Wed | Mar 22, 2023

Letter from Stockholm

Published:Thursday | February 25, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Lance Neita, Contributor

The 2010 track and field season is now in high gear and Jamaicans are following every race run, every time recorded, every record set.

At this time, the athletic world is watching Jamaica through gold-rimmed spectacles and coaches and scholarship donors are descending on Jamaica for the various track meets held all over the island.

This treatment is not reserved only for the inter-schools Championships which marks its 100th anniversary this year. Primary and all-age schools are receiving unscheduled visits from eagle-eyed talent hunters from the USA and across medal hungry countries.

Our athletes have carried themselves with confidence and poise, and a pleasing modesty and sportsmanship in their inter-action on and off the track.

Personable and unspoilt

Media fame has not got the better of them and, for the most part, they remain personable and unspoilt by the adulation. This pattern of behaviour has been a trademark of our athletic tradition over the years.

However, there is a defining moment in our history when the conduct of one team can be said to have inspired the type of role-model behaviour that has motivated successive teams in our pursuit of excellence in stadiums around the world.

On a cold day in Finland, 58 years ago, four young Jamaicans, Arthur Wint, Les Laing, Herb McKenley and George Rhoden, went out on the Olympic track at Helsinki, linked arms and prayed. Then they left the starting blocks and sped around the track to set the world record for a 4 x 400-metre relay.

front page blazoned the achievement, and the Duke of Edinburgh paid a personal visit to the Jamaican village where "he found the boys in high spirits and letting their hair down".

The moment was captured in a famous letter sent from Stockholm on July 30, 1952, to the governor, Sir Hugh Foot, by team manager Herbert McDonald which captured the spirit and emotions galvanised by the victory.

The letter stressed that it was hard work, great sacrifices, and overall a sense of duty to Jamaica - "these provided the power which brought fame and glory to them and to us", McDonald's letter showed.

It was published in full by
The Gleaner
and its message is of such contemporary worth that it should be made a part of the literature for eulogising and emulating role models for our sports aspirants.

"My dear Sir Hugh," it began, "the boys were sincerely proud to have heard of the national enthusiasm over their performance.

"When a country as small as ours can place men in the first six in each sprint race, it deserves to be known as the greatest little team the world has ever seen."

McDonald sent a photograph of the relay team in prayer led by Rhoden "giving thanks to God for the strength and opportunity to compete.

An example

"It shows Christians behaving like Christians, should be of great interest to Jamaica as it shows the world we are a God-fearing people, and should be an example to schoolchildren and even grown-ups.

"You will be pleased to know that the relay baton was autographed and will be sent to Jamaica to be placed somewhere acceptable, possibly the Institute of Jamaica, and also the spent cartridge which started the 400 metres which Rhoden had won earlier."

That year, 1952 became a kind of watershed for attaining the heights of human endeavour in track as personified by McKenley's incredible sprint in the third leg which overhauled a 10-metre gap to put Jamaica in front for the final leg.

We can be proud that athletes of the calibre of a Usain, Asafa, Shelly-Ann, Brigitte and others are maintaining the qualities of selflessness, patriotism and role- model behaviour demonstrated by the "greatest little team of those times".

Lance Neita is a communications and PR consultant. Feedback may be sent to