Mr Les Laing, pioneer and consummate team manFriday, February 19, 2021
Sports Minister Ms Olivia Grange hit the nail on the head as she described Mr Les Laing, who died recently in Florida, USA, at age 95, as “one of the pioneers on whose shoulders many of our athletes stand as they take on the world and win”.
Back in 1952, when Mr Laing and his legendary teammates Messrs Herb McKenley, Arthur Wint and George Rhoden won the Olympic 4x400 metre relay final in Helsinki, Finland, to gain international acclaim, Jamaica wasn't even a nation in the formal sense.
It was the Union Jack that was hoisted and God Save The Queen was the anthem played at the medal presentation ceremony, for Jamaica was a British colony, still part of the then fast-crumbling empire.
By the early 1950s Jamaica had a fairly well-developed culture in track and field, fuelled considerably by the annual high school athletic championships which started in 1910 with Boys' Championships.
Research suggests that the first representative Jamaican medallist in major regional or international games was one Mr Joe McKenzie, a high jumper, at what was then the Central American Games in Havana, Cuba, in March 1930.
At Jamaica's very first Olympic Games, in 1948, in London, much was expected of the team that eventually won the Olympic relay gold four years later. Ambition was thwarted in '48 with injury to Mr Wint, triggering a pledge by team members that they would make amends.
In 1952, Mr Laing — a five-foot, four-inch, 200-metre specialist — found himself on the second leg of a line-up of Wint, to Laing, to McKenley, to Rhoden. Up against the American 400m specialist Mr Gene Cole, Mr Laing battled with the heart of a lion but handed over to Mr McKenley several metres behind Mr Cole.
Mr McKenley then ran the race of his life to hand over first to Mr Rhoden, who held off his American rival on the final leg for Jamaica's first Olympic relay gold — triggering pride and glory for Jamaicans and their nation in the making.
Unlike his teammates, Messrs McKenley, Rhoden, and Wint, Mr Laing never won an Olympic individual medal, but in 1948, and again in 1952, he reached the final of the 200 metres — major achievement.
A consummate team man, Mr Laing was always up for a contest with baton in hand, winning silver and bronze, respectively, in the 4x100m relay and 4x400m relay at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games of 1950 in Guatemala.
Arguably, his moment of greatest individual glory came at the CAC Games in Mexico in 1954, climbing the podium to take the gold medal after winning the 200m in 21.2 seconds.
Originally from Linstead, St Catherine, and a past student of Dinthill Technical High and Jamaica School of Agriculture, Mr Laing, an agriculturalist by profession, like so many of his countrymen and women, braved the unknown to spend most of his later life abroad.
We are told that his interest in Jamaica's track and field programme never dwindled. Jamaicans feel honoured to celebrate his life, and are especially happy that Mr Laing transitioned knowing that his hard-won legacy lives on, healthy and strong.
Our deepest condolence to his family, relatives and friends.
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