Olympic Greats & Greatness


by Carole Beckford

Front Page of The Gleaner, July 28, 1952.

Front Page of The Gleaner, July 28, 1952.

Although the Olympic Games are a multi-sport event, Jamaica has stamped its name in track and field. Jamaica has sent a team to every Summer Olympics held since 1948. Sixteen Games, fifty-five medals and the journey from London 1948 back to London 2012, has taken Brand Jamaica around the world. From Arthur Wint, the first gold med-alist, to Usain Bolt, Jamaican track athletes have dazzled with breath-taking performances winning the hearts of millions of people across the world by sprinting into history.

London 1948 was our first Olympics and we wasted no time in making a mark. Not only did Wint take silver in the 800m, Wint and Herb McKenley won gold and silver, respectively in the 400m. Just imagine the excitement! What a feat for our first Olympics!

Team Jamaica was on form for Helsinki 1952. Wint, McKenley, George Rhoden and Les Laing beat the USA and took gold in the mile relay. Amazingly, Jamaica again placed first and second in the men’s 400m with Rhoden taking gold and McKenley silver. Silver was also McKenley’s and Wint’s in the 100m and the 800m, respectively.

Our athletes performed commendably in Melbourne 1956, Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Mexico City 1968, Munich 1972, Montreal 1976 and Moscow 1980. Indeed, Team Jamaica travelled the world with many distinguished athletes who helped to pave the way for future generations. And not all of them were in track and field. Cyclist David Weller is our only medalist outside of track and field; while swimmers Allan Marsh and Andrew Phillips shone brightly.

Lennox Miller, who took silver (Mexico City 1968) and bronze (Munich 1972) in the 100m, was one of the first Jamaican athletes to train overseas. Donald Quarrie secured Jamaica’s first gold medal since 1952 at the 1976 Montreal Games, his trademark curve running giving us the 200m title. In Moscow 1980, Merlene Ottey won her first medal and became the first female Olympic medalist from the Caribbean. Over time she has earned the distinction of winning the most Olympic medals of any female track and field athlete in the Western Hemisphere.

By the end of Los Angeles 1984, the black, green and gold of our beautiful flag stood out. Merlene Ottey had taken bronze in the 100m and 200m, while the 4 x 100m men’s relay team had taken silver. Our indomitable spirit was on full display with the gallant effort of quarter miler Bertland Cameron who clocked 45.10s in the 400m semi-final talked about even today. Cameron is now a coach of one of Jamaica’s leading track clubs.

1988, the year of Hurricane Gilbert, was a trying one for Jamaica and many persons on the island were not able to witness the Games from Seoul 1988. But we were tuned in from whatever source the news would come from. The team took two medals: silver went to Grace Jackson in the 200m and the men’s mile relay team.

In Barcelona 1992, Juliet Cuthbert took silver in the 100m, and again in the 200m – the exciting final that saw Ottey taking bronze as well. Winthrop Graham took silver in the 400m hurdles.

In Atlanta 1996, our medal count was 6. Who will forget the indomitable Deon Hemmings’ gold medal (our first since 1976) performance in the 400m hurdles or James Beckford winning our first field medal taking silver in the long jump? Ottey, medaled once again, taking silver in the 100m and the 200m. Bronze went to both the men’s 4 x 400m and the women’s 4 x 100m relay teams.

In Sydney 2000, we took nine medals. The men performed well taking bronze in the 400m and the 4 x 400m relay. The women were outstanding taking silver and bronze in the 100m, bronze in the 200m, and silver in the 400m, 400m hurdles, 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m team relays. Ottey and Hemmings returned, and the world met the young Veronica Campbell.

In Athens 2004, we took four medals. Who will forget the unstoppable Veronica Campbell in the 200m or the outstanding ladies relay team in the 4 X 100m who took gold? Bronze it was for Campbell in the 100m, as well as the women’s 4 x 400m relay, while Danny McFarlane brought home a silver medal in the 400m hurdles.

And then there was Beijing 2008. Eleven medals – six of them gold! This included record-breaking and heart-stopping performances, leaving us almost breathless and sometimes on the verge of tears.

The men took gold in the 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100 m relay. Usain Bolt entered the Games a favourite in the 200m and dazzled his opponents and fans with an unbelievable then world-record 19.30s. But it was the 100m which gave the world a “WOW” moment when he won in a then world-record 9.69s. Breathtakingly, the 4x100m men’s relay team set a new world record (since broken by Team Jamaica) with Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Usain and Asafa Powell running the anchor.

The women did not disappoint. The 1-2-2 placing of Shelly-Ann Fraser, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson in the 100m women, had to be the most exciting women’s event seen at the Games. Gold was Veronica Campbell’s in the 200m and Melanie Walker’s in the 400m hurdles. In other individual medals, Sherika Williams took silver in the 400m while Kerron Stewart took bronze in the 200m. And the 4×400 relay team brought home bronze.

Beijing 2008 was spectacular. Jamaica’s National Anthem played so many times, and our flag dominated the “Bird’s Nest” so overwhelmingly, that the distinction between Team Jamaica and Brand Jamaica disappeared. Following our superb performances in Beijing 2008, expectations have soared and our journey back to London in 2012 is highly anticipated in Jamaica and around the world.