IT'S now official, Dr Merlene Joyce Ottey. Jamaica's legendary track and field icon was conferred with the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Technology, Sports, Honoris Causa by the University of Technology (UTech) at the Ben Francis Invitational Meet yesterday.
Ottey, 52, had to compete with the rain during the opening ceremony at the Vere Technical High School compound in Clarendon. But, as usual, she won, and after a 45-minute delay and a shift in location from the infield to the auditorium, Ottey was officially conferred with the doctorate.
She is the second person to be conferred with that doctorate by UTech, following Dennis Johnson in 2010.
UTech's President Professor Errol Morrison reiterated that his university is pleased and honoured to be affiliated with Ottey in this manner.
"We must expressed our distinct pleasure in sharing this award on this day in honouring Jamaica's most decorated athlete, our Merlene Ottey," said Morrison.
The ceremony, the first of its kind done off the university's campus, started with a musical prelude that was followed by the President's Procession led by the mace bearer, then Morrison and his team, including Ottey, all decked in blue academic robes.
The University Registrar, Dr Elaine Wallace, announced the conferment of the honorary degree before the Public Orator Pamella Kaye read the citation for the honorary graduand and presented her to the president for the conferment of the degree.
The lady herself then signed the Register of the Honorary Graduates and gave her an address.
She then spoke of her early days, running to and from school, jumping on trucks and buses, and although she thought her wonderful legs would take into modelling, she turned away from an interview in California and never stopped running, even to this point.
"I went back in my car, turned it around, and I am still on the track," said Ottey, who now represents Slovenia.
"I just want to say thank you to the people that I have inspired, because I have inspired a lot in the sport, and also business persons. It is a pleasure for me to do so," she added.
"Tonight, because of my achievements performing for Jamaica, I am here standing in this robe accepting my degree. Thank you very much," she added.
Ottey, after the ceremony while speaking to journalists, said she felt fantastic being honoured by her country.
"It's fantastic, because I have been living in Slovenia for many years, but I am a Jamaican, and for them to be doing all of this, so far, a wonderful reception, I realised how much love these people have for me and I am very grateful," said Dr Ottey.
Meanwhile, the Ben Francis Meet had to be called off because of the heavy rains that made the running surface too dangerous for the athletes, weeks before the big ISSA Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships set for March 12-16.
But before the halt, a few athletes got their chance to shine under the watchful eyes of Dr Ottey. Vere Technical's Chantel Pennie was fastest overall in the 200 Class I in 25.87 seconds.
Her teammate, Rene Madley, comfortably won her heat in Class II in 26.10 seconds, but was second overall in the time final. Shimayra Williams of Clarendon College stopped the clock at an impressive 25.23 seconds, which was even faster than the Class I girls.
Vere Technical girls took advantage of the home ground in registering some of the fastest times as Eiandra Thomas did 26.75 seconds in the 200m Class IV and Hydel High's Taqece Duggan was quickest in Class III 200m in 26.16 seconds.
Vere then return to sweep the times in the Girls' 400m Hurdles Open with Shanice Clarke winning in 1:06.84 ahead of her teammates Jadine Senior (1:12.20) and Taska Johnson (1:12.76).
Holmwood Technical's Shereen Whyte won the Girls' 2,000m Steeple Chase in 7:40.14, well ahead of Ophia Simmonds of St Jago in 7:53.62.
Hydel's Carla Lawson won the Class IV 70m hurdles in 11.86 and her teammate Shamniel English won the Class IV long jump.
Kingston College's (KC) Stephon Clunis was fastest in the Class I 200m with 22.80 seconds ahead of Hydel's Hakeem Francis in 22.87.
It was first and second for Calabar in the 400m hurdles with Kemar Williams winning in 58.11 seconds ahead of Zavier Lawrence 59.43 and Jonah Morgan of Excelsior High with 59.91 seconds.
Calabar's Adrian Mitchell won the Javelin Open with a throw of 46.80m, just ahead of Vere's Thavi Spencer with 46.20m.
St Jago's Larone Haye won the Boys' Steeple Chase Open in 6:29.24 minutes ahead of the KC pair of Brian Golding and Ptolemy Hayden in 6:34.50 and 6:44.58 minutes respectively.