We salute our athletes in TokyoSaturday, August 07, 2021
Jamaicans take great pride in their track and field pedigree, dating back to the exploits of Messrs Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley at this country's very first Olympic Games in London, 1948.
Back then Jamaica was still part of the fading British Empire. Our heroes in London paid homage to the British flag and that country's national anthem was played to mark their feats.
It was the same story four years later in Helsinki, Finland, as Messrs Wint and McKenley were joined by Messrs George Rhoden and Les Laing as medal winners with Jamaica taking home two gold and three silver medals.
Something many people don't know is that after Helsinki, Jamaica endured many years of hard times on the Olympic track.
Indeed, in five Olympic Games after 1952, we went without a single gold medal and just four of lesser quality — one silver and three bronze medals.
It was not until 1976, some 24 years after Helsinki, that a Jamaican stood atop the Olympic podium. That was Mr Donald Quarrie, who won the 200-metre gold and 100-m silver medal in Montreal, Canada.
To be clear, 1976 marked the first rendition of Jamaica's National Anthem at an Olympic Games — 14 years after political independence.
Further, Jamaica's women did not win an Olympic medal until 20-year-old Ms Merlene Ottey grabbed bronze over 200 metres in Moscow in 1980. An Olympic gold medal for a Jamaican and English-speaking Caribbean woman did not come until 1996 in Atlanta when the indomitable Ms Deon Hemmings took the 400m hurdles by storm. That was Jamaica's first Olympic gold since 1976.
We have said all this to emphasise that our track and field programme has come a far way over the last 20 years.
Such has been the growth that today's expectations are very, very high — even beyond the grand performances put on by the remarkable Mrs Elaine Thompson-Herah and her fellow sprint queens in Tokyo. Mrs Thompson-Herah ended with two individual gold medals and teamed with Mrs Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Miss Shericka Jackson, and Miss Brianna Williams to take the 4x100m relay in emphatic fashion on Jamaica's 59th anniversary of Independence yesterday.
Jamaicans joyfully welcomed that Independence Day gift of relay gold but there was disappointment at the failure of others to medal on the day.
Since the retirement of the 'other worldly' Mr Usain Bolt in 2017, Jamaica's male athletes have been under especially harsh scrutiny.
Hence, a stern rebuke from the charmingly articulate Mrs Fraser-Pryce. Said she: “All those who are 'cussing' the men, need to stop it… It takes a lot of hard work and… guts… to go out there and compete.”
In fact, by winning gold and bronze in the 110-metre hurdles, the men's team in Tokyo has exceeded reasonable expectations.
After Mr Omar McLeod's gold medal at Rio in 2016, this week's gold and bronze medals from Messrs Hansle Parchment and Ronald Levy mean Jamaica's men have now won three 110m hurdles medals in back-to-back Olympic Games. This country had never medalled in the event previously.
We also note that Mrs Megan Tapper's bronze medal in the women's 100m hurdles was the first time that a Jamaican had made the Olympic podium in that event.
Whatever happens today in Jamaica's two remaining finals of these Olympic Games — staged in the strangest of circumstances caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic — this newspaper can say with certainty that our athletes have done us all very proud.