10 ‘Firsts’ for Jamaica at the Olympics

Jamaica's first Olympic medallist, Arthur Wint
One of Jamaica’s first Olympic medallists, Arthur Wint

Olympics 2016 has already recorded a couple of firsts for Team Jamaica – our first gymnast, Toni-Ann Williams, competed and placed 54th in the world, and our first male diver, Yona Knight-Wisdom, is getting ready to leap into action on Monday, August 15.

Since 2008, Jamaican sports fans have become quite comfortable, as our athletes have done better than ever before in international competitions. All the aforementioned ‘firsts’ got me thinking about the other history-makers and awe-inspiring moments up to that point. Some of them are well known, but others will only be recognised by the true aficionados.

There are still more potential firsts ahead, as most of our athletes start their campaigns next week. In the meantime, how many of these Jamaican ‘firsts’ do you know about or remember?   

  1. First medal – 1948 (London, England)

Jamaica won its first two medals – gold and silver, in the Men’s 400m. Arthur Wint took gold while Herb McKenley took silver. We finished the Games with three medals as Wint also took silver in the 800m.

  1. First woman to win a medal – 1980 (Moscow, Russia)

That honour goes to none other than the undisputed queen of the track, Merlene Joyce Ottey. She won a bronze medal in the 200m.

  1. First woman to win gold – 1996 (Atlanta, USA)

While the American commentators were telling themselves that Kim Batten was going to overtake her, Jamaicans were celebrating madly as Deon Hemmings calmly motored her way to the finish line, producing a burst of speed about halfway down the final stretch to win. Not only did she take the gold, she also set an Olympic record of 52.82 seconds that stood until 2004.

  1. First relay gold – 1952 (Helsinki, Finland)

Arthur Wint was back at it again four years after his Olympics debut, helping the 4x400m team to gold, alongside McKinley, Leslie Laing and George Rhoden.

  1. First 4x100m gold – 2004 (Athens, Greece)

Veronica Campbell wasn’t done with creating history after becoming the first Jamaican and Caribbean woman to win a sprint Olympic title in the 200m. She followed that up by anchoring the team of Tayna Lawrence, Sherone Simpson and Aleen Bailey to our first ever 4x100m gold in 41.73 seconds, a new national record.

  1. First world record at the Olympics – 1968 (Mexico City, Mexico)

You might be tempted to think it was Usain Bolt’s scintillating 100m run in Beijing 2008, but the honour goes back 40 years to the 4x100m team of Errol Stewart, Michael Fray, Clifton Forbes and Lennox Miller. The youngsters, all under 23 (Stewart was still in school), ran 38.65 seconds in the preliminary heats and then broke that world record with 38.39 seconds in the semi-finals. Unfortunately, the quartet could only manage fourth in the finals.

  1. First non-track athletics medal – 1996 (Atlanta, USA)

Long and triple jump specialist James Beckford remains the only non-runner to medal for Jamaica in athletics at the Olympics. He cleared 8.29m for silver behind American Carl Lewis. Beckford still holds the national record for both the long jump and triple jump with of 8.62m and 17.92m, respectively.

  1. First non-athletics medal – 1980 (Moscow, Russia)

David Weller remains the only Jamaican to win an Olympic medal outside of track and field, with a bronze in the 1000m time trial event in 1980. He finished 6th four years later at the Los Angeles Games.

  1. First athlete to retain an Olympic title – 2008 (Beijing, China)

That would again be VCB, who won the 200m title in Athens 2004, and successfully defended her crown four years later. She is only the second woman in history to win back-to-back Olympic 200m titles.

  1. First athlete to sweep the short sprints in the same Olympics – 2008 (Beijing, China)

Usain Bolt’s first golden performance also marked the first occasion that a Jamaican won the 100m-200m double. He topped it off with the 4x100m relay gold. And all were accomplished in mind-boggling world record times.

Tracey-Ann Wisdom is a freelance writer and editor based in Kingston, Jamaica. You can find her online at www.writtenbytracey.com.