The Rio 2016 Olympics has been a roller coaster of emotions for Jamaican fans. There were mostly highs and a few lows, and historic firsts were recorded in the diving pool and the gymnastics arena. In the end, it was our runners who once again brought home the medals – six gold, three silver and two bronze, as Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson wrote their names in history. New stars emerged as guards were changed, many athletes recorded personal bests, and we saw former Champs darlings Ristananna Tracey (Edwin Allen) and Anneisha McLaughlin-Whilby (Holmwood Technical) make senior level comebacks.
I had made a rather optimistic 17-medal prediction earlier this month, and although things didn’t pan out as I had hoped, I’m proud of all our athletes who gave everything they had, and I’m thankful for our 11 medals. Here’s my take on the highlights for Team Jamaica at the recently concluded Rio 2016 Games:
- Elaine’s 1-2: Last year, Elaine Thompson gave us a taste of things to come when she ran a series of brilliant times in the 200m, capping off her achievements with a silver medal at the World Championships in Beijing, China, behind Dafne Schippers. The reward for good work is more work, so this year, she was given the 100m/200m double, and she duly obliged. Thompson’s 100m victory, which dethroned Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as the nation’s sprint queen, might have been a little bittersweet for some Jamaicans, but it was a spectacular win. Her time of 10.71 seconds is the fastest any woman has ever run in the 100m finals. The Olympic record is 10.62 set by Florence Griffith Joyner at the Seoul 1988 Games, but that was run in the semi-finals. There were no divided loyalties for the 200m finals, as we all wanted Thompson to beat her Dutch nemesis. She came off the curve ahead and never relinquished her lead, even as Schippers closed like a freight train. Thompson pulled off the rare Olympics sprint double, the first woman to do so since Flo-Jo in 1988. Her hopes of a triple were dashed in the 4x100m relay, as the controversial American team blew us out of the water, but two gold medals and a silver in your Olympic debut is an amazing achievement.
- King Bolt’s ‘triple-treble’: He has done it with such regularity that it has almost become routine – pull off triple gold medal performances since 2008, save for that disqualification blip at the 2011 World Champs in Deagu, South Korea. Although sports are unpredictable and no medal is guaranteed, Bolt’s triple was practically a sure thing. He started slowly in the 100m final before practically collaring Justin Gatlin who was in the lead, then pulling away. One down. The 200m is his baby, and after super-easy qualifying rounds, he lined up at the start, determined to run a fast time (he wanted a new world record, but that was never on the cards for Rio). His body, pushing 30 years old, had other ideas, and so did the rainy conditions and wet track. But he still won by a huge margin. Two down. The 4x100m relays are always nerve-racking, as any number of mishaps can happen with baton changes. However, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmeade made sure that Bolt got the baton in the thick of things, and it was all over from there. Triple-treble achieved. History made as the first man to successfully defend three separate tiles at three consecutive Olympic Games. He is now one of only four athletes to have nine Olympic gold medals.
- Omar on ’Cleod 9: Omar McLeod has been in top form for the past two years, and was among the favourites to win the 110m hurdles gold in Beijing last year. It didn’t materialise, as his normally smooth technique deserted him and he finished sixth in the final. This year, he won the the 60m indoor title and appeared unbeatable, but suffered two falls just before the start of the Games. Technical perfection and consistency are vital to hurdlers, so we were concerned that he might have those falls on his mind going into Rio. McLeod’s team adjusted his race, focusing more on accuracy than his trademark speed, and it paid off as he ran a smooth, clean race all the way through to the finish line to capture his second international title, and Jamaica’s first Olympic gold in the event. His joy and shouts of ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ after the race were echoed by many across Jamaica.
- The 4x400m silver that felt like gold: Jamaica first announced its presence as a sprinting nation at the 1948 London Olympics with two medals – gold and silver – in the men’s 400m event. Four years later, in Helsinki, Finland, we won two more medals – also gold and silver – in the same event, along with the 4x400m gold. That’s where our athletics legacy started, so it’s been baffling for many of us to watch our men struggle in these events at the Olympics over the past few years. Gregory Haughton was the last Jamaican man to medal (bronze) in the individual event at the 2000 Sydney Games, and that was also the last time our male mile relay team medalled (silver). The young quartet of Peter Matthews, Nathon Allen, Fitzroy Dunkley and Javon Francis had a lot to prove, and although most Jamaicans were not expecting that medal, they delivered. Francis is usually left to run flat-out for his life on the anchor leg, but smart sprinting by the three men before him, especially Allen on the second leg, ensured that he received the baton within touching distance. Francis stayed close to leading trio of Lashawn Merritt (USA), Gaone Maotoanong (Botswana) and Chris Brown (Bahamas), and sprinted past the latter two coming off the final bend. He was unable to catch Merritt who was well away, but the team celebrated that long-awaited silver medal like they had won the gold. It certainly felt like it, after a 16-year drought.
- Shelly hangs tough: Fraser-Pryce came into the Rio Games looking to make history as the first person to successfully win the 100m title thrice, but her prospects were hampered by a lingering toe injury. In the end, she lost the title to compatriot Thompson, but hung on for bronze and a season’s best 10.86 seconds behind the winner and the USA’s Torie Bowie (silver). Might there have been a different result in the finals had she been fully fit? We will never know. Fraser-Pryce added another medal to her Olympic tally by anchoring the 4x100m relay squad of Christania Williams, Thompson and Veronica Campbell-Brown to silver behind the Americans. Not a bad finish at all for the Pocket Rocket, who was in tears and limping in pain following her 100m semifinal.
- Yona makes a splash: The last time a Jamaican diver competed at the Olympics was 44 years ago when 16 year old Betsy Sullivan created history as our very first participant in this event. Yona Knight-Wisdom had no expectations on his shoulders save for the personal goals he would have set himself, and he exceeded all, placing 11th in the preliminary rounds of the men’s 3m springboard event with 416.55 points, which put him safely through to the semifinals. But for two less-than-stellar attempts, he would have been in the finals, as he scored 381.40 points – just eight shy. Jamaicans rushed to show their support on social media, and rightly so.
- Annsert asserts himself: National champion Annsert Whyte went into the Rio Games with an 11th place overall finish in the 400m hurdles semifinals at the 2013 World Champs in Moscow, Russia, as his best international performance, and left Brazil just two places shy of a medal in his first Olympics. The former 400m specialist ran a personal best 48.37 seconds to win his first heat, but found himself in the difficult lane one in the semis. Nevertheless, Whyte made it work and won, lowering his PB to 48.32 seconds. Many would have pencilled him in for a medal in the finals, but he found the going tough, finishing fifth in a new PB of 48.07 seconds. That’s something to celebrate, indeed.
Tracey-Ann Wisdom is a freelance writer and editor based in Kingston, Jamaica. You can find her online at www.writtenbytracey.com.