By Alpheus Finlayson, TrackAlerts.com contributor
In 1910 high schools in Jamaica began what we now call Champs, which has made such a great contribution to the success of Jamaican athletics. Most of the athletes from the country of “Cool Runnings” and reggae superstar “One Love” have found their wings in these annual championships over the years.
Jamaica has been known as the “Land of Sprinters and Dreamers” and since the 1948 Olympic Games in London this country has made its mark over and over in athletics.
Prior to the Games in London Jamaican Herbert McKenley set a new world record in the 400m, the first under-46secs in Milwaukee on the 7th of July, 1948. McKenley clocked 45.9sec.
However it was another Jamaican, Arthur Wint who would win the 400m in London. McKenley would finish in second place.
Wint won the Silver medal in the 800m.
Jamaica had a team of Wint, Les Laing, Herb McKenley, and George Rhoden, who did not finish the 4x400m relay when Wint pulled up with injury. They vowed to come back in 1952.
Two years later George Rhoden set a new world record of 45.8sec in the 400m in Eksiltuna on August 22nd 1950 and when the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games came around he won the Gold and McKenley had to settle for Silver one more time. Both clocked 45.9sec.
McKenley did win the Silver medal in the 100m in a disputed finish with USA’s Lindy Remigino in 10.4sec.
Wint repeated his Silver of 1948 in the 800m.
The Jamaican 4x400m relay team of Les Laing, George Rhoden, Herb McKenley and Arthur Wint got their revenge from the London disappointment. McKenley would run an unbelievable time of 44.6sec on the third leg when he passed to George Rhoden, the Olympic 400m champion.
Jamaica finished in 3:03.9 for a new World record.
Eighteen years later another Jamaican, Marilyn Neufville would set a World record of 51.02sec on the 23rd of July, 1970 in the 400m at the Commonwealth Games in 1970 in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In the late fifties a great short hurdler and sprinter Keith Gardner dominated the Jamaican sprinting landscape.
In the early sixties Dennis Johnson who had attended San Jose State tied the World record of 9.3sec in the 100yds on three occasions.
In the Rome Olympics Jamaican George Kerr won a Bronze medal in the 800m. This demonstrated that the Champs did not produce just sprinters.
Kerr was a member of the British West Indies team with two other Jamaicans, Mal Spence and Keith Gardner, and James Wedderburn from Barbados who finished with the Bronze in 3:04.13.
However in Mexico City in 1968 the trend of great Jamaican sprinters returned. Lennox Miller finished second in the 100m in 10.04sec to the USA’s Jim Hines’ World record of 9.90sec.
Miller won the Bronze at the Munich Olympics in 1972 in 10.33sec
At the Montreal Games in 1976 sprinter Donald Quarrie captured the Gold medal in the 200m in 20.22sec and the Silver medal in the 100m in 10.07sec.
There is now a school named after Quarrie in Jamaica.
This was a turning point because of the USA boycott. Quarrie won the Bronze medal in the 200m in 20.29sec and an athlete who had participated in Champs the year before, Merlene Ottey, captured the Bronze medal, her first of many, in the 200m in 22.20sec.
World Championships Start
In 1983 the IAAF launched its own championships in Helsinki, the venue of the feats of McKenley, Wint, Laing, and Rhoden some twenty-nine years prior.
There Bertland Cameron with Herb McKenley at his side, would win the 400m Gold in 45.05sec and Ottey would win the Bronze medal in the 200m in 22.19sec and the team of Ottey, Jaqueline Pusey, Lileith Hodges and Julieth Cuthbert the would win the Bronze medal in the 4x100m relay in 42.73sec.
