The London Games: Jamaica


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.

Yohan Blake
Yohan Blake takes a pause during training for the Olympics.

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.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – I love this photo. She put on her best makeup for the awards ceremony, and her smile was fresh and infectious. No tears, here, not for one moment. Just non-stop smiling.

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.

Parchment family and friends celebrate
The Parchment family, including Hansle’s father (center, in orange) celebrates with friends and neighbors in Cashew Bush – what a lovely name…

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.
Women's 100 meters start in London
Amazing women: The start of the Women’s 100 meters finals in London, including Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown (Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Veronica Campbell and Yohan Blake
Veronica Campbell and Yohan Blake doing a bit of promotional stuff in London. (Photo: Alex Grimm/Getty Images Europe)

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.
Jason Morgan
Jason Morgan, a man of extraordinary determination.

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!
Kenneth Edwards
Thwack! Kenneth Edwards lands a blow on his opponent at the London Olympics.
Kenneth Edwards at London Olympics
Kenneth Edwards goes into battle at the London Olympics.

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.

Alia Atkinson congratulated

An Olympic official congratulates Alia Atkinson after her fourth place finish. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn, Jamaica Gleaner)
Alia Atkinson
Alia in action at the London Olympics.
110 meters hurdles winners
Hansle Parchment (right) with fellow medal winners Jason Richardson (left) and Aries Merritt (center)
Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt
The young one and his “big brother” (in the nicest sense): Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt celebrate in London
Yohan Blake
The “beastly” Blake. Now when you get home, Yohan, go to the manicurist and get those fingernails cut!
London Olympics Closing Ceremony
Unlike some of my fellow tweeters, who yawned their way through it, I enjoyed the Closing Ceremony – or at least fifty per cent of it. But note to organizers: showing billboards and playing two-minute snatches of David Bowie songs is NO substitute for the man himself appearing!

12 thoughts on “The London Games: Jamaica

  1. Brilliant! Loved your post and wish Zemanta had recommended it… will add it manually. Jamaica rocked the house in my books too… So bravo all around! 🙂

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  2. Really interesting read, Emma. Johan was my favourite on the team. He did some great (and very funny) interviews with the Australian media that we got to see over here. He’s got a fun-loving personality that’s for sure but he also seems a consummate professional at his sport. Playing second fiddle to Usain is no mean feat and I hope he has a long career on the track ahead of him. Missing the Olympics lots. Whatever is there left to watch on TV? 😉

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    1. Thanks, Russell. Yes, he is such a natural – has a cute sense of humor and is clearly not as used to the media as Bolt, who knows how to play it up. He’s such a good guy. He is supposed to be coming to Australia… To play cricket, which is his first love!! Yes, I miss the Olympics, too. This week has been rather dull. But the English Premier League starts tomorrow! Go Gunners!! 🙂

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