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Despite below-par 2017, more glory ahead for Jamaica in track and field athletics

Saturday, December 30, 2017

In the context of the extraordinary successes since the turn of the 21st century, 2017 was disappointing for Jamaica's track and field athletics programme.

Jamaican athletes went to London for the IAAF World Championships in mid-year with high medal hopes. It was to have been a triumphant send-off for the greatest sprinter of all time, Mr Usain Bolt.

As it turned out, not a lot went right and Jamaica won just four medals — a gold from Olympic champion sprint hurdler Mr Omar McLeod, and three bronze medals.

In the words of Mrs Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who watched the World Championships on television after withdrawing from competition to have her first child, it was a “jaw-dropping” experience.

The send-off for Mr Bolt was as touching as any in the history of track and field athletics, reflecting the love, admiration and respect for a man credited with having saved his sport in the face of drug scandals and allegations of corrupt practices.

However, Mr Bolt was far below peak fitness and only collected the bronze medal in the 100 metres. To make matters worse, he was forced to pull up with a leg injury on the anchor leg of the sprint relay.

Jamaica's other major individual Gold medal hope, Rio Olympics heroine Miss Elaine Thompson, who was widely expected to win the 100m, finished outside the medal frame.

A lot more went wrong, and there were even reports of an unseemly altercation involving two female athletes.

But, amidst all that gloom, 23-year-old Mr McLeod brought cheer. He followed up his gold medal in the 110-metre hurdles at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016 with a near-perfect run to give Jamaica its only gold medal at the World Championships.

Blessed with natural speed, Mr McLeod showed wonderfully improved technique — the result of hard work — to suggest he will be very hard to beat in the years to come.

Fitting then that Mr McLeod is favoured to top the male section of the long-running Sport Foundation Sportsman and Sportswoman Awards for 2017 sponsored by the RJRGleaner Group.

It speaks to the strength of Jamaican track and field that even in a below-par year for female athletes, Miss Ristananna Tracey is being spoken of as the only realistic challenger to the highly decorated and inspirational swimmer, Miss Alia Atkinson, for Sportswoman of the Year.

Mr Bolt has said goodbye to competitive athletics and several other stars are close to the exit door. But with the likes of Mr McLeod, Miss Tracey, Miss Thompson, Mrs Fraser-Pryce among the seniors carrying the flag, and a host of promising young athletes coming through, there is surely more glory ahead as Jamaicans look towards and beyond the 2020 Olympics.