Hubert Lawrence | All hail Fedrick and Alia!
As Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year, respectively, Fedrick Dacres and Alia Atkinson present fans with a bit of a challenge. Brought up mainly on football, cricket, and sprint events in athletics, the fan is now obliged to embrace Jamaican greatness in sports in new areas.
Swimmers have won the prestigious title before Alia in the person of Frances Noble and Belinda Phillips in 1968 and 1974, respectively. Forty years passed before Alia won the 2014 award. Now that she has won three times, she is beginning to settle on the minds of Jamaican sports fans.
She deserves it. Her world titles and world records make her the best Jamaican swimmer of all time and she ranks as one of the best breaststroke swimmers of her era. As an athlete, she is class, and as a sporting ambassador of Jamaica, she is in there with the very best.
While track and field athletes have won the male award many times, long jumper James Beckford is the only field event performer to win, as he did in 1995, 1996, and 2003. That makes Dacres the first thrower ever to be Sportsman of the Year.
That doesn’t delight everyone. Late in 2018, a colleague asked for my assessment on Jamaican track and field in the post-Bolt era. I gave him the 24-medal count at the Commonwealth Games, the four gold medal haul at the World Under-20 Championships, and strong performances at the NACAC Championships as combined evidence of a bright future.
When I told him that Dacres and shot putters Danniel Thomas-Dodd and O’Dayne Richards were leading us in an age where we could win medals in the throws, he snorted. “That’s fine, but we grew up on sprints”, he moaned. “What about the sprints?” he insisted.
Men’s dominance gone
Let’s face it. The men’s sprint dominance led by the incomparable Usain Bolt is past. Something similar could return, but in the meantime, Jamaica is loading up in new areas.
Too often, fans drift out of the National Stadium after the last running event even though field event action is going on. With the throwers and jumpers we have now, they’d better stick around when the runners have taken the spikes off. In the jumps, Kimberly Williams has led the line for a while, but fellow triple jumper Shanieka Ricketts and a squad of long jump prospects could be world-beaters soon.
All Alia needs to run out her accomplishments is an Olympic medal in 2020. That would be brilliant in her fifth Olympic appearance. Evergreen for a swimmer at age 30, she is one of those special ones like Merlene Ottey whose genetics, personal habits, and work ethic allow her more trips to the wicket.
Her success is instructive. Were pools more accessible, perhaps this country would produce more like her.
Possibly, with more Alia Atkinsons and more Fedrick Dacres, Jamaica could better our best Olympic medal haul of 12 from 2012. One can understand the concern for our men’s sprinting. After a glorious golden era led by Bolt, no one wants to see the flag flying too low.
They will rise again, but in the meantime, Alia and Fedrick represent a new pathway to the podium.
If the 2018 Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year win medals at their respective World Championships this year, those achievements will be as worthy as any won by Jamaicans in the past. We just have to learn to love the discus throw and the breaststroke.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.