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Jamaican parish touts 2 of world's fastest runners

Aug. 07, 2008, 8:51 p.m. (ET)

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) Yams and world-class sprinters are grown in Jamaica's rural Trelawny parish.

The runners include Veronica Campbell-Brown, who raced barefoot against the boys, and the world's fastest man, Usain Bolt, both favored to bring home medals from the Beijing Olympics.

Residents of the parish east of Montego Bay can also easily rattle off names of other Trelawny runners, such as Olympian Michael Green and disgraced athlete Ben Johnson, but they are drawn to the star sprinters.

"The whole parish is gearing up for these Olympics," said Trelawny Mayor C. Junior Gager. "We are expecting great, great achievements ... The whole world will be learning about Trelawny."

The parish is home to an estimated 73,000 people and is a strong farming community that produces more than 40 percent of the island's yams. The scent of bougainvilleas fills the air in Trelawny, whose rugged hills are studded with stone churches and courtrooms from the 18th century.

Nestled in the coastal city of Falmouth is William Knibb Memorial High School, Bolt's alma mater. His wins have pushed soccer and cricket - sports once heavily favored by locals - into the background, said Dwayne Jarrett, the school's head coach.

Bolt, nicknamed "Lightning Bolt," won gold medals in the 200 meters at the World Junior Championships in 2002 and 2003. In May, he broke the world record in the 100 with a time of 9.72 seconds.

"With his emergence, people are tuning in more," Jarrett said. "They no longer see it as a sport, but as a career."

The school's track roster has doubled in two years to 25 athletes, and almost all want to sprint, Jarrett said.

Among them is 17-year-old student Jason Young, who said he spoke to Usain by phone about two weeks ago.

"I look up to him as a big brother," he said. "I definitely think he's going to win the 200 meters. The 100 is going to be a bit tougher because he doesn't have the best start."

Jamaicans are starting to bet on the upcoming races and have decorated their homes with the island's black, green and yellow colors, said Lorna Thorpe, who heads the sports department at William Knibb.

"They cannot wait for it to start. They are preparing. They are eager," she said. "People are going to be glued to their televisions."

Bolt makes his Olympic debut in Beijing on Aug. 15 and will compete in the 100 and 200 meters. Campbell-Brown will defend her title in the 200 four days later. Last year, she won the 100 meters at the world championships.

"They are putting us on the world map," Gager said. "There's a sense of pride that arises out of all of this. (Residents) are proud that these ordinary people, born and grown among us, are able to achieve so much."


Associated Press Writer Danica Coto contributed from San Juan, Puerto Rico.