakthrough, when she finished second after Kerron Stewart at the national trials in 10.85, leaving out of the Olympics in the 100m event the then reigning world champion Veronica Campbell-Brown. In spite of many voices claiming the 21-year-old athlete had to be left in Jamaica to favour the more experienced Campbell, eventually Shelly-Ann Fraser made the trip to Beijing and the rest is history. At the Olympics the world witnessed for the first time Shelly’s trademark: her meteoric outburst. The ultimate “rocket-pocket” after three powerful strides always gets at least one metre clear of every one of her rivals. Yet her problem is sometimes to maintain this gap until the end. Shelly worked especially on her endurance last year, emphasising 400m repeats in training, and seemed to be in the right way when she won the 200m at the Jamaican Invitational in a slightly windy 22.10, beating handily Veronica Campbell. Nevertheless, some injuries did not allow her to keep her progression further during the season. Maybe this Olympic year she can be back to where she used to be. Shelly-Ann Fraser is only training seriously since 2006 and many of her senior seasons have been slowed by injuries or illness. The Waterhouse lad has still many things to say at major global competitions on the track.

Shelly-Ann Fraser in Daegu with her relay 4x100m teammates Kerron Stewart, Sherone Simpson and Veronica Campbell
Photo: Andy Lyons/ Getty Images Asia Pac

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