Jamaica’s Rich Athletics Heritage

Historic relay

Jamaicans have been enjoying a steady diet of medals and records from our elite track and field athletes since the Olympic Games in Bejing, China in 2008, when Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown and others lit up the Bird’s Nest Stadium and stamped our class on the world stage. Of course, the country has had medal successes prior to 2008, beginning with Arthur Wint’s gold medal in the 400m at 1948 Summer Olympics. As our sporting ambassadors gear up to continue their international dominance at the upcoming IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia, we look back at some of Jamaica’s shining moments on the track and in the field at international games and events.

  1. Jamaica mined its first Olympic gold medal through Wint in the 400m (46.2 seconds), beating his teammate Herb McKenley. He also won a silver medal in the 800m race at the same games.
  2. Wint and McKenley were also part of the historic 4x400m relay team that claimed not only the gold but a world record at the Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland. The quartet of McKinley, George Rhoden, Wint and Les Lang ran a time of 3:03.04. The photo above shows McKenley passing the baton to Rhoden.
  3. Donald Quarrie had a successful Olympics in Moscow in 1976, winning a silver medal in the 100m final and a gold in the 200m final.
  4. Bertland ‘ Bert’ Cameron, a 400m specialist, became Jamaica’s first medallist at the inaugural Word Championships in 1983 in Helsinki. He took the event in 45.05 seconds.
  5. In a 200m final where American Florence Joyner Griffith (Flo Jo) set the still unchallenged world record of 21.34 seconds, Grace Jackson ran the race of life to win the silver medal in 21.72 seconds.
  6. Affectionately nicknamed the ‘Bronze Queen’ due to her six medals of that denomination at the Olympic Games, Merlene Ottey is one of Jamaica’s most decorated athletes. Ottey came excruciatingly close to that elusive gold medal in the 1996 games when a dead heat with American sprinter Gail Devers in the 100m came down to a photo finish. Even though both women recorded the same time, Devers was adjudged the winner. Ottey, who is still competing at 53, now for Slovenia, has won six gold medals in the World Championships – three indoor and three outdoor.
  7. The 1996 Atlanta Olympics were extra special for Deon Hemmings-McCatty as she became the first Jamaican woman to win a gold medal. She claimed victory in the 400m hurdles event in a time of 52.82 seconds, a new Olympic record.
  8. Jamaica also claimed a silver medal in the men’s long jump through James Beckford. He is still the Jamaican record holder in the long and triple jumps, with marks of 8.62m and 17.92m, respectively.
  9. It would be another eight years before Jamaica mined gold at another Olympics, but in the 2004 Athens games, we had much to smile about as Campbell-Brown claimed the top spot in the women’s 200m and then anchored the 4x100m relay team to glory in a time of 41.74 seconds. Campbell-Brown has won gold at every level of competition from the youth to the senior stage.
  10. Although Jamaica claimed eight medals in the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, the lone gold medal came from an unexpected source. Triple jumper Trecia-Kaye Smith took full advantage of the absence of perennial champion, Russia’s Tatyana Lebedeva, to claim the gold with a leap of 15.11m.
  11. Sports-loving Jamaicans won’t soon forget 2008 as it was the year the country finally lived up to all these years of promise, claiming a total of 11 medals – six gold, three silver and two bronze. The entire games was highlighted by Bolt’s electrifying world record performances in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. These games also introduced the world to Fraser-Pryce, who stunned the women’s 100m field by claiming the gold in a race where Jamaica actually swept the medals: compatriots Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart were deadlocked for second place. No bronze medal was awarded. Former high school standout Melaine Walker also landed her first international gold medal, winning the 400m hurdles event.
  12. The festivities continued into 2009 as our stars again shone brightly in Berlin, Germany. The question on everybody’s mind was, could Bolt repeat his triple world record performance? Of course he could, and he duly obliged, as Jamaica racked up its most impressive medal tally to date – 13. Fraser-Pryce also proved her Olympic win was no fluke, claiming the women’s 100m and it was also the year sprint hurdler Brigitte Foster-Hylton finally realised her championship dreams, producing a scintillating display of technique, finesse and determination to claim the 100m hurdles event. Walker also claimed the 400m hurdles world title.
  13. The following World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, were also eventful, but Jamaica’s medal tally fell back below double digits to nine. Although he defended his 200m title and anchored the men’s 4x100m relay team to another world record, Usain Bolt false started in the 100m. National panic was averted, however, as his teammate Yohan Blake claimed the gold.
  14. Our athletes entered the 2012 London Olympic Games with all eyes on them and questions surrounding Bolt’s readiness after he was beaten into second place by Blake in both the 100m and 200m at the National Trials earlier in the year. However, he proved the naysayers wrong again, winning both sprints before anchoring Jamaica to a blistering 36.85 seconds. Bolt, Blake and new-comer Warren Weir swept the men’s 200m and Fraser-Pryce also retained her Olympic title in a close race.


So, what does Moscow hold for Jamaica? With some of our top athletes not competing due to a series of drug-related issues, the team is missing several key members. We will just have to watch and see when the games kick off on August 10.

Want to know more about Jamaica’s athletics history? Read parts 1, 2 and 3 in Jamaica’s Road to the Olympics. diG here for more information and photos.