Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Hubert Lawrence | Times to remember

Published:Thursday | December 22, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Deon Hemmings (centre) celebrates after winning the 400m hurdles at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
McKenley
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I'm still irked at the minimal recognition paid to Deon Hemmings this year for making history in 1996. Despite the efforts of those who came before her, Hemmings became the first Jamaican woman to win an Olympic gold medal. She did it in style, setting two Olympic 400-metre hurdle records on her way to the top step of the podium. Her victims included silver and bronze medallists Kim Batten and Tonja Buford-Bailey, who had beaten her in the World Championships in a race where they both broke the world record held by 1992 Olympic champion Sally Gunnell.

Jamaica first won Olympic gold in 1948 when Arthur Wint took the 400 over Herb McKenley, with George Rhoden beating McKenley in 1952 in the same one-lap sprint. They came back with repeat 200-metre finalist Les Laing to win another gold medal, this time in the 4x400 metre with a world record time of 3 minutes 03.9 seconds. The next Jamaican gold medal arrived much later, in 1976 when Don Quarrie placed first in the 200 metres. Deon Hemmings would be next.

When she returned and took the silver medal behind Russian Irina Privalova in 2000, she became the most successful female 400-metre hurdler in Olympic history. That's a remarkable achievement in an event where no one has ever won twice. It's as if, in the glow of a Golden Era that started with Veronica Campbell-Brown winning the Olympic 200 metres in 2004, we almost forgot about Hemmings the history maker.

In 1947, McKenley put up a season that has, at least, one result that has never been matched. The Pleasant Valley, Clarendon native ran so well that he was the fastest man in the world in the 100, the 200 and the 400 metres. He produced times of 10.3, 20.4 and 46.2 to earn this unparalleled distinction.

Those are times some athletes would be proud of today. Herb did them on dirt tracks, wearing 9-pound spikes and wearing running suits that would flap around in the breeze. Had he been running in this era of synthetic tracks and featherweight running gear, there's no telling what he and Wint and Rhoden and their peers like US repeat 800-metre champion Mal Whitfield would have been capable of.

No one has done what Herb did, while Michael Johnson has set world records and won major championships at 100m, 200m and 400m. I was almost minded to zap a mental email to sprint guru Glen Mills asking him to see if that would give the incomparable Usain Bolt the motivation he needs to shift into top gear.

That might be pushing it, especially with the 400-metre world record now even faster than where Johnson left if at 43.18 seconds. 43.03 by South African whiz Wayde van Niekerk is simply stunning.

 

LANDMARK YEAR

 

1987 was a landmark year for Jamaican athletics too. Andrew Parker and Winthrop Graham did a Jamaican 110-metre and 400-metre hurdles double at the Pan-Am Games. Later in the season, Raymond Stewart crossed the line in third place in the 100m at the World Championships behind Ben Johnson of Canada and American Carl Lewis. It was Jamaica's first championships medal in the men's 100m after Quarrie's silver in 1976. It was a big deal that got bigger when Johnson was retroactively disqualified for drug use and Raymond's bronze was upgraded to the silver.

The 2017 track and field season will be conducted in a sea of change and reform and will climax at the London World Championships. Five years ago, in London, Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce led Jamaica to a glorious 12-medal haul at the Olympics. Now, as they do their background training, it's possible that this may be the start of the end of one golden era with the likes of double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson charged with starting another. If another one does start in London next summer, one wonders if the old one will be forgotten.

- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.