Marc Stamp, Gleaner Writer
Legendary sprinter Merlene Ottey will be an honouree at the third staging of the Ben Francis Invitational track and field meet, to be run on Saturday at Vere Technical High School in Hayes, Clarendon.
The seven-time Olympian, who represented her native Jamaica and adopted country Slovenia, arrived in the island two days ago as the organisers of the one-day meet have chosen to honour Ottey - one of the greatest female sprinters of all time, at this year's event.
"I am still Jamaican and am honoured to be here," Ottey told the gathering at a reception held for her at the Norman Manley International Airport's VIP lounge.
"My love for Jamaica will never die. I may be in another country, but Jamaica will always be my home," the former Vere Technical student said.
She thanked her mom, Joan Ottey, for guidance during the early years, "which made me into the person I am today", as well as everyone who has supported her over the years.
Moved to Slovenia
The 52-year-old started her track career in Jamaica during the 1970s but moved to Slovenia in 1998 and has represented that European country since since 2002. She ran in Slovenian colours in Athens, Greece, in 2004, her seventh and final Olympic Games. She has previously represented Jamaica at the 1980, '84, '88, '92, '96 and 2000 Games, earning eight medals - three silver and five bronze.
Henrietta Stewart, principal of Vere and chairperson of the Ben Francis Invitational organising committee, welcomed Ottey.
"We are honoured to have our legendary past student back at the place where her career blossomed. She has been invited to Jamaica on other occasions, but was unable to take up the offers. Now she is here to be honoured by Vere, an institution that has produced 52 international athletes," Stewart pointed out.
Natalie Neita-Headley, minister without portfolio in the Office of the Prime Minister with responsibility for sports, officially welcomed Ottey.
"You are our gold medal sprint queen," Neita-Headley said, although Ottey failed to win an Olympic gold medal. "We thank you for all you have done and continue to do for Jamaica."