Heading into the 2012 London Olympics, fans of track and field are gearing up for some amazing contests across the spectrum. From the sprints to the middle distances, hurdles to the jumps, the competition has never been tighter and more unpredictable.
It is fitting that on the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, the country is poised to continue its domination of the sprints that had previously reached a zenith in Beijing four years ago.
I watched a replay of the recent Penn Relays where an interview was conducted with the great Carl Lewis. As a young runner and fan of the sport back in the 80’s I was a huge fan of Carl Lewis. After the Ben Johnson scandal that rocked the entire sport, I supported his vocal opposition to cheating in track and field, particularly his pointed remarks about (among others) Florence Griffith-Joyner alleged use of performance enhancing drugs (PED’S.) As the greatest American runner since Jesse Owens, I felt he was sorely under-appreciated in this, his homeland.
When looked at in that context, I can understand it to some degree but I still have been more than slightly turned off by his continued bitterness towards every great runner to come along since he retired. He has been quite vocal in his skepticism about Jamaican sprinters and what he has said is their ‘sudden emergence’ on the scene. He stayed true to form at the Penn Relays interview, making another comment about the Jamaicans ‘coming out of nowhere’ before trying to backpedal and discuss ‘the long history of Jamaican runners.’
Now I could make the obvious statement about the multitude of American runners caught up in the BALCO scandal, and how the American sprinters have disappeared from the medal podiums since that saga came to light. I could also point at Lewis’ admitted failing a test for PED’s; an act that makes his comments seems more than a little hypocritical.
I won’t go to any lengths about that, rather I will merely highlight some facts that might shed light on the ‘sudden emergence’ Mr. Lewis referred to:
Since the middle of the 20th century we have been consistently well represented in the sprints, first our men and within the last thirty years, both our men and women. In a sport that had struggled with PED use for decades, we have been consistent winners with very few cheaters in our ranks.
Even before independence, starting with the 1948 London Olympics and through to the 1950’s, there was the golden generation of George Rhoden, Arthur Wint and Herb “Herb Mac” McKinley, the men who first showed the world the talent in our little island in the sun.
During the 60’s and 70’s Lennox Miller and Don Quarrie won medals on the world’s biggest stage.
The 1980’s and 1990’s ushered the women onto the podium next to the men; Juliet Cuthbert, Merlene Ottey (shown with her arm around Cuthbert) and Grace Jackson joined the great hurdler Winthrop Graham in winning medals wearing the green and gold.
In addition, the number of sprinters Jamaican born and of Jamaican descent furthered highlighted our status as world beaters; Donovan Bailey won gold for his adopted homeland of Canada, Linford Christie did the same for Great Britain and Inger Miller, daughter of Lennox, won several medals running for the USA.
That dubious part of Jamaica’s tradition continues today with Sanya Richards-Ross and Debbie Dunn representing the Stars and Stripes over their ancestral homeland.
It’s hard to make the argument that Jamaican runners have suddenly emerged when looking at that lineage.
Many will say Jamaicans have overachieved as a nation, stepping up on the world stage in a manner that a tiny country the size of Rhode Island and with less people than Brooklyn has no business doing. When you have been as consistently great as Jamaican athletes have been however, it is difficult to consider it overachieving. It’s most likely a case of being right where we should be.
With this current plethora of talent, what I will call the Greatest Generation of sprinters in our history, we are poised to stamp our pedigree once again. The Beijing Olympics of 2008 was a stunning introduction to the casual fan of what we can do. This time around there is no surprises, but 2012-our 50th year of independence-it will be an affirmation of who we are: World Beaters. And as we continue to rise, people like Lewis continue to shrink in stature.
To Mr. Lewis and those who question it as he has, I say this; Recognize greatness, Mr. Lewis. It’s always been there, maybe you just were too busy looking at yourself to notice.