An Independence gift like no other
Jamaica's Sunshine Girls celebrate their victory over New Zealand in the semi-finals of the Commonwealth Games on Saturday. (Photo: Naphtali Junior)

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.

Disaster followed.

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 60 years later and it's a curious thing for older Jamaicans that, in sport, particularly track athletics, some seem to take success for granted.

For many, gold medals at the ongoing Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, and at the World Juniors in Cali, Colombia, are only to be expected, par for the course.

Yet, there is always new ground to be broken as we were reminded by our netballers this week when they defeated mighty Australia a feat never before achieved by Jamaica.

The Sunshine Girls will face powerhouse New Zealand in the semi-final today. They will be "in the zone", absolutely determined to bring even greater glory to their country. But they should know that, whatever happens, they have already presented Jamaicans with an Independence gift worth its weight in gold.

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