Sun | Jan 24, 2021

Orville Taylor | Unheralded Olympians

Published:Thursday | August 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Jamaica's high-flying James Beckford is the island's only winner of an Olympic medal in field competition.
George Kerr
Betsy Sullivan diving in the Munich Games of 1972.
Betsy Sharpe (nee Sullivan)
Betsy Sullivan in front of the famous National Stadium statue in Kingston.
Jamaica's Samantha Albert is a picture of satisfaction after completing the gruelling course with her horse, Carraig Dubh, in the London Olympic Games' equestrian eventing individual cross-country challenge at Greenwich Park in 2012.

Nah, this is not a post-100 metres analysis, nor is it about any other track result. Indeed, it is not about the bravery of Federick Dacres trying to throw himself into history, or Jason Morgan crying in the wilderness in the discus.

Neither is it about O'Dayne Richards and other shot putters, hurling a cannon ball that would give the average Jamaican 'boasn'. There is a lot of history being made, and we are ungrateful Jamaicans who remember little beyond the medallists and, generally, only those who run in the finals of team events.

History - actually, her-story - was not created last Tuesday as world record holder and Jamaica's statistical first real shot at a medal in Rio de Janeiro, Alia Atkinson, gave a less-than-expected performance in the 100m breaststroke. After all, during the London 2012 Olympics, she had come just a mere 0.47 second of a medal, closer than her 'surnamesake', Janelle, whose 1.14-second margin also kept her off the podium in 2000 during the Sydney Games. And yes, I heard the comparison with the sprinter who has broken more hearts than that of a beauty queen, but this article is dedicated to Alia and the others who history has neglected, ignored or undervalued.



Indeed, the few of us who have the right to be underwhelmed by the eighth-place finish in the finals after a horrendous start are those who understand that she is the third Jamaican to make a swimming final. The first was Andrew Phillips, who maxed out at 2:05.60 for sixth place in the 200 metres individual medley in Los Angeles in 1984. Phillips made history and perhaps gave confidence to another black Caribbean athlete, Surinamese-Trinidadian Anthony Nesty, who stole the 100 metres butterfly four years later in Seoul.

Jamaicans have gone to the Olympics in other sports long before dolly-sized Toni-Ann Williams 'kin puppalick' and 'bum flick' in the gymnastics competition last week. Never mind the unfavourable result. I bet you didn't know that great speaker Marcus Garvey fell off the stage in literal stage fright in his debut appearance in the USA. After all, Usain Bolt was eliminated in the first round in his inaugural appearance at the Athens Olympics.

We recall Samantha Albert riding a horse that was almost old enough to have been born before Independence, but struggling through the competition in London. It might not seem like much, but try mounting a horse even on a smooth field. In boxing, we have heard of Trevor Berbick and Mike McCallum, who went on to world titles, and contender Alex Stewart, but what about St Aubyn Hines and Delroy Leslie in the Barcelona Games, or Tyson Gray and others in Atlanta?

We know that except for St George's College old boy David Weller in 1980, no medals have been won by Jamaicans outside of track and field. Of course, the standard knowledge is that it is almost exclusively in the sprints. Only James Beckford, with long jump silver in Atlanta in 1996, had brought home any piece of metal from the field, leading up to Rio.

Beyond the 400 metres, we have generally not put on 'stulla' performances. Yet, we recall a valiant Kenia Sinclair making the finals of the 800 metres in her season's best 1:58.24. She left it all on the track, and just as Janelle, in 2000, had set a personal record in her fourth-place effort.

Still, while we celebrate giant Arthur Wint for his double silver in this event in London 1948 and Helsinki in 1952, there is someone hardly remembered. Wint, by dint of his 1948 400 metres gold and his part of the legendary Helsinki quartet four years later, is immortalised rightfully in a statue at the National Stadium. But does anyone remember George Kerr, who copped the 800 metres bronze in London 1960, running as part of the British West Indies team? In fact, a trinity comprising Keith Gardner, Malcolm Spence and Kerr drove into third place along with Barbadian James Wedderburn in the 4x400 metres relay.

In the same Games, the aforementioned Gardner made the finals of the sprint hurdles and would have medalled if he had run his preliminary time. Paul Foreman made the long jump finals. Can anyone recall Derrick Adamson and Nils Antonio who ran the marathon? Iona Wynter did the summer triathlon in 2000. And what of Andrew Gooding and Joseph Stockhausen in the two-man dinghy, who, if asked whether they were sailors or athletes, would likely respond, "Boat!" There were around another 10 boatmen who would irk at being called seamen as they carried the black, gold and green. Raise the barbells for weightlifters Calvin Stamp, Simon Williams, George Espeut and Cedric Demetrius. And say Osu! (Oos) to San Dan Kenneth Edwards, who broke barriers and almost his opponent's jaw, too, in tae kwon do.

By the way, given our penchant for firearms, how come we have only had fewer than a dozen Olympians in shooting competitions?

Michael Hyatt and Stephen Hylton played tennis with the little balls as Olympians. Surprise, Yona Knight-Wisdom might be the best placer in diving, but Betsy Sullivan 'chucked off' for us in Munich in 1972.

Nonetheless, even in the sprints we have ignored many. Remember Rosie Allwood, Jacqui Pusey, Merlene Frazer, and Alberto Fray? Michael Green, who put William Knibb High School on the map before Bolt? Remember Ronetta Smith, who overperformed in giving us 4x400 medals? And how many can put a face on Shereefa Lloyd? National Under-20 record holder Marilyn Neufville was only remembered a few years ago, but is there any recollection of Claudine Williams, who made the 400m semi-finals at 16 years old?

There are far many more who have been omitted. However, I simply want to make the point that many athletes who do not win put out as much, or even more, effort and get no recognition or reward. Ask javelinist Olivia; she's the real McCoy.

- Dr Orville Taylor is a senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to