It is less than a week since the Olympic Games ended in London, and I promised myself that I would pay tribute to some of the incredible human beings – from Jamaica, the Caribbean and elsewhere – who gave us so much joy (and sometimes, sadness) during those exhilarating competitions. Before the sunset afterglow starts to fade – the fireworks have already gone. Before the Jamaican flags wave less freely from taxi cabs. Before the repeat showings of Jamaican athletes’ performances, the newspaper columns, tweets and Facebook posts dwindle to nothing. I want to celebrate them one more time.
For the record, Jamaica won four each of gold, silver and bronze, and came 18th on the table of 79 nations that won medals. In terms of medals per capita, Jamaica was second after Grenada. Jamaica was also the second most successful country in the Caribbean at the London Olympics, after Cuba. In track and field specifically – there were 47 events – Jamaica came third after the United States and Russia; in men’s track and field Jamaica was second, in women’s fourth.
I am celebrating here all our athletes, and have just picked out a few because somehow they touched me personally in some way. As I have said several times before, they all gave of their best. Some did better than others, but they all made us proud. I salute them all. They are, in no particular order: Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Hansle Parchment, Veronica Campbell Brown, Alia Atkinson, Jason Morgan and Kenneth Edwards.
Enough has been said and written about the obvious one: the self-proclaimed legend and superstar, Usain Bolt. But here’s one of my personal favorites – a young athlete who might be considered to have played “second fiddle” to Bolt (although I don’t see it that way) – Yohan Blake. In fact, a friend and I have set up a Facebook page (not only for Jamaicans or those living there – anyone can join) called “The Unofficial Yohan Blake Appreciation Society.” A small but fervent delegation from the UYBAS is planning to welcome Mr. Blake home at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, when he returns in September. Personally, I would like to give him a warm hug.
What’s not to love about Yohan:
- He set up his YBAfraid Foundation last year. With the support of the awesome Jamaican athletics coach Glen Mills and Joseph’s Department Store, Yohan has donated supplies and pledged ongoing support for the Mount Olivet Boys’ Home in rural Walderston, Manchester. You can read much more about the Foundation on his website, ybafraid.com.
- He is, as we know, the winner of two silver and one gold medal in the recent Olympics: silvers in the 100 meters (a personal best time of 9.75) and 200 meters (19.44), and gold in the 4 x 100 meters final. This was his first Olympics. He is only 22, after all.
- He is only the fourth man to win silver in the 100 and 200 meters at the Olympics, and the first since the awesome Frankie Fredericks of Namibia (remember him?)
- As a member of the winning relay team in the 100 meters, Blake ran a scorching third leg. This was the same team that ran in Daegu last year at the World Championships. With Usain Bolt, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter, he helped to break the World Record in 36.84 seconds.
He is a modest young man, not afraid to give credit to both Mills and Bolt for their support. I like that.
My next favorite athlete: Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. She was born on in the very difficult inner-city neighborhood of Waterhouse in Kingston.
Why is she so great:
- She was the third woman, and the first non-American, to win the 100 meters in two consecutive Olympics. In 2008 in Beijing, she was the first Caribbean woman to win the event, at 21 years old.
- She is also the second female sprinter to hold both World and Olympic 100 meters titles simultaneously. The dynamic Gail Devers was the first. I should also add that the 2012 American girls were very powerful this year – so this is quite a feat. Shelly-Ann held her own in the 2oo meters too, winning a silver after the amazing Allyson Felix; they congratulated each other with a quick, breathless embrace.
- Shelly-Ann was named as Jamaica’s first National UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2010.
- Shelly-Ann’s face was painted in a mural in her neighborhood of Waterhouse (where she grew up in a tenement yard). She commented in amazement, “The only time they draw your face in a wall where I live is when you are dead.”
- She is just five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds. Oh my goodness – the energy packed into that small frame!
