Hemmings-McCatty: Olympic gold medal trailblazerSunday, August 01, 2021
WHENEVER Jamaicans reminisce about Deon Hemmings' golden run at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, most times it ends with “here comes Kim Batten”.
It was a piece of commentary during the race that never materialised as Hemmings repelled the expected surge from Batten and won fairly easily.
She had beaten the American 400m hurdles world record holder Batten and the second-fastest woman, Tonja Buford-Bailey into second and third spots in their backyard at the Atlanta Olympics.
She etched her name in Jamaican folklore, becoming the first Jamaican and Caribbean woman to win an Olympic gold medal.
Now married, Hemmings-McCatty reminisced with the Jamaica Observer about her historic accomplishment achieved 25 years ago, like it was yesterday.
“Catch me if you can, I am going to die at the finish line,” said Hemmings-McCatty when asked about her titanic battle with the two Americans that started from college days.
At the 1995 World Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden, Hemmings-McCatty won the bronze medal after finishing third in a Jamaican record of 53.48.
But she was some way back behind the Americans as Batten won in a new world record 52.61 with Buford-Bailey just behind in 52.62. Both went below the previous world record of 52.74.
But one year later, at the Olympic Games, Hemmings-McCatty was on a mission — and she got her revenge.
Once again Hemmings-McCatty was drawn in lane five between her two rivals, with Buford-Bailey in lane four and Batten in lane six.
But this time was different, as Hemmings-McCatty was now a smoother hurdler after improving her technique significantly, and it showed.
After the first few hurdles she was up on the shoulders of Batten and the writing was on the wall. She entered the straight ahead then, the commentator expecting the world record holder to sweep by, but Hemmings-McCatty found another gear for gold.
It was sweet revenge.
“It was a great feeling, one that is very difficult to explain,” said Hemmings-McCatty.
“They were the ones that ran really well the year before; but I knew them very well because we had all ran at college. I was really unhappy because I was not able to run as fast as they did. So, that was a motivation going into the Olympics,” Hemmings-McCatty explained.
“I trained extremely hard and I must thank my coach back then, Bev Kearney, for working with me and my country, and all the persons who supported me — because without them I would not be able to make it,” she added.
Hemmings had won in a new Jamaican record of 52.82, which was also a new Olympic record. Batten was second in 53.08 with Buford-Bailey third in 53.22. Fellow Jamaican Debbie-Ann Parris finished fourth in 53.97.
Hemmings-McCatty believed she ran the perfect race.
“It was because when you know it's perfect is when you finish the race and you're not tired. You know that it was almost a perfect race and I knew I trained extremely hard and I knew I had to do it to get there,” she explained.
“For me it was a moment I will never forget because I knew what I had to put in to accomplish such an achievement. It was a very special moment,” said Hemmings-McCatty.
In fact, there was a thought that had she not eased up while glancing across on the infield at the clock, Hemmings-McCatty would have broken the then world record of 52.61.
But there is no more feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction than to stand on the podium and hear your national anthem play. She remembered it vividly.“Just the pride to know that I have done this for my country because the last gold medal we had gotten was Donald Quarrie 20 years ago.
“Then the pride to see the two Americans by my side in their country; I know they are still mad at me.
“I was really mad because they had beaten me back then and I am the type of person that never gives up, just go for it, and every time I step on that track I give 100 per cent,” she added.
Hemmings-McCatty was now a star and she duly got a hero's welcome back home — but she didn't envisage the magnitude of the welcome.
“No. But I can imagine when you are in a drought…20 years ago, we had won an Olympic gold by Quarrie, you can imagine how the people felt,” she said.
“Knowing that it was in the US, so close to home, I kind of expected it. But I was a bit surprised when I saw all the people came out just to see me. It was really a great feeling,” said Hemmings-McCatty.
For her trailblazing efforts Hemmings-McCatty was conferred with the Order of Distinction – Officer Class (OD) and in 2019 was upgraded to the rank of Commander (CD) — the sixth-highest national honour.
— Howard Walker
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