London – Jamaicans gathered in London erupted with joy as Usain Bolt romped to victory on Sunday, chanting his name with high hopes his success will boost their nation's image and inspire their youth.
Bolt's win in the 100 metres final, with fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake coming second and team mate Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce taking the women's 100m title a day earlier, cemented the Jamaican athletes' status as the fastest in the world.
For Jamaica the timing was perfect as the heavily indebted Caribbean nation celebrates 50 years of independence from Britain on Monday, and the wins highlight its strengths as it considers cutting final ties with its former colonial master.
The Jamaican community in London said it was also in need of some good news with the recession in Britain sending unemployment rates soaring among young black people who were blamed in part for the street riots in London last year.
“We have our challenges but this shows the resilience of the Jamaican people and that we can do anything we set our minds to,” Jamaica's Tourism and Entertainment Minister Wykeham McNeill told Reuters with a glass of champagne in his hand.
“We are a small nation and this has put us on the world map. It is a huge boost for morale. This could not have been better scripted.”
A crowd of 850 people in Jamaica's national colours of yellow, green and black, watched the race at Jamaica House, set up at the O2 Arena in east London during the Games to showcase Jamaica and act as a base for Jamaican athletes and fans.
With reggae music blaring, bars were serving Jamaican lager Red Stripe, rum cocktails, and spicy jerk chicken with the jubilant crowd imitating Bolt's celebratory moves and booing his U.S rival Justin Gatlin who finished third.
Jason Hall, deputy director of the Jamaica Tourist Board, said the 2012 Olympics were a golden opportunity to promote the best features of his island nation of 2.8 million people who rely heavily on tourism, and to block out more negative traits.
Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world, due largely to gang-related violence linked to drug money.
The economy and crime are two of the major challenges facing Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller who has signalled the time is coming when Jamaica will remove Queen Elizabeth as its queen and symbolic head of state to become a republic.
Hall said Bolt had been fantastic for Jamaica since winning the 100m in Beijing in 2008 with his trademark humour and also for the race itself which has been tainted by doping scandals.
“Bolt brings something fresh, clean and positive. He is a great ambassador for the sport and for Jamaica,” said Hall.
“It is inspiring to see that with hard work and commitment you can achieve absolute greatness and you can see the pride of Jamaicans around London with Jamaican colours on the streets.”
Jamaicans at Jamaica House wearing national shirts and waving flags hoped the Olympic victories would give a lift to Jamaican communities in Britain.
About 800,000 Jamaicans and people of Jamaican descent live in Britain, making up about 7 percent of London's population, with the first major wave of immigration coming after World War Two.
Many live in Brixton in south London, and Tottenham, just a few miles from the Olympic stadium, where Jamaican flags are plentiful in homes and on cars, reggae music blasts from shops and restaurants serving Jamaican food are plentiful.
But life is tough for the younger generation with nearly half of young black people, or 46.6 percent, unemployed in the first three months of 2012, according to government figures. By comparison 20.9 percent of white people aged 16-24 were jobless.
“There are no apprenticeships or jobs for our young people and there is not much to inspire our boys,” said Kerina Passley, a 36-year-old civil servant from Leytonstone in east London who has two sons, aged 16 and 11.
“I hope that Jamaicans winning at the Olympics can inspire them. Everyone will be talking about the good things about Jamaica for a long time.”
Audrey Edwards, 51, a community worker who was at Jamaica house with her children and grandchildren, said the Olympic victories came at the right time.
“After the riots in London last year black British people need this,” said Edwards, from East Ham in east London, who moved to England from Jamaica when she was 10. “It is something positive and Bolt is a good role model.” – Reuters