Hello 2012 - All eyes on London... Olympic expectations fill the air
Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer
It seems like just yesterday we were leaving the Bird's Nest, site of Jamaica's best-ever performance in the Olympic Games.
Usain Bolt was the undisputed star, but three other Jamaicans - Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Melaine Walker - had won individual gold medals; and Fraser-Pryce had led an unthinkable 1-2-2 finish in the 100 metres for women.
That was almost four years ago. Most of Jamaica's hard-core track and field fans will gather this Saturday at Jamaica College to renew old acquaintances and you can bet that, while they focus on high-school athletes, the buzz will be about the Olympics.
There's something grand about the Olympic Games and this year, as Jamaica returns to London where Arthur Wint put us on the map with gold, the expectations will be even grander. Add that it falls in the year of our 50th anniversary and the special nature of the 2012 Olympics will become crystal clear.
In the midst of all this, our athletes must block out the past. In 2009, when Fraser-Pryce went to Berlin for the World Championships, her coach Stephen Francis told her to forget about what she did inside the Bird's Nest. She did and won brilliantly to add the world title to her Olympic gold medal. That's the approach all our stars will need in 2012.
Before we get to London, the Jamaican team will be picked on the basis of the results of the National Championships in June. At those championships in 2008, VCB was shocked by a fourth-place finish in the 100. Rosemarie Whyte beat a classy field to win the 400.
Bolt completed a 9.85/19.97 sprint double and star hurdlers Brigitte Foster-Hylton and Delloreen Ennis-London advanced to their third Olympic teams.
No one had been on more Jamaican Olympic teams than Merlene Ottey and Donald Quarrie. Ottey ran for Jamaica in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000 and in 2004 for Slovenia, while Quarrie was there in 1968, 1972, 1976, 1980 and 1984.
Of the current crop, VCB, Foster-Hylton, Ennis-London and hurdler/sprinter Dwight Thomas will be seeking berths on their fourth Olympic team. Bolt, Asafa Powell, Michael Frater, Sherone Simpson, Novlene Williams-Mills and decathlete Maurice Smith are targeting their third trip to the Games.
If they make it, the 2012 Jamaican Olympic team won't be short of experience. High-quality newcomers like Yohan Blake should be there too. He needn't worry. He'll be cradled by the wisdom of sprint guru Glen Mills.
In any case, the world 100-metre champion probably knows that Fraser-Pryce won gold in 2008 when she was a complete newcomer. Blake has already proven that he belongs to the elite group of sprinters.
One of the best
Kaliese Spencer, the 400-metre hurdler, is in the same category as Blake. She is undoubtedly one of the best in her event and has Walker to walk her through the Olympic atmosphere.
If there is one other word of advice for our athletes, it would be to prepare for London's weather. While we hope for brighter Caribbean warmth, the temperature trend for August in London points to a high of 23 degrees centigrade and a low of 13 degrees.
Most of the sprint finals are in the London night. The women's 100-metre final is scheduled for 9.55 p.m. on day two of Olympic track and field, with the men's 100m final, for example, set for 9:50 p.m. on day three. Temperatures then might be nearer to the low than the high.
Our stars sometimes face cool climes on the European circuit. Some would have encountered bad weather on the US college circuit. Still, one recalls bitter complaints about the cold at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships.
It's worth noting that when Wint won the 400 metres in London in 1948 he lived in England. Perhaps, discussions have already started with Puma, Jamaica's clothing supplier team, to cover all weather possibilities.
It's too soon to say with certainty what to expect in London at the Olympics. Our athletes are at work now readying themselves for the challenges ahead. Hopefully, 2012 will meet their expectations and ours.
Hubert Lawrence has covered athletics since 1987.