The tubby-looking lad on the last leg of the sprint relay, standing way out in lane eight, is still waiting to collect the baton as five of his rivals streak away to the line. He does not have a cat in hell’s chance of winning.
“He look too fat to be really fast but you watch that boy!” everyone advises. Then you understand why as something breathtaking, something guaranteed to raise a gasp at its sheer improbability, unfolds in the national stadium of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston.
When he snatches the baton, he looks raw and unpolished, his style raggedy, but he runs like the wind.
It seems impossible but he begins to sweep past the rest one by one, as a collective, high-pitched “oooh” of excitement ripples through the packed main stand.
By the time he bullets across the line, having piloted his quartet to the most improbable snatched triumph on the line, the “oooohs” have turned into shrieks of delight. “That’s Jazeel Murphy — he gonna be another one,” an old coach nods sagely. Yes, another one off the island’s production line of world-beating sprinters.
Is this 18 year-old going to be another Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake, you wonder aloud but then others offer you a host of different names jostling for the same accolade — Nickel Ashmeade, Dexter Lee, Oshane Bailey, Odean Skeen, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Julian Forte.
It is only a race at a high school meeting in February, the Camperdown Classic, but the point is that this is where the dream trail starts, the trail which for some ends in a vast Olympic stadium across the other side of the world as a nation draped in green, gold and black watches joyfully transfixed.
The kids in the Camperdown come in all shapes and sizes, some kitted out like Lycra-hugged pros and some in comical old, baggy shorts and vests, but it is the vision of the sheer mass of quicksilver talent here that feels so joyous.
This feels like sport that really matters, as if you are being offered a privileged glimpse of track’s future.
This is a kingdom of sprints, a country where the fast kids seem as important as the great champions, where the national school track championships — known throughout the island simply as “Champs” — are their biggest single sports event of all, engendering more excitement than any Test match or football international.
Nobody blinks here when Blake, the world 100 metres champion, turns out in a senior invitation race at the Camperdown after the likes of young Murphy and his mates in the school races have finished. This is the norm.
After all, only a few years ago, it was the likes of Blake, Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who were making their names in those school sprints and now the whole island is in thrall to their wonders at these Olympics.
“You see, I think, at the end of the day Jamaicans aren’t going to be really fussy about who wins: VCB [Veronica Campell-Brown] or Shelly-Ann, Usain or Yohan,” Warren Blake, the island’s athletics chief, had explained as he watched the youngsters at trackside. “As long as it is a Jamaican!”
Dr Blake is overseeing one of the most astonishing modern sporting success stories, that of a small Caribbean island nation of 2.7 million souls which is now still able to boast, per capita, that it is the most successful athletics nation on earth.
It is a triumph based purely on explosive sprint prowess; 11 Olympic medals, including six gold, in the last Beijing Olympics were followed by 13 medals (seven gold) at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and nine medals (four gold) in the most recent 2011 edition in Daegu.
All this is a source of unalloyed pride on the island, where the sprinting exploits, ever since Bolt redrew the boundaries of the art in the Beijing Games, have prompted so much fascination and so many accompanying theories about what lies behind the soaring achievements.
Dr Blake has heard them all, whether it be the enchanting culinary explanation that Jamaicans are somehow yam or green banana-powered, or the romantic idea that every underprivileged kid wants to sprint out of poverty and become like Usain, or just the deeply cynical view, which enrages everyone on the island, that performance-enhancing drugs have made an insidious mark there.
“You want to know the secret? Well, look around you, I think you’re seeing it here,” says Dr Blake, with a sweep of his arms. “Every week after the season starts in January, there are at least two meets like this, with thousands of young athletes all trying to get their qualifying times for the Champs.
“In an hour, I’ll be leaving this meet to watch another at the other end of the island in Montego Bay. We’re a small island but you’re talking of as many people here training and competing as in any of the big countries. Track is an addiction.”
Bolt materialised and, more than anyone, fed that addiction. Don Quarrie, his great forerunner who won the Montreal Olympic 200m in 1976, is not about to deny that Bolt’s exploits have changed the aspirations of thousands of kids here.
“Bolt is Bolt. The showman, the magnetic personality which makes people want to follow him,” says Quarrie.
“Since Beijing, the organisers of the weekly meets have seen a huge jump in the number of schoolboys and girls coming out to train and I think there are many, inspired by the likes of Usain and Yohan, who do see track as a kind of escape.”
Like this youngster Jazeel Murphy, who is starting to shed the fat, use weights and receive a little tutelage from Glen Mills, the great coach who guides both Bolt and Blake and once mentored Murphy’s dad too, he may soon be no laughing matter to his elders.
“It was tough for me as a kid. My parents never had anything,” says Murphy, thanking of the poverty of his childhood in St Catherine. “I want to do well in track to give them back something.”
It is funny that Blake had told me something similar the day before – “I wanted a better life to help my family” – and he has now actually set up a foundation to help open up more athletic opportunities for youngsters from impoverished backgrounds.
“Talent is not found by chance here any more,” says Dr Blake. “If you have any running talent, it’s reached the stage now in Jamaica that you are going to be found.”
Dr Blake knows that with success comes inevitable cynicism, perhaps understandable considering how, for the previous three years, doping controversies involving some of the nation’s most high profile runners have overshadowed the build-up to championships.
But Dr Blake is adamant that there is no doping problem here.
“Yes, we have caught drugs cheats in the past but, by and large, the offenders have been athletes training overseas. Unfortunately, there’s a tendency when you’re doing well for people to look for the worst case scenario and point fingers.
“But look around you here and you can understand. People run. People enjoy running, even if they’re not good. I’d spend hours training when I was a boy and I still run now, a year away from my 60th birthday!
“Today I ran 5km before I came here. And when I see a boy like Jazeel coming through, running so brilliantly, it still gives the same thrill, just like seeing a Jamaican man or woman on the Olympic podium.
“You see, this is not just our pleasure, it’s a way of life.”