Road To The Olympics

The following are excerpts from a three-part series entitled ‘Jamaica's road to the Olympic Games’ by noted historian Arnold Bertram published by The Gleaner Company.


Birth Of Modern Olympics

In 1883, a young Frenchman, Baron de Coubertin, made a tour of British educational institutions, and after observing the extent to which organised sports was being used to inculcate the positive values of public morality and personal integrity, became convinced that international athletic competition could become a major contributing factor in the promotion of world peace and the building of friendships across racial and national boundaries. The idea of the modern Olympics was born.

In April 1896, 311 athletes from 13 countries descended on Greece to compete in the first of the modern Olympic Games. Among the athletes preparing for the first Olympic Games was a Jamaican, Alfred Downer, born of Scottish parents in the hills of St Andrew in 1873. MORE…

Why didn’t Downer compete in the first Olympics?


Era Of G.C. Foster

Jamaica's next world-class sprinter and Olympic prospect was Gerald Claude Eugene Foster. The fourth summer Olympic Games was scheduled to be held in London in 1908.  With a 9.7 clocking under his belt, GC had clearly earned a place among the world's leading sprinters.  He booked his passage on a banana boat only to be told on his arrival that since Jamaica was not affiliated to the International Olympic Association and individual applications were not accepted for the Games he could not compete. MORE…


Boys' Champs – A World-Class Athletic Meet

Judging from the results, it is clear that from its inception, Boys' Champs was a world-class athletic meet. At the first championships in 1910, J.M. 'Fire' Hall of JC won the Class I 100 yards in a time of 10.2 seconds, which converts to 11.1 for the 100 metres. Norman Manley's times of 23 seconds for the 200 yards in 1911 and 14.6 seconds for the high hurdles would have been good enough to earn him a place in the Olympic finals of 1912. MORE...

 Who were the creators of Boys’ Champs?


The Formation of the JAAA and the JOA

The next major step towards qualifying for participation in international athletic competitions was the establishment of the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association (JAAA), and the moving force behind this was Norman Manley. The local athletic fraternity was focused on the British Empire Games to be held in London that year, and the affiliation of the JAAA was a precondition for Jamaica's participation. Jamaica's team to the Empire Games included Bernard Prendergast, a Jamaica-born athlete living in Britain. He was the winner of Jamaica's only medal – a bronze in the discus.

Which team did the first Jamaican Olympian compete for?

Finally, in 1936, a group led by Norman Manley and including Herbert McDonald, Eugene Martinez and G.M. DaCosta, who became the first president, launched the Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA). The way was now clear for Jamaica to compete in the 1940 Olympics, but the outbreak of World War II led to the cancellation of both the 1940 and the 1944 Olympic Games. MORE…


'On your marks …' For The 1948 London Olympics

While Herb McKenley had been dominating the US circuit, Arthur Wint and Les Laing had both joined the RAF and were equally dominant in Britain. George Rhoden had shown his class in his race against McKenley and Wint at the 1946 CAC Games. Vinton Beckett had cleared 5'3.75" in the high jump to rank third in the world, and her teammate, Carmen Phipps, was ranked at fifth. Basil 'Wiley Mac' McKenzie, who won the 440 yards for J.C. at Champs in 1945, and Sydney Foster, the holder of the 120-yard hurdles record at Champs, were eager to parade their talent on the international stage.


Although Jamaica was possibly one of the smallest of the 59 countries participating in the 1948 Summer Olympic Games held in London, there was no doubt about the quality of the team selected to represent Jamaica. Coaches G.C. Foster and Frank Laing had prepared their charges well, and with Arthur Wint as captain there could hardly have been a finer group of athletes to carry the hopes and aspirations of the Jamaican people. MORE…


View the 2012 Olympic Team – Men

View the 2012 Olympic Team – Women