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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Actinen A," Jamaica's secret weapon By Sebastian Fest FROM M & G

Beijing - It sounds like the name of a drug, but it could well be the natural explanation that many have sought. What is special about Jamaica? Why does an island with just 2.7 million people produce so many sprinters, and such good ones?

The answer is Actinen A, according to a joint study by the University of Glasgow and the University of the West Indies (UWI).

Over the years, researchers tested over 200 Jamaican athletes, and found that 70 per cent of them have Actinen A in their fast-twitch muscle fibres, those which help men like Asafa Powell or Usain Bolt run like lightning.

'This compared to only 30 per cent in an Australian group that is being tested,' said Professor Errol Morrison, president of Jamaica's University of Technology (UTech).

'There will be many potential Asafa Powells, Sherone Simpsons and Sherikas (Williams), because the genetic predisposition is there,' Morrison added.

The researcher is pressing on with his studies. He plans to compare the genes of Jamaicans with those of West Africans, the origin of slave migration to the Caribbean island.

However, beyond genetics or talent, Jamaica is being closely watched by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). A sprinter, Julien Dunkley, tested positive for doping shortly before leaving for Beijing.

Jamaican Olympic Committee president Michael Fennell says this shows the system works, even if the country does not have an established anti-doping agency.

Adrian Lorde, head of the Caribbean Anti-Doping Organization, recently expressed regret recently at the absence of sufficient testing in Jamaica, while Asafa Powell complained Wednesday about the number of tests he had undergone so far in Beijing.

'They are taking so much blood, I am going to be very weak before the final of the 100 metres,' Powell complained.

He said he had undergone four tests, while Jamaicans in general have undergone a total of 30.

Glen Mills - coach of the 100m world record holder Usain Bolt - will not hear a word about doping suspicions.

'We are a talented nation, we work hard and we have a passion for athletics,' Mills told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in Beijing.

'There are boys running all over the country! We have 68 young sprinters and, yes, it is unique to see such a small island as Jamaica produce so many high-quality sprinters,' Mills admitted.

'If you come to our national high-school championships it would answer many of your questions. You would see 2,000, 3,000 young people competing in all the disciplines of track and field. But we get results in sprints, more than anything else,' he added.

And he seems to be right: Bolt and Powell are the two fastest men in the world. With his 9.72 seconds on May 31 in New York, Bolt beat Powell's 9.74 in September 2007 in Rieti.

The 100m has a tradition in Jamaica. Herbert McKenley claimed silver in Helsinki 1952, Lennox Miller took the same medal in Mexico 1968 and a bronze in Munich 1972, while Donald Quarrie claimed silver in Montreal 1976. And Merlene Ottey - bronze in Los Angeles 1984 and Sydney 2000 and silver in Atlanta 1996 - and Veronica Campbell, bronze in Athens 2004, made their contribution among women.

No Jamaican has so far claimed the Olympic gold, although there have been Jamaican-born Olympic champions in the past.

Linford Christie - silver in Seoul 1988 and gold in Barcelona 1992 - ran for Britain, while Donovan Bailey represented Canada to win the race in Atlanta 1996. Ben Johnson - the focus of the most high-profile doping case in history at Seoul 1988 - was also born on the Caribbean island, although he ran for Canada.

That is the way it is: Jamaicans are currently the fastest, although it is US citizens who claim the medals and are the defending champions in 100m at both the Olympics and the world championships.

If Jamaica wants to reverse that trend, they will have to appeal to all the talent that Mills says they have.

'Americans are the men to beat. They also have a very rich sprinting history, and they won all the speed races at the last world championships,' Mills admitted.

The coach was expecting 'a good final' - let Actinen A do its job.

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