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10 greatest Jamaican sports icons

Published:Friday | July 20, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Orville Higgins

By Orville Higgins

With Jamaica set to celebrate its 50th birthday as an independent nation, I want to look at the 10 greatest sports icons we have produced, including the pre-Independence era. For the sake of this article, greatness is understood to mean not only what is done on the field of play, but the impact that one has off it, locally and overseas.

I am looking at each performer in their prime and the wow factor these sports stars created for those who watched.

1. No other Jamaican has come close to matching Usain Bolt's mind-boggling achievements, much less his worldwide appeal. Whatever happens in London, Bolt's status as the greatest sports personality we have ever had is assured. He says he wants to be a legend. I have news for you, Bolt. You already are.

2. I would have to go with George Headley. No other Jamaican sportsman (or woman, for that matter), with the exception of Bolt, has been so universally recognised as, arguably, the best in the world for so long. Take Bradman out of the equation, and Maas George was easily the best batsman in the world for the entire 1930s. Indeed, there are those who believe that under all conditions Headley was better than Bradman.

3&4. Merlene Ottey's accomplishments are too numerous to mention, and her longevity is superhuman. Veronica Campbell would outdo her in terms of quality medals, and it's a close call between the two, but in terms of status on the global stage, I believe the name Merlene Ottey creates a greater ripple, and a greater feeling of awe, than Veronica Campbell Brown's. VCB, though, would be fourth on my list.

5. This may be surprising, but Asafa Powell's continuous assault on the 100 metres world record a few years ago rekindled interest in the sport globally, and spawned new interest in a whole generation of Jamaican sprinters, including Bolt himself. Whatever else we may say, he is still among the top five fastest men ever, and his durability (more sub tens than anybody else) means he cannot be ignored.

6. John Barnes didn't play for Jamaica, but he makes my list because he was born and bred here. No other Jamaica footballer was recognised as being among the very best in the world. John was, for much of the 1980s, thought of as the best left-sided attacking player in the game. Playing for Liverpool, he was an absolute wizard, and in that 1986 World Cup game against Argentina, he came close to eclipsing the work of the greatest footballer ever, Diego Maradona.

Barnes gets the better of people like Donald Quarrie and Dr Arthur Wint because, in my view, he operated for much longer at the top tier, while Herb McKenley and Dr Wint really achieved worldwide fame for their magnificent display in the two Olympics of 1948 and 1952, with not much in-between.

7. When Ernie Smith sang, "Quarrie was a boy to I man last night" in his classic hit Duppy or Gunman, Donald Quarrie (DQ) was immortalised and was forever part of Jamaican folklore. He is, arguably, before Bolt, the most universally respected Jamaican sprinter ever. He just noses out Herb McKenley for the reason that DQ was an individual gold medallist at the Olympics, while Herb was not.

8. Herb, though, remains hugely popular and respected, as much for his work off the track as his performances on it during his heyday. Herb is, therefore, pushed into eighth place and eclipses Wint, whose performances were special but his name doesn't have the same buzz as Herb's.

9&10. Two cricketers round out the top 10. Michael Holding (ninth place) was easily the among the most feared and respected bowler in his time.

Michael is still revered as being among the very best commentators in the game and his contribution to the sport continues.

Courtney Walsh takes the final spot by the sheer weight of performance. You just can't ignore 500-plus Test match wickets, which was the most by a pacer in his time.

KLAS sportscaster Orville Higgins is the 2011 winner of the Hugh Crosskill/Raymond Sharpe Award for Sports Reporting. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.