Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Some unheralded heroes - Commonwealth Games history

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Golden girl Marilyn Neufville is awarded a gold medal by national coach Herbert McKenley for winning a 400 metres women final in 1971. - File

Orville Taylor, Columnist

I sat in a grandstand seat in the National Stadium on Independence Day and enjoyed the Grand Gala for the second time in three years.


As the organisers showcased three stalwarts of Jamaican music, I bought two packets of salted peanuts from an itinerant vendor who used to peddle the 'ital and salted' during my early days of watching Manning Cup football and Champs in the same venue. He was Arthur 'Bunny' Robinson, from the pioneering musical duo, Bunny and Scully.

It was a bitter irony, because he was a foundation artiste, and it is his work that set the stage for later performers, these three, who got their well-deserved honours. However, Bunny stood in the aisles as his musical underlings basked in the glory of the Jamaican people.

But such is history, and many who have put Jamaica's name on the map have been left in the dark, wallowing in obscurity or even oblivion. The Commonwealth Games are no different. Because of the recent exploits of Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaica was not only put on the map, but the entire atlas has been redecorated in black, green and lots of gold.

History lesson

Yet, it is perhaps hardly known that the Games itself has a tonload of history for us. For example, when the Games were held here in 1966, it was the first time that the erstwhile British Empire and Commonwealth Games were being held outside of the 'white' nations within the group. Thus, Jamaica's staging was an important historic marker. Indeed, it took another 22 years before Malaysia was to become the next non-Caucasian nation, and since then, only India in 2010 had been the other melanised country. No other black nation has followed us.

Nonetheless, Jamaica has won myriad medals and has had many outstanding performances in the Games outside of track and field and, in particular, the sprints. In the 1966 Games, for example, we won 12 medals, though none was gold. Four came from boxing, and one apiece from weightlifting and shooting. Among the six track and field medals, only the men's and women's 4x110 yards relays, the female 440 and 80 yards hurdles, gave evidence of our speed.

In the 1970 edition, we won six athletics medals. And while the exploits of the Don Quarrie (DQ)-led sprinters are well known, it is less recognised that 17-year-old Marilyn Neufville won the 400 metres in a world record 51.02 seconds, a time which would have gained her the bronze a week or so ago. This is the first and only time in modern track and field history that a Jamaican woman has broken an outdoor world record. Were it not for the RJR Sports Foundation Awards last year, she would have been totally forgotten.

In 1974, Xavier Miranda, only chronicled in Early B's One Wheel Wheelie song, copped a cycling sprint silver, to go along with DQ's sprint double, for a mere three Jamaican medals. Mike McCallum, in 1980, body-snatched gold in the boxing welterweight division, and David Weller foreshadowed the Olympic bronze he would gain in 1980 to become another cycling medallist.

True, DQ was up to his customary golden tricks, but Seymour Newman gave us silver in the 800 metres. Newman's personal record of 1:45.2 is still unattained by any of the current crop of runners. Bert Cameron and Merlene Ottey were crowned in the 400m and 200m, respectively, in 1982. After a boycott by black nations because of Britain's remaining in bed with apartheid-ruled South Africa, Jamaica returned in 1990 to Ottey's sprint double and relay bronzes for the men.

Significant year

The year 1994 was significant because we won our first two gold medals in events that we had never dominated. Michelle Freeman gobbled up the gold in the sprint hurdles and Inez Turner, headband and all, showed that we have full-blooded African runners here, by blowing away the opposition in the 800. Indeed, apart from Kenia Sinclair's silver in 2006, the nearest we came to gold in that event is the frequent mispronunciation of the name of the current national champion Natoya Goule. More significant is that Michael Green, known by the surname Roach in high school, allowed William Knibb High to crawl into recognition, almost 20 years before one Usain St Leo Bolt brought it to prominence.

Does anyone remember Dinsdale Morgan's 1998 gold in the 400 metres hurdles, along with Gillian Russell's victory in the shorter event and Sandie Richards' reprising of Neufville's victory, but without the world record? Of course, we all remember the best 4x400 quartet since the Helsinki Olympics. Davian Clarke, Greg Haughton, Michael McDonald and Roxbert Martin set a Commonwealth record in mining gold.

A record 17-medal haul was gained in 2002, where Michael Blackwood won in the traditional 400 metres men, and Lacena Golding Clarke added her name to the sprint hurdles title. Nonetheless, Elva Goulbourne jumped to the golden conclusion in the lateral event and Claston Bernard, who sadly can walk unrecognised on our streets, became the Games' super athlete, grabbing the decathlon. Very significant was the netball bronze medal using a local coach. Therefore, imported Aussie expert, Jill McIntosh, merely touched familiar ground in 2014.

No new ground

The 2006 Games, highlighted by Asafa Powell's first and only individual gold, saw Tanto Campbell's Paralympic discus gold and previously unminted gold in the men's hurdles, female triple jump and Dorian Scott's shot put silver, plus disrespected and underappreciated Olivia 'the real' McKoy bronze in the javelin, and Karen Beautle's high jump bronze, were all history makers. Four years later, there was no new ground, despite our winning two gold medals among the 16.

Finally, this year, Alia Atkinson broke new water and gave us two medals in the pool. Yet it was hardly noticed that young Yona Knight-Wisdom placed fifth in the men's one-metre springboard diving.

Well, at least you now know. Let us celebrate the unknowns.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.