‘An honour to represent Jamaica’
Ja’s first female Olympian reflects on 1948
DR Cynthia Thompson holds many firsts: First Jamaican female athlete to make an Olympic Games 100m final; first Jamaican female to break an Olympic record.
And her trip to the 1948 Olympic Games in London was her first time that far away from home. Five women made that trip by boat to England and Thompson is one of three who is still alive today.
A few months shy of her 90th birthday on November 29 — and a few days away from the anniversary of those Games, when another batch of Jamaicans are in the British capital for another Olympics — Thompson reflects on what it meant to compete for her country all those years ago.
While the now-retired paediatrician can sit at home and relax in the comfort of her sitting room and watch the likes of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce compete, Jamaicans in 1948 had to listen to the commentary of Thompson's 100m sprint on short-wave radio.
"We didn't know much about the Olympics, because it wasn't like now. Any little child now can see the Games and hear Jamaicans expressing delight and actually witness an Olympics, but in those days we didn't have that facility," Thompson shared.
It was a rough journey across the Atlantic for Thompson who had taken previous trips outside of Jamaica by air.
The voyage to London, however, was entirely by boat — two weeks of being tossed to and fro by waves, exposed to salt-tinged air.
"I kept down nothing the whole trip; 14 days out at sea. I lost a lot of weight and I was not in the best of condition to compete."
"I was the champion for Jamaica at that time and my times compared favourably with the people that we were leading at that time, and I was expected to get a medal, but I was considerably weakened. I didn't medal."
The Olympics, which had been cancelled twice because of the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939, were the first post-war, and three years after London had been 'blitzed' by German forces.
Thompson recalls that supplies were limited.
"They still had a lot of rationing, even to buy sweets. We had to have a coupon to buy them. Everything was by coupon. It was a resumption of the Games, so we didn't know what to expect."
She also remembered the famous English weather, which is again expected to be a factor when Jamaican athletes compete this summer.
"The rain in England. We always had to have umbrella and Mac (raincoat). We just had to be prepared. Although it was summer it was quite cool."
While in London, the Jamaicans, who were then British subjects, were invited to a special reception at Buckingham Palace.
Following the Games they were part of a team which competed in several races in a British Empire versus United States contest.
"I had a little plaque that I got. I don't know what has happened to it. The Duke of Edinburgh (Prince Phillip) handed out the plaques."
After her return, Thompson shared that she still did not understand the magnitude of the feat the team had accomplished.
Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley claimed gold and silver, respectively, in the Men's 400m, while Wint won a silver in the 800m.
"To me the importance of it didn't dawn on me at that time — in retrospect, but not at that time. I didn't feel anything. I didn't see anything. I didn't even know it (200m) was an Olympic record until some time after I came back."
She added, however: "To represent the country was an honour and a privilege and we hold that dear."