André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
Olympians return to word of October celebrations
The Government yesterday announced it would stage a special celebratory event in honour of the country's Olympians in October, during the Heroes weekend festivities, after the island's historic 12-medal haul at the London Games a few weeks ago.
Making the announcement however, Natalie Neita-Headley, minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister, with responsibility for sport, was quick to underline that the event would not be on the scale of the massive road parade and pageantry that welcomed athletes home from the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Neita-Headley said the Government was this time around looking for more tangible ways to show the nation's appreciation for the efforts of the athletes.
The minister was speaking during a special reception at the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA), staged to welcome some of the island's Olympic athletes back to the island.
Several of Jamaica's Olympic stars, primarily from the Racers Track Club and including 100m and 200m silver medallist and 4x100m relay gold medallist Yohan 'The Beast' Blake; 200m bronze medallist Warren Weir; 110m hurdles bronze medallist Hansle Parchment; 4x100m relay gold medallist Kemar Bailey-Cole 4x400m relay bronze medallist Rosemarie Whyte; and United States-based triple jump finalist Kimberly Williams, were among the group.
On stepping off the aircraft that brought them home, the athletes were met by a Jamaica Cadet Force guard of honour on the NMIA tarmac.
"We wanted to have this so that we could extend to you a cordial welcome back home," Neita-Headley told the group of athletes, which also included other Racers Track Club charges, Ristananna Tracey, Allodin Fothergill and Jason Young.
"There is going to be one special celebration, which will be on the weekend of the National Heroes Day. This year we are not doing any big floats, or motorcades and parade because we believe that you are coming back and are exhausted. But we also believe that this year, whatever it is that we do, we want to ensure that the promises we make to you, that on the night of the celebration, we can actually put it in your hands," Neita-Headley added.
Jamaica Olympic Association President Mike Fennell, who also shared in the event, expressed a great sense of pride in the country's achievements in London and underlined to the athletes that they had raised the bar for future Olympic teams.
"It has taken a lot of hard work and sacrifice but this country must demonstrate how grateful it is for what our athletes have done yet again. It is not just London, it is not just Beijing, but even before and you have now blazed a new trail, set new standards and set the bar really high and we congratulate you," Fennell said.
Blake, who spoke on behalf of the athletes, was thankful for the gesture.
"On behalf of the athletes that are here and those who are not here like Usain (Bolt), who got in early, I want to say thank you for this and it really means a lot to us coming back to such a warm reception," Blake said. "We are thankful for your interest and warm support because that is what we really need."
Women's 100-metre gold medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce returned to the island over the weekend, while former 100-metre world-record holder Asafa Powell returned last month.
The athletes were met outside the terminal building by a throng of supporters and students of several schools.
A large contingent of University of West Indies students was on hand to welcome Parchment and Young, with the Olympic medallist also treated to a surprise party on the campus' Taylor Hall later on.