Gold Medalists in World Championships and Olympic Games Since 1983
1991- Tokyo- Dahlia Duhaney, Julieth Cuthbert, Beverly McDonald
Merlene Ottey- 4x100m relay
1995- Gothenburg- Merlene Ottey- 200m
1996- Atlanta- Deon Hemmings- 400m hurdles
2004- Athens- Veronica Campbell Brown- 200m
-Tayna Lawrence, Sheronie Simpson
Aileen Bailey, Veronica Campbell Brown- 4x100m relay
2005- Helsinki- Tricia Smith- Triple Jump
2007- Osaka- Veronica Campbell Brown-100m
2008- Beijing- Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce- 100m
Melaine Walker- 400m Hurdles
Usain Bolt- 100m- 9.69sec WR
200m- 19.30sec WR
Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell
4x100m relay- 37.10sec WR
2009- Berlin- Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce- 100m
Melaine Walker- 400m Hurdles
Simone Facey, Shelly Ann Fraser, Aileen Bailey
Kerron Stewart- 4x100m relay
Usain Bolt- 100m- 9.58sec WR
200m- 19.19sec WR
Steve Mullings, Michael Frater
Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell- 4x100m relay
2011- Daegu- Veronica Campbell-Brown- 200m
Nesta Carter, Michael Frater
Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt, 4x100m relay
2012- London- Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce- 100m
Usain Bolt- 100m
Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt
2013- Moscow- Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce-100
Carrie Russell, Kerron Stewart,
Schillonie Calvert, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce 4x100m
41.29sec- Championships record
Usain Bolt- 100m
Nesta Carter, Kemar Bailey-Cole
Nickel Ashmeade, Usain Bolt 4x100m relay
Not Just Sprinting
Jamaica has done well in sprinting but they have also done well in other disciplines.
As an example they have participated in the bobsled in the Calgary Winter Olympic Games in 1986 and a movie was done about it.
As mentioned Arthur Wint won medals in the 800m in 1948 and 1952 and George Kerr did the same in 1960. Trecia Smith won the Triple Jump in the 2005 World Championships. In those championships Jamaica had athletes participate in the inaugural women’s steeplechase competition.
Fedrick Dacres won Gold in both World Youth and Junior Championships in the Discus and he now leads the world in this event at the time of this writing. The performance at the recent Texas Relays of this Jamaican who turned twenty in February was 66.75m.
Hosting of Events
Jamaica hosted several regional and world competitions. In 1957 they hosted their first West Indian Games. They also hosted this event in 1960 and 1964. In 1962 to celebrate their Independence Jamaica hosted the Central American and Caribbean Games in a new stadium.
When we look back now, it is unbelievable that they were able to host the Commonwealth Games in 1966.
In 1971 Jamaica hosted the third Central American and Caribbean Senior Championships. In the seventies they hosted the Manley Games. They have hosted numerous Carifta Games and now they host the Jamaican Invitational, an IAAF World Challenge Meet.
Their most memorable event in the last fifteen years was the IAAF World Junior Championships in 2002 where Bolt surfaced.
One of the reasons for the success of the Jamaican athletics program is the leadership of people involved in sports.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller had served as Minister of Sports long before she became Prime Minister. As Prime Minister now she is the substantive Minister responsible for Sports.
Mike Fennel headed the Commonwealth Games Association for years and persons like Neville “Teddy” McCook and Howard Aris headed the federation. McCook was elected Area Representative, then president of the North American, Central American and Caribbean Area Athletics Association and through this sat on the Council of the world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Association from 1999 to last year upon his death.
Fennel recently won another term as President of the Jamaican Olympic Committee.
An IAAF High Performance Center for sprints and jumps has been established at the University of the West Indies. Scholarships are provided so that the athletes can live and train at home.
Usain Bolt trains there.
Not only do Jamaicans take advantage of the training available but athletes from the region and around the world.
A requirement of coaches in Jamaica is to be certified at least Level 1 of the IAAF. They should have also graduated from G.C. Foster which gives a Physical Education degree.
Over the years Herb McKenley was a standout coach in both High School and international competition.
Some current coaching standouts are Stephen Francis, coach of Asafa Powell and Glen Mills, coach of Usain Bolt. Francis’ group trains at the University of Technology, UTech.
The Role of Champs
As we indicated Champs has been going on since 1910 and has made such a significant contribution to athletics in Jamaica, launching them on to international competition.
Most of the Jamaican world beaters over the years have done well in Champs.
Could you imagine that last year in Moscow Javon Francis from Calabar anchored the Jamaican 4x400m relay team to a Silver medal.
