FRONTLINE/World [home]

Search FRONTLINE/World

FRONTLINE/World Rough Cut
image image image image

Rough Cut
Jamaica: Girls on Track
Olympic dreams against the odds
 

 

Molly Snyder-Fink and Kiran Goldman

Molly Snyder-Fink (left) is a freelance video journalist in the Bay Area, who has worked for companies such as Barbara Kopple's Cabin Creek Films, The Discovery Channel and Al Jazeera
English. Kiran Goldman is a documentary filmmaker also based in the Bay Area, who has helped produce international, environmental and health stories for FRONTLINE/World and NBC-11. Both producers earned their Masters Degrees from UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism.

Watch Video

Length: 12:05

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the small island nation of Jamaica won 11 track and field medals, including 6 golds -- the most first-place finishes for any country in the world except the United States and Russia. For a country with a population smaller than the city of Chicago, to accomplish those feats while also breaking three world records had the rest of the world asking, "What makes Jamaicans so fast?"

For Molly Snyder-Fink, one of the producers of this week's Rough Cut, these accomplishments were even more impressive in light of the serious poverty in the country. She has been to Jamaica many times with her Jamaican-born husband, and as she watched the Olympics in New York, it struck her how many Jamaicans kept coming out on top. In the winter of 2009, she returned to the island with co-producer Kiran Goldman to try to understand the story behind its Olympic success.

In Jamaica, track and field is a national pastime. The undeniable face of the sport is Usain Bolt, the charismatic, multiple-gold medalist who owns the title of "Fastest Man in the World." But at the 2008 games, a Jamaican also won gold in the premier women's sprinting event, the 100 meters. Shelly-Ann Fraser became an instant star in Jamaica, but remained less well known beyond the country's borders.

But for producers Goldman and Snyder-Fink, her story stood out. In a country where more than a third of girls have their first pregnancy by the time they are 19, becoming an Olympic champion requires more than hard work and training.

"My neighborhood, which is called Waterhouse, was really bad in terms of violence and facilities, and everything there was negative," Fraser says, describing her adolescence. "It was really, really hard because [many] girls my age were mothers, or just on the road with men doing all sorts of stuff... You'd wonder if that same fate was going to happen to you."

She credits her high school track team with helping to steer her clear of neighborhood problems. The story follows other rising stars such as 14-year-old high-school athlete Janieve Russell, whose sporting talents are already promising her a better life.

"In my future, I hope to be a professional athlete," Russell says.

map

The undeniable face of track and field in Jamaica is Usain Bolt, the charismatic, multiple-gold medalist who owns the title of "Fastest Man in the World."

The producers caught up with Russell as she trained for the annual Girls and Boys Championships, commonly known as "Champs." This track and field event, which takes place at Jamaica's national stadium in Kingston, is one of the largest youth competitions in the world -- about 2,000 athletes from 150 Jamaican schools gather in front of 30,000 spectators. The competition first began in 1910; since then, track and field has been the most popular sport on the island. Their Olympic prowess, too, is not entirely new, as 41 of the 42 Olympic medals Jamaica has won have come in track and field.

What is new is that Jamaica is no longer losing its most promising athletes to scholarships abroad. Today, coaches have begun forming teams and athletic clubs that provide vigorous year-round training.

Shelly-Ann Fraser attended the University of Technology (UTECH), Jamaica's first university to offer track athletes the chance to train professionally. When Fraser isn't competing overseas, she trains everyday at UTECH, alongside more than 20 of her teammates.

All the hard work has allowed Fraser to create a new life for herself out of difficult circumstances, perhaps one clue as to why Jamaicans have fared so well recently at the Olympics.

"I'm able to live a different life," she says, "a life that I'm not used to. As you can see, I'm not in Waterhouse anymore, which is one major step to a lot of goals that I have in life."

REACTIONS

BRINETTA CAMPBELL - WEST HARTFORD, CT
GREAT JOB!

ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID - Mandeville, Manchester, Jamaica
Interesting piece !!!

Leon W - Brooklyn, NY
Truly it's a blessing to see how well we do in the Olympics and World Champs. I have never been more proud to be Jamaican - the way
they carried themselves in Beijing was simply superb, and Berlin was no different. We actually got back the one gold medal we left on the track in Beijing; the women's 4x100 relay.It is said that everything stops on the island when we are represented in a
final; violence included. I just hope and pray that somehow it will forever stop so the quality of life for ALL JAMAICANS can be better.

Jamal Hodge - New York, NY
Amazingly insightful, with a human touch. Shows the importance of national pride and how sports can be a measure of spirit.

Rosalino Ramos - New York, Ny
The articulation of the cinematography is amazing!

Marni Majorelle - Brooklyn, NY
This video is so unique and refreshing because it's full of hope. I loved watching the girls getting revved up before the meet, and to see how humble, disciplined, and ambitious they are. I hope this video will continue to get the attention it deserves.

DeeDee Halleck - Willow, New York
nice and inspiring film. I wish the credits would be included in the film segment, not just as a link.

Maggie - Woodstock, New York
Fascinating and inspirational piece. Great story. Thanks for telling it.