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A word to our athletes and their handlers

Saturday, August 18, 2012

AFTER the extraordinary success in London and at the previous Olympics in Beijing four years ago, very young Jamaicans can be forgiven for thinking their country has always been a dominant medal-winning force at major games.

Truth is, there have been long periods of severe drought for Jamaican athletics. Just to dramatise the point, Mr Donald Quarrie’s Gold medal at the 1976 Olympics was the first of that revered colour for Jamaica since 1952 — 24 years earlier.

It’s useful to reflect that there were no Olympic medals whatsoever for Jamaica at the Olympics of 1956 or in 1964. There were three Bronze medals in 1960, but in that year Jamaica competed as part of the short-lived West Indies Federation.

It’s equally useful to reflect that Ms Merlene Ottey’s Bronze in 1980 in Moscow was the first Olympic medal for a Jamaican woman. And that when Ms Deon Hemmings took Gold in Atlanta in 1996 she became the first Jamaican woman to win an Olympic Gold and the first Jamaican to do so since Mr Quarrie in ’76.

Among the sceptics, who now accuse Jamaican athletics of drug taint, are those who point to the years of ‘famine’ to argue that the success in recent years has been too sudden for a country with so limited resources.

And yet, as was pointed out in this space yesterday, this newspaper and indeed many Jamaicans believe that it is the much improved levels of efficiency in drug testing, over the last decade especially, that has allowed our athletes to now show their true worth on the international stage.

To quote yesterday’s editorial “had the playing field been level many years ago, our dominance would have been felt earlier. For certainly, sprinters like Ms Merlene Ottey, Ms Juliet Cuthbert, Ms Grace Jackson, and Mr Raymond Stewart would have acquired more medals had they been competing against ‘clean’ athletes”.

We strongly believe that extraordinary athletic talent, fine coaches, and Jamaica’s powerful track culture have combined to produce world beaters such as Messrs Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Mrs Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Mrs Veronica Campbell Brown. We contend that rigorous drug testing down the years, all over the world, has repeatedly proven these and many others of our athletic heroes to be drug free.

This is not to say that Jamaican athletes have not tested positive for banned substances. Only last year there was the unfortunate case of USbased Mr Steve Mullings who tested positive for a masking agent, having also tested for testosterone in 2004.

Crucially, there have also been cases of rank carelessness. Mr Blake and Mrs Fraser-Pryce suffered as a result. Readers will recall that in 2009 Mr Blake, then 19, tested positive for a banned stimulant contained in an energy drink, and in 2010, Mrs Fraser-Pryce fell afoul of the drug testers after taking a pain killer which contained a banned substance.

The drug testing authorities have repeatedly made it clear that there can be no excuses: That athletes must take responsibility for whatever enters their bodies.

As the track and field world, including those pointing fingers once again, turn the microscope on Jamaica because of the country’s athletic success, it is imperative that our athletes and their handlers remain on their Ps and Qs in order to remain clean. They cannot afford looseness or carelessness.

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