By: Tony Best
Some may call it the Caribbean Olympic Games in London while others can see the spectacle as the occasion when Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Grenada, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico seized the opportunity and made a firm statement to the world.
But whatever the description of the Olympiad, this much is clear: the Caribbean region in general and Jamaica in particular showed true grit in 2012. It was a coming of age at a time when the world, almost every country on the planet had its gaze fixed on global competition. It was an occasion when performances were at their highest and when athletes stirred the pride of nations, large and small.
That’s why Jamaicans everywhere have every right to bask in international glory that was spawned by the top-notch displays of the country’s track and field prowess. That’s true whether it was Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and the other world class sprinters who captured gold, silver or bronze in their individual contests or relay races where group responsibility was key. But it was Shelly-Ann Frazer-Pryce who started the proverbial golden ball rolling when she leaned across the finish line of the women’s 100 meters and defeated Carmelita Jeters of the United States. Victory caused her to the track with delight, forcing her to shout “thank you Jesus!” The 25 year old had every reason to thank the Almighty. For like Bolt she won back-to-back gold medals and while Bolt did it with ease in the glamor events of the men’s competition, she took high honors in the women in a close race.
It was a marvelous beginning to the historic games for Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean, the island-nations and coastal states which cheered on the winners regardless of where they were in the region. It was a display of regional unity that the Caribbean rarely enjoys. Antiguans cheered for Jamaicans, Trinidadians and Bahamians while Trinidadians acclaimed the victory of Grenada and so on. Guyanese and Barbadians who came away from London empty handed couldn’t contain themselves as they hailed their neighbor’s victories.
Grenadians too are euphoric, and justifiably so at capturing their first Olympic gold medal, brought home, if you will, by a 19 year old runner they affectionately call “King” James. His speed and positive attitude on and off the track send a strong signal to the rest of the world that his victory, coming as it did after his World championship victory, wasn’t a flash in the pan occasion.
Another country which has earned its place on “Cloud Nine” is Trinidad and Tobago whose four medals, capped by the gold medal won by Keshorn Walcott with his javelin, placed Trinidad and Tobago in the 47th spot on the medal table, more than 27 places behind Jamaica which made the world’s top 20 list, coming in at 18th. The Bahamas win in the men’s in the javelin reflected the Caribbean’s emergence as a track and field powerhouse.
When the medals won by Cuba and the Dominican Republic are added to the tally, it underscores the realization that Jamaica and the rest of the region aren’t neophytes in track and field.
The big question, though, is where do we go from here?
Already, calls are being made for a regional athletic training facility that matches the cricket academy the West Indies Cricket Board has established in Barbados to train players from around the region. The track and field academy should be established before the next Olympics Games in Rio de Janiero and the world championships in different parts of the world. The Caribbean, hard hit by financial troubles must find an effective way to harness the region’s skill for the benefit of future generations of sports stars who like Bolt, Blake, Fraser-Pryce, Asafa Powell, Walcott, James and a long list of great performance can bring critical acclaim to their individual countries and to the Caribbean in the years and decades to come.
Unfortunately, success comes with a price. And for Jamaica it can turn out to be a heavy burden because of unfounded suspicions which are raised by sore losers, people who should know better. Questions about drug use are being raised by a handful of officials of the International Olympic Committee and by Carl Lewis, an American gold medal winner in successive Olympics. There isn’t a justifiable reason for their odious suggestion about the possible use of performance enhancing drugs by Jamaicans who are frequently tested at home and abroad.
The region’s stars can hold their heads high and enjoy the fruits of their commitment and hard work, knowing they defeated the best, the fastest and most highly talented in contests where skill and consistency in performance pay off.
Congratulations Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. The world of athletics is your oyster.