Wed | Apr 25, 2018

Don't drop the baton

Published:Monday | November 4, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Richard Blackford, Guest Columnist

Jamaica first entered the international track and field arena in 1930 at the Central American and Caribbean Games, winning a silver medal in the high jump through Joseph MacKenzie with a jump of 1.75 metres. Participation at the 1934 British Empire Games returned the island a bronze medal in the discus throw to Bernard Prendergast (40.23m).

After the Second World War, Jamaica set about establishing its dominance on the track through the greats, Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley, with their brilliant gold and silver medal-winning performances at the 1948 London Olympics. Sixty-four years later, the great Usain Bolt completed this circle with three gold, as the island recorded 12 medals in its best-ever Olympic haul.

Even if you had just crawled from under a rock after deep slumber, it would not be lost on you as to the magnitude of these performances.

Jamaica is without doubt the greatest track-and-field nation. Despite its presence in international competition pre-Beijing 2008, Jamaica's results had always been marginalised by the spectre of performance-enhancing substance use by other nations in the sport. It is for this reason that Jamaica's embarrassing display in the JADCO saga is so critical.

Flo jo's records

As a nation, we bellowed and wailed long and hard as the East Germans and the Americans, between the 1970s and 1990s, dominated. The late American athlete, Flo Jo's, records in the women's 100m and 200m stand as a monument to this ... an embarrassment that even the arrogant Americans are ashamed to speak about.

Equally, the confessions, a few years ago, of Marion Jones, as well as the innuendoes of American track icon Carl Lewis' possible substance use and the scorn heaped on their then glory, arguably at our athletes' expense, must remain top of mind.

Track and field has been dirty for years. Jamaica, specifically with the performances of Bolt, Fraser-Pryce et al, is seen as the saving grace of the sport. The accusations against, and outing of, Jamaican athletes for use of performance-enhancing substances and other adverse analytical findings, in the last two years, must be viewed in this context. Jamaica is, without question, a powerhouse in the sport and it is this recognition and its power that now acts as a two-edged sword.

There is a problem

Regardless of Anne Shirley's motives, we are being foolish to pretend that there is no problem, as the evidence points to the contrary. My own research has unearthed a list of some 23 athletes who have tested positive since 1995. More than half of the names on this list were outed between 2006 and 2013, including names such as Fraser-Pryce, Yohan Blake, Sherone Simpson, Steve Mullings, Marvin Anderson, Chris Williams, Lansford Spence and Asafa Powell, to name some.

While the jury is still out on some of these 'findings', we cannot pretend that 'everything criss'. The innuendo by our sports minister that Anne Shirley's rationality should be questioned serves the interest of perhaps herself and the Simpson Miller administration, but certainly not Jamaica.

Track and field is a religion in Jamaica, and the publicity that the island obtains globally is significantly enhanced by this recognition, especially when we demonstrate our own commitment to keeping our participation clean.

The island's dominance needs to be defended. We need to do more to protect this image. We must protect the legacy that has been passed as a symbolic baton by the athletes of the 1940s till now.

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