Post Independence Athletic Superpower


Jamaica has, undoubtedly, evolved into an acknowledged global athletic superpower over the last 50 years, since the nation gained political independence from Britain in 1962.

The outstanding and dominant performances of Jamaica's athletes, particularly  on the track, have served to catapult the nation to the dizzying heights of the top echelon of sports, where it continues to hold its own among much larger and developed countries.

For over 60 years, the nation's athletes have consistently delivered on the two biggest stages hosting the event – the International Olympic Committee (IOC)-organised Olympic Games, and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championships – winning  medals at will.

Jamaica has participated in 16 Olympics, since its initial entry at the 1948 London Games in England. From that time up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Games in China, the nation's athletes mined some 55 medals, 54 of which were in track and field. The other medal, a Bronze, was copped by cyclist David Weller at the 1980 Moscow Olympics in Russia, which was part of the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).  

The post-Independence  period saw Jamaica reaping 46 track and field medals, between the 1964 Tokyo Games in Japan, and the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics in China, setting a number of records and 'firsts'  in the process.

Notable among these were: the crowning of Jamaica's first (post-Independence) Olympic Champion –  Donald Quarrie, who copped the 200 Metres title at the 1976 Montreal Games in Canada; Jamaica's first ever female champion 400-Metre hurdler, Deon Hemmings-McCatty, who won Gold in the event at the 1996 Atlanta Games in the United States; and James Beckford's long jump Silver Medal, the first ever in a field event, earned at those Games as well.

The era also saw the crowning of Jamaica's first ever men's 100 metres champion, in Usain Bolt, who copped Gold at the 2008 Beijing Summer Games in an Olympic record, 9.69 seconds. He also earned the distinction of being Jamaica's first and only double sprint Olympic champion, when he copped the 200 metres at the same games in a record 19.30 seconds. Bolt went on to pick up a record third Gold medal at the Beijing games, when he anchored the men's sprint relay team to victory in the 4X100 metres title in an Olympic record 37.10 seconds.

The Beijing Games also saw Jamaica being the first country to register a first and joint second place finish in the final of an event in a major championship. This was achieved in the  Women's 100 Metres, where Shelly-Ann Fraser–Pryce was crowned champion with Sherone Simpson and Keron Stewart tying for second. Veronica Campbell also became, and remains the only Jamaican athlete to successfully defend her Olympic crown, doing so in the 200 Metres in Beijing.

Jamaica recorded its richest Olympic medal haul in Beijing, where the nation's athletes garnered 11 medals, comprising: six Gold, three Silver, and two Bronze. In the wake of these exploits, expectations are high for this year's London Olympic Games later this month, which are being hosted by England's capital for the fourth time in 104 years.

Mention must also be made of 100-metre sprint  star, Asafa Powell, who before the Beijing Games, held the world record  of 9.74 seconds, which he obtained in Italy in June 2007. He also holds the record for the most sub 10 seconds in the 100 metres – more than 100.

Jamaica's exploits and achievements were even more outstanding at the IAAF World Athletics Championships, where Jamaica's medal haul of 80, places the country 10th among the countries medalling, since its inception in 1983. The country's medal tally over the 13 World Championships staged between the inaugural staging in Helsinki, Finland, and Daegu, South Korea, stands at 14 Gold, 36 Silver, and 30 Bronze.

Jamaica produced the Games' first ever 400-Metre Men's Champion, Bertland Cameron, who remains the country's only major global medal winner in this event. The nation's other achievements include: the first ever triple jump champion in Trecia Smith at the 2005 Helsinki Championships; a Silver medal in the multiple-event Decathlon, by Maurice Smith, in Osaka, Japan in 2007; the first Women's 100-Metre Hurdles Champion in Bridgitte Foster-Hylton in the 2009 Championships in Berlin, Germany; and the first double sprint champion in Usain Bolt, who copped both titles also in the 2009 Championships in Berlin, Germany.

Bolt's exploits saw him shattering his own times, set in the events during the Beijing Olympic Games, to clock 9.58 seconds in the 100 Metres, and 19.19 seconds in the 200 Metres. Jamaica ended the Berlin campaign with its best even medal haul in a single Championship, 13, comprising seven Gold, four Silver, and two Bronze.

While not having as glittering a run as they did in Berlin, in the 2011 renewal of the World Games in Daegu, South Korea, Jamaica was involved in yet another record shattering performance. This time in the Men's 4 X 100 metres sprint relay, which Bolt anchored to Gold in an astonishing 37.04 seconds. The country also produced its second 100 metres men's champion, in Yohan Blake, who clocked 9.92 seconds to win the event.

Having won nine medals in Daegu, comprising four Gold, four Silver and one Bronze, expectations are high for the upcoming 2013 renewal in Moscow, Russia.

However, no feature on Jamaica's sports heritage would be complete without mentioning one of the most outstanding athletes in the country's post-Independence area, the beloved 'Bronze Queen', Merlene Joyce Ottey.

Nicknamed by virtue of the numerous Bronze medals copped in global competitions, Ottey stands out as the epitome of endurance and longevity in sports, having appeared in a record number of medal winning championships, in a career spanning over 30 years. Ottey holds the distinction of being the first female Caribbean athlete to win an Olympic medal, and has won more medals than any other woman in the western hemisphere.

She has appeared in a record seven Olympic Games between 1980 and 2004, representing Jamaica on six occasions and her adopted country, Slovenia, on the seventh. Ottey debuted for Jamaica at the 1980 Moscow Summer Games, and last represented the country at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Australia.  In 2002, she attained Slovenian citizenship, and went on to represent that European nation in the 2004 Athens Olympics in Greece. Her medal haul in the Olympics includes: three Silver and six Bronze.

In the six World Athletics Championships, where she represented Jamaica, Ottey won 14 medals, including:  three Gold, four Silver, and six Bronze. By virtue of her exploits, Merlene Ottey should be documented as one of the greatest exponents of track and field of all times.

By Douglas McIntosh, JIS PRO

JIS Social