And then there was Hansle Parchment. Who? Said many Jamaicans. Well, young Hansle broke the national record twice in one afternoon last week, winning the bronze medal for Jamaica in the 110 meters hurdles. Two very strong Americans, Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson, came first and second respectively. The 100 meters hurdles is very intense, and not for the faint-hearted. Born June 17, 1990 (barely twenty-two years old!) he tackled it with equanimity. The young man from Cashew Bush in rural St. Thomas, eastern Jamaica, attended Morant Bay High School and Kingston College, and is an undergraduate student at the University of the West Indies‘ class of 2013.
Why Hansle is so cool:
- He ran a terrific 13.12 seconds, but soberly responded after his run that he would have preferred to get below 13. There is more work to do, he says. He has much greater ambitions.
- He is studying for a BSc. in Psychology; that will stand him in good stead, one hopes, since psychology is a key factor in sports. But balancing his studies with training and competition must be challenging.
- He is tall, dark and handsome (six feet five inches tall).
Veronica Campbell-Brown is somebody special. There is so much about her that I admire. A pioneer in the sprint field, she won a bronze medal in London – her fourth Olympic Games. As she prepared for the Games, she watched her favorite tennis player, Serena Williams, win the Wimbledon title. An experienced athlete, Ms. Campbell-Brown (or “VCB” as Jamaicans call her for short) was born in the same western parish of Trelawny as Usain Bolt. She’s a product of Vere Technical High School, a school with a tremendous sporting tradition, which was also attended by a certain Merlene Ottey.
Why is Veronica such a gem?
- She is a serious achiever, with so many “firsts” to be proud of. She paved the way for the young ones – although she is only just thirty years old herself, so hardly ancient! Here are a few of her many milestones:
- First Jamaican to win a global 100 meters title (at the World Youth Games in 1999);
- Youngest ever Jamaican female to win an Olympic medal (at the Sydney Olympics in 2000);
- Most successful Caribbean athlete ever at an Olympic Games (in Athens in 2004);
- First female track athlete to become a UNESCO Champion for Sport (in 2009). A role model for female athletes and for Jamaican women.
- Veronica appears to me to be so grounded. She is not only motivated, but inspired. Indeed, she has written a book, “A Better You: Inspirations for Life’s Journey.”
- She celebrated Global Dignity Day in 2011. See a link to my blog post on this topic, below. It may not be a fashionable concept these days, but the idea of dignity includes respect, honor, decency. The next Global Dignity Day is October 17, 2012. Think about it.
Jamaicans also did extraordinarily well away from the track, of course. Swimmer Alia Atkinson just missed a medal, coming fourth in the 100 meters breaststroke final.
Why does Alia get a pat on the back from me?
- The 23-year-old from St. Andrew is nothing if not ambitious. She really, really wants that Olympic medal. Or medals.
- And to obtain medals, she needs financial help. Her plea was heard by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who has promised to provide this. Let’s hope it comes soon, so that Alia can start getting ready for Rio 2016. Good for her, though, for speaking out on this crucial issue.
- Like Hansle Parchment, Alia is a student of psychology – at Texas A&M University.
- She has a sunny smile but a look of stony determination in her eye. Focus!
And last – but not least – two young Jamaican men competed in the Olympics for the first time. Although they did not win medals, they broke new ground and they competed fiercely.
Jason “Dadz” Morgan is a determined man, and the road has not been smooth. He throws discus – not a popular field event for Jamaicans. As a student at Louisiana Tech, he decided to compete for his country.
What makes Jason special?
- Simply put, Jason is highly focused. And as Jamaica’s National Discus Record holder, he knows he is good.
- And, as fellow blogger and Jamaican journalist Dionne Jackson Miller notes (see her post below) he needs financial support, too, to continue.
- The 29-year-old from St. Catherine, who attended Kingston’s Calabar High School – a sports powerhouse – coaches himself. That’s right. Sheer willpower.
- He faces great challenges. He needs that support. He commented to Dionne, “I’m a big man, 6’3”, 288 pounds, and I’m not afraid to say I cry through frustration.” Let’s give Jason and others like him the support they need, so that they can train, perform and compete, without worrying whether they can afford to attend a meet or not. Sponsors, where are you? Jason had none for the Olympics. But he competed for his country.
