The highly anticipated XXXI Olympiad gets underway this evening in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Jamaica is fielding one of its most diverse teams in years, and all the athletes will be looking to notch personal bests and possibly make the podium in their respective events. All eyes will be on Usain St Leo Bolt as he seeks to do what no one has ever done before – defend three Olympic titles in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay. Nothing is guaranteed, but it’s hard to bet against Bolt. Eyes will also be on Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who stands to make history as well if she can pull off the 100m three-peat.
In my (non-expert) opinion, based on current form and experience (and a whole lot of faith), Jamaica stands, at the very least, to equal our best Olympics medal haul of 12 from the London 2012 Games. Here’s my take on our best medal prospects:
Usain Bolt – I am going to put it out there right now that the master will pull off the historic triple-triple in Rio. Bolt has proven that even in the worst of shape, he cannot be counted out, and with history calling his name, he is going to leave everything on the track. The 4x100m relay is the only ‘unpredictable’ event, but once we make the finals and the baton gets into Bolt’s hand, we’re home free.
Yohan Blake – I, for one, am glad Blake has done away with the ridiculous moniker and mannerisms of ‘The Beast.’ He is in great shape, he is focused, and will also leave Rio with three medals around his neck (100m, 200m and 4x100m relay). I believe he’s the only person in the world right now who can outrun Bolt, but it won’t be this year.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – The Pocket Rocket has her work cut out for her this time around, with training partner Elaine Thompson and Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers breathing down her neck, as well as a lingering toe injury. This one is tough. She knows nothing but victory at this stage, and experience should work in her favour. If she can pull it off, it will no doubt be an even sweeter victory than her shock gold medal performance in Beijing 2008. I also think the women will take a medal in the 4x100m relay, so that’ll be two for SAFP.
Elaine Thompson – If all goes well in the 4x100m relay, she is a shoo-in for three medals at her first Olympics. However, I won’t venture to predict the metals. I am hoping she avenges the 200m loss to Schippers at last year’s World Champs, though.
Omar Mcleod – Another first-time Olympian, Mcleod has been turning in performance after stellar performance for the past two years, capped with the 60m hurdles gold at the Indoor World Championships in Portland, Oregon, earlier this year. He was among the favourites at last year’s World Champs, but his smooth form deserted him as he finished sixth in the finals. Here’s hoping he gets it right this time around.
Alia Atkinson – It’s past time for our queen of the pool to take home an Olympic medal. She came really close in London, finishing fourth in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke. This is her pet event, she’s the national and world record holder, and has the experience to get it done this time around.
Veronica Campbell-Brown – Time and again, VCB has shown us that even when her name is not in the conversation, she will make herself a talking point by snatching a medal. Do not – I repeat, do not count her out. I see her taking home a medal in the 200m, and if the women’s 4×100 relay team gets the baton around, another one awaits.
Fedrick Dacres – Discus thrower Dacres also found the going tough in Beijing last year. Coming off his Pan Am Games gold medal a few weeks earlier, he was one to watch at World Champs, and he topped the list of qualifiers for the finals with a single throw of 65.77m. Unfortunately, he failed to recreate this mark in the finals (which would have won him the bronze medal) and finished seventh. If he can save his best throw for last, he should be on the podium.
Javon Francis – The resident workhorse of Jamaican 400m running, he has proven that he has the flat out speed to challenge for a medal. However, he will need to be tactical as well, as the 400m lineup is no joke. If he can marry both tactics and speed, he might leave Rio with an individual medal. If the other three men on the 4x400m relay team don’t leave him to run for his life again, he could very well leave with two.
Women’s 400m and 4x400m relay – I am hoping one of our quarter mile ladies shows her mettle and comes away with an individual medal. I don’t know who will rise to the occasion from the trio of Stephanie McPherson, Christine Day and Shericka Jackson, but I have a feeling someone will. And with the lionhearted Novlene Williams-Mills in the mix for the 4x400m relay, here’s hoping they can pull off another amazing run like they did last year in Beijing.
So, based on my non-expert and possibly pie-in-the-sky predictions, that’s a potential 17-medal haul for Team Jamaica. That would be our best performance ever at an international meet. We have seen many impossible dreams become reality at the Olympics, so although 12 is a nice, round number, let’s cheer our athletes on as they push for even better results in Rio.
Tracey-Ann Wisdom is a freelance writer and editor based in Kingston, Jamaica. You can find her online at www.writtenbytracey.com.