Still new ground broken in Jamaica’s rich sporting history
Long before Jamaica gained Independence in 1962 our sportsmen and women brought great pride and joy to our people.
Much is made — deservedly so — of track athletic stars in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, the legendary Messrs Arthur Wint, George Rhoden, Herb McKenley, and Les Laing who brought Olympic glory in 1948 in London and 1952 in Helsinki.
There were others, some long forgotten. Consider for a moment the little-known story of a St George’s old boy, Mr Joe McKenzie, believed to be Jamaica’s first medal winner at a major regional or international athletics competition.
A high jumper, Mr McKenzie was in Cuba in 1930 representing Jamaica at the Central American Games. But on the day of the final he found himself unable to get transportation to the stadium.
In desperation, he joined a friendly Cuban in hopping on to the back of a bus, bound for the stadium.
Mr McKenzie’s friend was swept from the vehicle, run over, and killed.
Mr McKenzie ran the rest of the way to the stadium. He arrived to find the high jump final in progress.
We can easily imagine his chaotic state of mind. But Mr McKenzie would not be daunted. He won the silver medal.
Mr George Headley, a black man who came to maturity as a cricketer in the 1930s, prior to World War Two, at a time of extreme racial bigotry, had similar resolve and power of mind.
In a game dominated by whites at that time, he befuddled popular thinking in Britain and elsewhere by becoming among the world’s most dominant batsmen.
It’s difficult to comprehend 90 years later, but back in the 1930s when Mr Headley scored centuries in either innings of a Test Match, watched by ‘lords and ladies’ at Lord’s in London, conventional thinking in Britain about race and colour took a beating.
In 1962, amid high hopes but also doubts and trepidation, as Jamaica prepared to lower the British flag and hoist the black, green and gold, sports was again to the fore as a measure of the possible.
Lightweight boxer Mr Bunny Grant defeated the Briton Mr Dave Charnley to win the Commonwealth boxing title. And, in cricket, Mr Easton McMorris scored his only Test century for the West Indies, at Sabina Park. Years later, in explaining his determination to excel on home soil in his country’s year of Independence, Mr McMorris said: “I was in the zone…”
Fast-forward to Independence Day 61 years later and it’s a curious thing for older Jamaicans that, in sport, particularly track athletics, some seem to take success for granted.
Yet, there is always new ground to be broken as our Reggae Girlz have just broken into the round of 16 at the Women’s World Cup ongoing in New Zealand and Australia. The historic qualification and advancement of this team signals that the nation continues to build on its success and take on challenges once deemed out of reach.
Indeed, sport does unify a nation, and all Jamaicans can find cause to rally around the successes of our netballers in South Africa, the volleyball players in Suriname, and the hopes and aspirations in the recently named team to the upcoming World Championships in Budapest.
May we coalesce around the pursuit of even more success as we add to the storied history of this young and proud nation called Jamaica.