SPORTS

Thousands of Jamaicans pack arena to honour the island's Olympic, Paralympic athletes

10/16/2012 12:40 EDT | Updated 12/15/2012 05:12 EST
KINGSTON, Jamaica - Thousands of Jamaicans packed the Caribbean island's national arena on Monday night to honour the country's Olympians and Paralympians after a banner year for the sprinting powerhouse.

Champion sprinters Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the rest of Jamaica's athletes sang along with gospel, reggae and dancehall songs performed at a special show to honour the athletes who competed at the games in London. Musical performers like I-Octane, Ce'Cile and Beenie Man got the athletes grinning and rocking in their seats.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller thanked all the athletes, saying they showed there was "nothing that can stop a Jamaican when they are determined to succeed." She called the athletes the "most powerful unifying force" in the country.

At the London Olympics, Jamaica's athletes won a record haul of 12 medals, surpassing the 11 they won in Beijing in 2008. Crowds of impassioned Jamaicans danced, shouted and embraced in the streets when Jamaican track athletes won races and turned the London stadium's soundtrack into a loop of its national anthem, "Jamaica, Land We Love."

The island's team was led by Bolt, the world's fastest man. He competed in three events and won gold medals in all three: the 100 metres, 200 metre and 4-by-100 relay. In more than a century of modern Olympics, he became the first man to defend both 100- and 200-meter titles at the games.

On Monday, Bolt and his relay teammates received a spirited standing ovation from the crowd. Gold medallist Fraser-Pryce, sprinting stalwart Veronica Campbell-Brown and other female athletes also won loud cheers. Asafa Powell, who did not perform well in London but has been a big track star for years, lowering the world record in the 100 to 9.77 seconds, then 9.74, got a warm round of applause from the crowd.

Debt-shackled Jamaica is distributing nearly $200,000 in cash incentives to Jamaica's athletes, including $29,000 to Bolt, one of the world's highest paid athletes. It's a relatively tiny sum compared to other nations who have rewarded their Olympians with financial rewards, but Jamaican newspapers and others have been critical of this decision, arguing that the cash-strapped government should have found better use for the money.

The athletic stars have promised to donate their money to charities.

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