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New records, new heroes - Caribbean 2012
By Clare Forrester for Caribbean Intelligence©
The events on the track on Saturday at the London 2012 Olympics couldn’t have been better scripted for the end of the athletics programme in the Olympic stadium, which lived up to its billing as “the greatest show on earth”.
While the larger countries grabbed the lion’s share of the medals, with the US (104), China (87), Great Britain (65) and Russia (82) claiming the most, Caribbean countries, led by Jamaica, were very much a part of the show, accounting for a grand total of 36.
That includes not just the English-speaking Caribbean, but also Cuba (14) and the Dominican Republic (2).
The overwhelming majority of those were in track and field athletics. Cuba was the sole country from this region that accounted for non-track medals, 12 in all.
Jamaica was the "black" face of the Olympics.
With due respect to the United States and Great Britain, who finished in front of us in the medal table and who both had considerable black representation at the Games, Jamaica was the first country in the table with a majority black population.
We finished in front of all African nations and all other majority non-white, non-Asian nations.
The only non-European nations to finish in front of us were: the US, China, Russia, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Iran.
Jamaica was the second-placed team from the Western hemisphere behind the US.
Wider medal haul
The wider Caribbean did famously well, although surprisingly, only two of Cuba's medals came in track and field, where they did not win a single gold medal.
Despite Jamaica's expected but still extraordinary world record in the men's 4x100m relay (36.84 seconds), it could be fair to say that Keshorn Walcott's javelin gold medal was the Caribbean performance of Saturday night.
Walcott's win was also one of the biggest upsets for odds makers during the entire Olympic Games.
In fact, watching trackside for Caribbean Intelligence©, it was so surprising that it seems that no-one was ready with a T&T flag to give to the 19-year-old winner for the traditional post-victory parade around the track.
In fact, I don’t recall seeing him take a victory lap at all, which would be a first.
In winning the gold, Walcott added the Olympics to the world junior title he had won in Barcelona a month ago.
In the process, he broke his national record for the fourth time this year with a throw of 84.58m, to beat a field containing defending Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway.
Walcott also claimed his country's first gold medal in any event since Hasely Crawford won the 100m in Montreal in 1976.
He was, in fact, the only man in the field to throw to his potential on a chilly and windy evening, winning by 7cm over Oleksandr Pyatnytsya of Ukraine, while Antti Ruuskanen bagged bronze for Finland with a fifth-round 84.12m throw.
The second medal for T&T came on Thursday in the 4x400m relay, when they finished third.
This first bronze was earned by teenager Lalonde Gordon in the 400m.
The Trinidadian relay bronze had been the other surprise, as Canada had finished the race in third position.
A large cheer erupted from the sell-out crowd when T&T’s name appeared on the screen for that medal as Canada was disqualified for lane infringement.
Relief and frustration
It was great to see the mixture of joy and relief on the faces of the Bahamian relay team and their supporters on Friday night, following their ding-dong battle with the Americans.
The victory was sweet compensation for the Bahamians because, up to that point on Friday night, they were yet to win a medal.
They were noticeably distressed on finishing outside the medal party for 400m, given the quality of their two finalists.
It must have been even more depressing to see T&T’s Lalonde Gordon, a comparative novice 400m runner, snatch the bronze from the veteran Chris Brown, who was again relegated to fourth position for the second consecutive Olympics.
I rather suspect that by now, and I will share this with Caribbean Intelligence© readers, the Bahamas team must have realised the obvious, that many of the stars on their team have now passed their peak.
The sun, however, broke through for them on Friday night and, with it, the 4x4 men stepped up their game, winning the gold medal in an historic achievement.
The other major accomplishment by an English-speaking Caribbean country came earlier in the competition when Grenada’s Kirani James demolished the 400m field to claim the gold medal - the first for his country.
In the process, he became one of a small group of 400m runners to dip under the 44-second barrier.
James, who is yet to celebrate his 20th birthday, is now regarded as an elite athlete and he is steadily impressing the circuit, not only by his enormous speed, but also by his maturity and respectful disposition.
Jamaica’s golden moments
Pride of place in terms of impact on these games, however, goes to Jamaica.
The country can, of course, boast the presence of the world’s best athlete on its team, as Usain Bolt once again powered home to take the 100m and 200m men’s titles.
And it can also boast that veteran female sprinter Veronica Campbell-Brown, by winning two medals, silver and bronze, is now only two short of the 11 needed to share a slice of former teammate and friend Merlene Ottey’s record for the most medals won by a track and field athlete in the history of the games.
For Jamaica, there are plenty of bouquets to share.
Special mention must also be made of others on Jamaica’s team like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who distinguished herself by successfully defending her 100m title and taking silver in the women’s 200m.
There is, of course, Yohan Blake, who became a double individual silver medalist.
Mention also to Warren Weir and Hansle Parchment, who also joined Bolt as individual medal winners on the men’s side and members of the three medal-winning relay teams.
Much was expected from Bolt from long before these games opened and he delivered in emphatic style.
Few, if any, among the spectators would not have been grateful to have shared in a part of the history that resulted.
For the future, I would love to see even stronger collaboration between Caribbean nations in track and field.
This can only lead to a stronger showing by the countries in our Caribbean Community (Caricom) while at the same time, further reducing the dependence many still have on the US for nurturing recruits from our region.
Jamaica has already showed that it can train its own athletes to compete successfully at the highest level.
The next step is for the Caribbean to build on that approach in moving forward.