… when Veronica Campbell-Brown won the hearts of JamaicansWednesday, July 21, 2021
By Howard Walker
In the summer of 2004, while Veronica Campbell-Brown collected her gold medal on the podium at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, tears flowed freely from her face once the Jamaican anthem began playing.
Campbell-Brown's emotional display also brought a small nation to tears as it cried with her openly and behind closed doors. She had won the hearts of every Jamaican.
She had created history, becoming the first Jamaican female to capture gold at the Olympic Games in the 200m.
Prior to that, Campbell-Brown's idol Merlene Ottey came close a number of times – earning three bronze medals and a silver. Grace Jackson (silver), Juliet Cuthbert (silver), Beverly McDonald (bronze) and even former 200m Olympic record holder Cynthia Thompson (1948), all failed to deliver the gold to Jamaica.
But there was Campbell-Brown on the podium flanked by American Allyson Felix and Debbie Ferguson of the Bahamas. It was the first time the Jamaican anthem was being played in eight years after Deon Hemmings struck gold in the 400m hurdles at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Campbell-Brown, who won back-to-back 200m gold at the 2008 Olympics, only the second woman in history to achieve that feat, told the Jamaica Observer that the tears had come naturally that summer evening in Athens.
“There is just something about the national anthem, combined with my gratitude for my accomplishment and the love for my country and the people whose support are instrumental in my success,” said Campbell-Brown.
“It was that which filled me with emotions and brought tears to my eyes. Every time I went on the podium, I had to focus hard to avoid tears,” she pointed out.
The then 22-year-old rising star had copped a bronze in the 100m days before in 10.97, so she was in good nick.
Wearing the bib number 2223 on her chest – coincidentally the placements for Jamaicans in the event over the previous four Olympic Games – Campbell-Brown confidently went about her mission for 200m gold.
Campbell-Brown easily won her first round heat in 22.59 and followed that up with 22.49. She then threw down the gauntlet to her rivals clocking a personal best 22.13 in the semis, and entered the final with the fastest time and being the one to beat.
Drawn in lane 4, Campbell-Brown had right behind her American 18-year-old prodigy Felix, who won her semi-final in 22.36.
But in one of the best curve running witnessed for ages, Campbell-Brown left her rivals for dead coming into the straight, (something which Don Quarrie would have been proud of), and held her form well to the line for gold.
Campbell-Brown won in another personal best of 22.05 ahead of Felix in 22.18 and Ferguson in 22.30. Jamaica's Aleen Bailey just missed a medal clocking 22.42 for fourth.
“It was a well-executed race and, at that time, it was one of my best 200 metre executions. I ran the curve and transitioned very well and I was able to maintain my stride pattern and technique through the finish line,” she explained to the Observer.
Campbell-Brown's celebration was a bit low-keyed as if the magnitude of her achievement had not resonated with her immediately.
But her teammate Aleen Bailey pulled her to her feet and the celebration started and ended with a victory lap embedded in the black, gold and green Jamaican flag.
“Winning the 200m at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games was a dream come through. As a young girl I dreamt of winning an individual Olympic gold medal and realising that dream filled me with excitement, gratitude and the realisation that dreams do come through even for someone like me who came from unprivileged circumstances,” said Campbell-Brown, who was born in Clarks Town, Trelawny.
But what was it like the night before the final, the Observer queried.
“Prior to the race, I visualized my strategy and saw myself executing each phase effectively and getting the victory,” she pointed out.
“I normally don't have any problem sleeping the nights before competitions, however, after huge competitions, those are the nights I normally experience difficulties falling asleep. I think this is due to the body taking a while to calm down from the adrenaline and energy that it builds up prior to performing,” Campbell-Brown explained.
With a total three Olympic gold medals and a total of eight medals overall and, when you add her three gold, seven silver and one bronze from the World Championships, Campbell-Brown will go down in history as one of the all-time greats not only in Jamaica but the world.
Her 100m gold at the 2007 World Championship showed her versatility and confirmed her greatness. Who would have believed that it was the first time a Jamaican, male or female had won the 100m blue ribbon event?
Herb McKenley, Lennox Miller, Quarrie, Ottey, Asafa Powell all failed to win that senior global title for Jamaica. Veronica Campbell-Brown did it first.
She holds personal best of 10.76 for the 100m and 21.74 for the 200m and she noted that all her Olympic appearances are unique in their own way.
“I have special memories, but Beijing 2008 turns out to be my most memorable for several reasons,” she noted.
“Firstly, There was tremendous pressure to defend my title and thankfully I did,” Campbell-Brown explained.
“Secondly, I ended the Games as only the second woman in Olympics history to win the 200 metres consecutively,” she added. “Thirdly, I ran a huge personal best of 21.74 seconds in the 200m.”
Campbell-Brown is married to fellow athlete Omar Brown and welcomed their baby girl Avianna Brown on February 23, 2019.
After winning eight Olympic medals and five world titles, Campbell-Brown announced her retirement in June 2021 at the age of 39 year-old.
She earned her first major medals at the 1999 World U18 Championships in Bydgoszcz, where she won the 100m and 4x100m. Just one year later, aged 18, she made her Olympic debut in Sydney as part of Jamaica's 4x100m team and came away with a silver medal.
Just a few weeks later, she won the sprint double at the World U20 Championships in Santiago de Chile.
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