Hubert Lawrence | Thanks Shelly-Ann, thanks Alia
Mired in my musings about the new Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) regulations, I saw a ray of light on the extended Heroes Weekend. It could hardly have been better had I been off to Frenchmen's with pretty girls. In place of that Portland treasure came a precious moment,
no, two, when Jamaica paid tribute to super sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and trail-blazing swimmer Alia Atkinson.
Smiles grew on Sunday when a statue in honour of Shelly was unveiled. It broadened on Monday when Alia received the nation's sixth highest award, the Order of Distinction, Commander Class. To me, the recognition is well deserved.
Talk to them and you will find that Shelly-Ann and Alia are much alike. They bubble with energy and ambition and patriotism, and though they are among the best in their respective sport, they are nice as nice can be. Shelly-Ann is the most successful female 100 metres sprinter in history. No one else has two Olympic gold medals and a bronze AND three World Championships gold medals. Even if she never runs another step, it will be hard for anyone else to surpass her competitive record.
Alia has set or equalled four world records and is the first black women to hold a world record in swimming. Four times an Olympian, and twice a finalist, she is a symbol, an inspiration to people of colour everywhere. Competitively, she is an ace with a 2014 World Short Course 100 metres breaststroke title to her credit and numerous medals in the World Long Course Championships.
Alia's achievements are amazing when you consider that swimming isn't particularly popular in Jamaica.
Together, they represent what Jamaica can do despite adversity. Shelly-Ann has outrun her humble beginnings by dint of love from family, hard work and shrewd coaching by Stephen Francis at the MVP Track Club. Alia represents the determination of her family, too, which has taken her from Jamaica to St Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida, to Texas A&M University on scholarship to the top of the world with her South Florida swim club.
With portfolios as long as theirs, both could be watching from the stands. However, Shelly came back after giving birth to her son and showed that her return isn't just a cameo. In London, where she had retained her Olympic 100m title six years earlier, she produced her 42nd sub-11 seconds time with a swift clocking of 10.98 seconds.
When she gets her fastest start back consistently, the 32 year-old 'Mummy Rocket' will surely go faster.
At 29, Alia is as good as ever, with more records in sight. In the same October Budapest meet where she broke her 50-metre breaststroke world record, she cut through the 100-metre event in one minute 02.80 seconds. That's not too far off the record she co-holds at 1.02.34.
The Tokyo Olympics are just over the horizon in 2020 and both ladies have scores to settle. Injury affected Shelly-Ann's preparations for the 2016 Olympics and, for all her good swims, Alia hasn't won an Olympic medal yet.
The value of their presence isn't measured solely in medals. Both are role models, and as we leave the Bolt era further behind, they stand as examples to both women and men, both in sport and in civil life, of what Jamaicans are capable of. It's a joy to watch them.
They took different routes to success. Shelly-Ann stayed home. Constrained by weak infrastructure in Jamaica, Alia left early to pursue her dreams. Talk to them and you'll walk away from an ember of the motivations that drive them. Together, they represent the best of this little country of wood and water.
Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.