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The Secret of Jamaica’s Runners

Repeating Islands

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Orlando Patterson, professor of sociology at Harvard University and the author of The Enigma of Jamaica, writes about “the secret of Jamaica’s runners,” citing, among other factors, Jamaicans’ “combative individualism” and confidence, institutional support in schools, and emphasis on public health. Read the original in the Sunday Review of The New York Times (13 August 2016).

Among the most enigmatic features of Jamaica, an island of only 2.8 million people, is its astonishing supremacy in running. Currently, the world’s fastest man and woman are both Jamaicans. Nineteen of the 26 fastest times ever recorded in 100 meter races were by Jamaicans. The list goes on.

Jamaica’s global dominance is broad and deep, both male and female, and started to emerge over half a century ago. At the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Jamaica was ranked 13th by the International Olympic Committee. By the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, it was first in…

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