Around here, Jamaicans get rockstar treatment

Published Jul 23, 2012 05:35am

Want to catch a glimpse of Bolt, Yohan Blake (pictured) and the rest of the Jamaicans in action? Sorry, you're going to have to wait for the London Olympics to start. -Photo by AFP

BIRMINGHAM: Usain Bolt was barely visible through the thick row of hedges that guarded the track.

Still, the curious fans tried to sneak a peek at the world's fastest man, if only for a brief second. Some climbed on railings in an attempt to peer over the top of the bushes, while others pushed the prickly branches to the side.

That is, until security sent them scurrying away.

Want to catch a glimpse of Bolt, Yohan Blake and the rest of the Jamaicans in action? Sorry, you're going to have to wait for the London Olympics to start. They are well protected at their training compound inside the University of Birmingham campus.

And well taken care of, too.

The university has rolled out the red carpet for the roughly 47 athletes from the tiny Caribbean country who have shown up to train in peace. The organizers have brought in special beds - including a 7-footer so Bolt can comfortably rest his 6-5 frame - offered up an assortment of entertainment and catered meals to their particular taste in food.

No food request is over the top.

Well, almost.

Wayne Willis, one of the chefs in charge of the food spread, couldn't find a goat's head that someone desired. Other than that, he's made sure they want for nothing, preparing a lot of jerk chicken and pork.

For added authenticity, Willis brought in Jamaican chef Karl Thomas to lend a hand in the kitchen.

“The food is flying out,” said Willis, who's trying to keep up with the demand for grapes and kiwi fruit.

“This is probably the most high-profile sort of thing I've been involved with in my career.”

So far, he's earning a four-star review.

“The food is great,” said Veronica Campbell-Brown, who's going for a third straight Olympic gold in the 200.

“I really appreciate all the accommodations and the hospitality. The track is lovely.”

Around here, the Jamaicans are treated like rock stars. Pete Jackson, a defenseman on the school's field hockey team, stopped by for a quick look at the squad. He climbed on a railing, clinging to the hedges to avoid falling, and glanced at Bolt stretching on the other side of the track.

“That's him right there,” he called out to his buddies down below. Indeed, it was. And Blake, too.

Think one of them is going to win the 100 when the training partners line up in London?

“I'd like Tyson Gay to win,” Jackson nonchalantly said.

“I just like his attitude. ... (but) it's nice to see (the Jamaicans) here. It's exciting.”

The Jamaicans are staying within walking distance of the track, in a place that's under heavy watch. It's simply to give the athletes their privacy without any interruptions.

That's why the track isn't more open to the public. Banners even hang in the places where the shrubs aren't as thick, pretty much eliminating any sort of viewing.

“If we allowed open access, you'd have thousands trying to pour in,” explained Zena Wooldridge, the director of sport at the university.

“They're a team trying to prepare for the biggest days of their lives. They need to do that in privacy.

“This is about not just physical work, but psychological as well. You can't do that with loads of people.”

The only thing the organizers haven't provided is, well, more sunshine and warmer weather. Some of the athletes showed up Thursday decked out in jackets with their hoods pulled up.

“It's been raining here for three months,” Wooldridge said.

“But I think the sun is due to come out now and should stay out for the next couple of weeks.”

When Bolt & Co. aren't on the track, the organizers have made sure they aren't bored.

There's a garden to stroll through, not to mention games such as dominoes, Scrabble, chess and backgammon. They also have an Xbox console and two televisions, one with a DVD player.

Not only that, but there are also outside activities lined up for the athletes: Seeing the new Batman movie, attending a special church service, being the guests of honor at a welcome dinner and taking in a live concert.

“But we don't want to do too much and have them over-programmed,” Wooldridge said.

“They're here to prepare for the Olympics. It's important they don't end up doing too many public engagements.

“We're absolutely delighted to be hosting them. We hope we can play a small part in their success at the Olympics.”


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