And lastly, a Jamaican warrior who fought well… 26-year-old Tae Kwon Do competitor Kenneth Edwards.
Why do I love Kenneth?
- Like Mr. Morgan, he was the first Jamaican to compete in his particular field at the Olympics.
- Kenneth fought valiantly against a Chinese giant (six feet seven inches tall) and got the crowd on his side, despite eventually losing the bout. He only just missed an opportunity for a bronze medal.
- He is positive and he says, so confidently, “I think the big stage is next for me.” I believe him.
- There is so much potential in the martial arts field for Jamaica. I don’t just say this because I used to practice judo – in my youth. It’s a great sporting field, encouraging competition and incredible discipline. It also requires enormous skill, strength and precision.
- More power to Jamaica’s Combined Martial Arts Team. Big ups all round!
And finally, I am sorry I could not include all the incredible Jamaican Olympic athletes. These are just a few from the great team that made Jamaica shine. Let’s continue supporting them, even when the gloss has worn off and we return to our humdrum lives…
My next Olympic blog post will be the Caribbean edition! Coming soon to this page.
- Like a Bolt from the blue…Jamaica Jamaica… (anniepaul.net)
- http://ybafraid.com (Yohan Blake’s website)
- Jamaica and The London 2012 Olympics: Reigning Kings and Queens of 100m Jamaica, Gold and Silver for Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake (theislandjournal.wordpress.com)
- This ugly Olympic ‘joke’ (antiguaobserver.com)
- A Single Caribbean Sports Academy – Part 2 (caribbean360.com)
- London 2012 Track and Field Men’s 200m: Jamaica Dominates with Podium Sweep (bleacherreport.com)
- Yohan Blake: Jamaican Sprinter Will Be Second-Best Until Usain Bolt Retires (bleacherreport.com)
- http://moti-athletics-roadtoolympics.blogspot.com/2012/02/one-thousand-reasons-to-love-shelly-ann.html (One Thousand Reasons to Love Shelly-Ann Fraser)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/videos/video.php?id=551 (Family celebrates Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s silver medal – Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/lead/lead4.html (Cashew Bush is jubilant! – Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120809/sports/sports3.html (“It’s a first and I’m happy, but…” – Jamaica Gleaner)
- Weir takes giant leap from couch to podium (dailystar.com.lb)
- http://www.veronicacampbellbrown.com (Veronica Campbell Brown website)
- http://www.globaldignity.org (Global Dignity Day 2012)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120731/sports/sports1.html (“I need financial support” – Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/olympics/news/PHOTO-GALLERY–Alia-Atkinson-s-100m-breaststroke-finals (Alia Atkinson breaststroke finals photo gallery – Jamaica Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/olympics/news/Ottey-hails-Ja-s-exploits-in-London_12296072 (Ottey hails Jamaica’s exploits in London – Ja. Observer)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/olympics/athletes/ (Team Jamaica – Jamaica Observer)
- http://jasonmorganonline.com (Jason Morgan website)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/?s=Jason+Morgan (Come on, Government! It’s not just Alia Atkinson who needs help! – Dionne Jackson Miller blog)
- http://newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com/2012/05/31/jamaicas-national-record-holder-discus-jason-morgan-its-lonely-frustrating-and-also-motivating/ (“It’s lonely, frustrating and also motivating” – Jason Morgan speaks to Dionne Jackson-Miller)
- http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120812/sports/sports2.html (Brave Edwards falls short – Jamaica Gleaner)
- http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/latestnews/Photo-Highlights–Jamaica-s-Kenneth-Edwards—Taekwondo (Photo highlights – Jamaica’s Kenneth Edwards, Taekwondo)
- http://www.jamaicaolympics.com/kenneth-edwards (JamaicaOlympics.com – Kenneth Edwards)
- http://www.nbcolympics.com/track-and-field/medals/index.html (Olympic Track & Field Medal Standings – NBC Olympics)