At last week’s Champs Francis broke Usain Bolt’s Class 1 400m record with a 45.00sec run, a personal best and world leading time so far this year. This is simply phenomenal.
Jevaughn Minzie finished second in the Class 1 100m in 10.16sec and won the 200m in 20.50sec.
Edwin Allen’s Christiana Williams captured the 100m in 11.19sec.
St. Jago’s Peta Gaye-Williams defeated Holmwood’s Yanique Thompson, the World Youth Champion in the 100m hurdles 13.81sec to 12.95sec.
Wolmer’s Jaheel Hyde in his third attempt at the 400m hurdles set a new record of 49.59sec and won a highly competitive 110m hurdles, winning in 13.53sec.
Edwin Allen ran 44.17sec for a new record in the Girls Class 1 4x100m relay and Calabar ran 39.35sec for a record in the Class 1 Boys 4x100m relay.
In the longer relay Calabar won in 3:08.31 and Edwin Allen won in 3:35.20 all great times.
Champs has, in addition to the 4x100m and 4x400m relays, the Sprint medley relay which will be contested in the IAAF Inaugural World Relays.
The same is the case of the Gibson Relays.
Significant to Champs is the rivalry between the great Jamaican High Schools and the support of their alumni.
Whether they are alumni of the competing schools, coaches from US colleges who are recruiting, or fans from around the world who are anxious in seeing the world class competition at Champs, the stands are full of people who descend upon Jamaica to see the very best!
It is really a carnival atmosphere with the stadium full of horns blowing in support of their favorite athlete or team.
You have to be there to understand what we are talking about.
It is about excellence!
Out of Champs has come Jamaica’s last year’s World Youth Championships team that won in the Ukraine. Simply astounding!
On the senior level in Moscow last year the island nation with pride overflowing, placed fifth behind The USA, Russia, Kenya and Germany in the medal count.
Again, simply astounding!
Just as competitive as Jamaican schools are at Champs, so are they at the Penn Relays. Some Bahamian coach dubbed it the “Jamaican Penn Relays”.
In the stadium in Philadelphia there seems to be more Jamaicans that USA residents, waiving their flags.
Jamaican schools normally dominate their division and one year two USA schools won relays. In both cases Jamaican athletes were on those teams.
Jamaicans with their unbeatable pride, from all over the Caribbean and the USA go to Philadelphia to support their teams.
Jamaican Athletes in Adopted Countries
Over the years Jamaican athletes have made significant contributions to Canada and Great Britain. In Canada there were the infamous Ben Johnson and the 1996 100m Olympic Champion Donovan Bailey.
In Great Britain there were 100m Barcelona champion Linford Christie and 1993 110m Hurdles Champion and World record holder Colin Jackson, to name a few.
There is even a Jamaican 400m runner who transferred his allegiance to Bahrain.
The Inaugural IAAF World Relays
This new athletic competition will be held in The Bahamas on May 24th and 25th this year.
Jamaica will be in the hunt for championships as they usually are in the 4x100m relay and also for the 4x200m and Sprint Medley relays, and for medals in the 4x400m relays.
Historically Jamaica has these performances:
Men’s 4x100m- World Record- 36.84sec, London 2012
Women’s 4x100m- Second fastest in history- 41.29sec
Women’s 4x200m- Third fastest in history-1:30.23
Men’s 4x400m – Fourth fastest in history-3:56.75, Athens, 1997
Women 4x400m – Fifth fastest in history-3:18.71, Daegu, 2011
It has not been confirmed as yet that Usain Bolt will not be participating in Nassau due to a foot injury and if this is so they might have a challenge to bring home the bacon in the 4×100 and 4x200m event.
They were thinking of smashing the World rerecord in the 4x200m event but that seems doubtful now.
With regards to the women, they seem to be the team to beat, possibly setting a new World record in the 4x100m relay and also the 4x200m relay.
It isn’t long now and we should start to have a better idea of what they can do in The Bahamas at the Penn Relays, where they always do well, scheduled for the final week in April.
In the meantime we can just watch the individual Jamaican athletes in their competitions in the next month to get a better idea as to their chances in The Bahamas.
The world is also watching!