Friday, July 27, 2012

Jamaican Athletes at Summer Olympics (1948-2008)

Jamaica took part in Olympic Games for the first time in 1948 while still a British colony. The Caribbean island nation has been a part of every Summer Olympics since then and also has taken part in a few Winter Olympics. In 1960, it was a part of the British West Indies team and in the other instances they have taken part as an independent team. For a nation with a very small population, Jamaica has made a lasting image, especially in the track events at the Olympics. Their performances at these events reached a zenith in 2008 Beijing Olympics where the Jamaican athletes mesmerized the world with their performances.

Over the six decades from London in 1948 to Beijing in 2008, the Jamaicans have won 55 medals in 16 Summer Olympiads. Out of these all but one have been won in athletics. The lone medal for any other event was won by David Weller in cycling, for the Men's 1 km time trial. Apart from another bronze medal won by James Beckford for Men's Long Jump at Atlanta in 1996, Jamaican Olympic medals have come from track events.

This little island was the best performer out of 14 new participants in the 1948 London Olympics, winning one gold and two silver medals. Arthur Wint won the first ever gold for Jamaica in Men's 400 m while his compatriot Herb McKenley won silver. Wint also won a silver medal in 800 m event. An injury to Wint may have denied both of them the gold medal for 400 m relay. However, Herb McKenley had become the only athlete to have reached the finals of sprint events at the same Olympics.

Four years later at Helsinki, another Jamaican, George Rhoden, once more denied "Hustling Herb" McKenley the gold medal in 400 m event. However, along with Wint, Rhoden and Leslie Liang, they won the 400 m relay this time.

The medals would then dry up for a certain time until 1968, when the Olympics were held in Latin America. Lennox Miller won the only medal for his country while becoming the second fastest man on earth by winning the silver medal at 100 m event. Four years later at Munich, his bronze medal was the lonely success once again for the Jamaicans.

Donald (Don) Quarrie was the lonely Jamaican hero of 1976 Montreal Olympics; and what a hero he was. He won the 200 m gold medal but was denied the 100 m gold medal by the Trinidadian Haseley Crawford who passed the finish line an agonizing 0.02 seconds before Quarry. A surprising 32 years would pass before a Jamaican man would reach a 100 m final although their relay team won the 100 m relay in Los Angeles in 1984.

It was now time for the "Queen of the Track" to start her rein. She was definitely the most appropriate woman to become the first Jamaican lady to win an Olympic medal. At the Moscow Olympics in 1980, 20 year old Merlene Ottey won a bronze medal for Women's 200 m sprint, first of many bronze medals which would earn her another name, "Bronze Queen". Four years later in 1984, she 'defended' the third place at 200 m while winning the same place at 100 m. She failed to defend the titles in Seoul in 1988. With this performance, one may have wondered if the boycotts of 1980 and 1984 helped her win medals. However, with her age, she became much better competing with much younger athletes much more successfully. In 1992, she regained her 200 m "bronze title" at Barcelona. The city of Atlanta witnessed her win silver medals for both 100 m and 200 m sprints in 1996. Four years later at Sydney, she once again won a medal (what else but a bronze) for the 100 m sprint.

Meanwhile, it was in Atlanta that Deon Hemmings won the gold medal for an event for which Jamaica was much less known before, hurdles (400 m Women's). Four years later, she would win silver.

The Queen of Jamaican athletics, Merlene Ottey, left the country after a dispute with the Jamaican officials. However, her Olympic career was far from over. In 2004, she would once again compete, this time wearing the colours of her adopted country, Slovenia. She did much better than many of the younger contestants.

One young lady who DID run better than Ottey was a 22 year old Jamaican, Veronica Campbell. She won the gold medal at the 200 m sprint and the bronze medal in 100 m sprint. Also, she was a part of the 100 m relay team which won the gold medal.

Beijing 2008 was THE Jamaican Olympics. The Jamaicans totally dominated the s100 m and 200 m sprints and if not for an error in baton change in the women's relay, it would have been a complete sweep, something another country except the United States could have achieved. Nevertheless, it was an unprecedented achievement by a country with a population of under 3 million.

Many expected Usain Bolt to win the 100 m event and he lived up to, or even exceeded, the expectations. He had exploded to the limelight after ousting Asafa Powell from the position of world record holder just three months before the Olympics. On 16 August, the world saw Bolt bolting ahead of the rest of his challengers (if they could be called as such) and ending up with a new world record of 9.69 seconds despite 'jogging' during the last 30 m. His actions raised some criticism but no one could deny that Bolt was to be the fastest man on earth by far.

Image: Usain Bolt had a comfortable lead over all his opponents.

PhotoBobil, Flickr

Usain Bolt became the first ever Jamaican man or woman to have won a 100 m gold medal at the Olympics. This seems to be a strange fact given their dominance of sprint events today.

Just one day later, on August 17, the 100 m women's team became heroes on par with Bolt. Three ladies from giant USA reached the final and so did three ladies from little Jamaica. The Jamaicans bagged three medals with Shelly-Ann Fraser winning the gold medal with a timing of 10.78s. Both Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart were awarded silver medals with identical timing of 10.98s. No bronze medal was awarded. The Americans left empty handed.

Bolt won the 200 m title with another world record. Veronica Campbell-Brown (The self same Veronica Campbell after her marriage to fellow sprinter Omar Brown) defended her title in 200 m. The 100 m men's relay team won the relay easily, (I bet you guessed it) with another world record. If not for an error, the women would have done the same thing.

Jamaicans have returned to London with the Olympics after 64 years. The Olympics is a much larger event than what was in 1948. Jamaica is a much larger player in world athletics arena than in 1948. The Olympics are here to stay for a long time after 2012. As it seems to be, so are the Jamaicans.

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