Long before the era of Veronica Campbell-Brown; Which ushered in the era of Jamaican Female Athletes dominating the Track, there was Merlene Ottey; (cruelly dubbed by some, as the “Bronze Queen”; and there was Juliett Cuthbert; Jacqueline Pusey; and a number of others, who were the backbone of the Nation’s Female Sprinting hopes in international competitions, such as the Olympics; Carifta Games, World Championships and or the Diamomnd League.
These three women were the original vanguard and pillars of the Jamaican female track and field team. And when either of these women medalled and or ran, the entire nation was there cheering them on, as the pride and joy, it brought to a nation in various stages of national struggle, to cement its national and cultural identities. And our prowess on the international stage, was just one arena, in which Jamaica was asserting itself.
For many Jamaicans, who lived through the 70s 80s, and 90s before the emergence of a new cadre of runners, and upended the US, Russian And British Dominance; when Jamaican athletes competed back then, they were doing so at a disadvantage, as it was a commonly held belief, that the Americans, The Russiand and even the British, had been systematically, using performance-enhancing drugs, thus giving their Athletes an advantage, over their Jamaican competitors. Thus Merlene Ottey, Jacqueline Pusey; Grace Jackson-Small, Juliett Cuthbert, and all the other females who competed during that time period, were essentially cheated out of better medals and podium placings.
This feeling was not without foundation, as during the height of what was then the Cold War, the battlefield between the USA and the USSR and their Proxies, such as Britain, East Germany, and the satellite States of the USSR, was Track and Field and Cultural. Which saw the USA and USSR pumping Millions into Sports, to find creative ways to cheat, by using technology not available to others to boost their athletes’ performance.
It should be acknowledged, here that the majority of Athletes at the time who were recording above-par performances on the track, at the time, did not return any adverse results. It must also be noted that the consensus was this was not necessarily because they were clean, but that the science used to boost their performance, was way ahead of the technology being employed to to detect cheaters.
Many sporting enthusiasts, observers, and analysts, still think Ben Johnson, was not the only cheat at the Seoul Olympics, He was the only one who was caught and he was caught because the Canadians were not a part of the international cabal of sporting political dopers. In fact, many still question the supposed records set by Carl Lewis, Flo-Jo; and a number of other athletes at the time who were posting what appeared to be super-human results.
When Jamaicans from that era, hear names such as Flo-Jo(USA); Gwen Torrence (USA); Gail Devers (USA) Evelyn Ashford (USA) Katrin Krabbe;(Germany) Heike Drechsler (Germany) Grit Breuer (German); Sally Gunnell (Britain) and many others, whose ‘records’ and performances were regarded as suspect, and still treated with great skepticism, to this very day.
Sadly, over the period and subsequently, Jamaica has spawned several fabulous athletes who shone through the dark clouds of the US and Russian hegemony over Athletics, but many failed to get the accolades and or recognition, they earned and or deserved.
Today, we easily recall, Veronica Campbell-Brown; Novelene Williams–Mill, Two of the women were the frontrunners to today’s crop of mega-superstars, But let us never forget the foundation builders on whose shoulders, today’s mega stars stand.
And the next time we decide to throw around National Honours and Awards, as if they were cheap-confetti, let us remember the sacrifice, indignity, and ridicule, some of our people suffered, to create the atmosphere in which we built and nurtured athletes, who we now celebrate when they take to the Tracks in international Competitions, that redoubt to the fame and glory of
Jamaica, and the sense of vicarious triumph, and lustre, it provides Jamaicans, globally.
And as we look forward to the next Olympiad, and hope our Athletes will not peak before then, but continue to fly the national flag and stir national pride, let us recall some great sprinters of our time. Some, might have gone unheralded, but their contribution has been indelibly etched on our national psyche, for all times, as whenever they suited up and took to the stage, we were all there, on the Track, with them.
And lest we forget, the Jamaican Contingent to the worldgame and Olympics, have always included lesser ‘Stars”, than those whose contribution to the team effort, was no less important than those in the spotlight.
So, spare a thought for team Managers, Massage-Therapists, Doctors, and Handlers. Let us all acknowledge their contribution and pay them the tributes and respect they have silently earned. And as we honour them, let us recall those early stalwarts who fought the good and often lonely fight., that kept Jamaica in contention, over they years.
And so we recall and pay homage to the work and contribution of: the following female Athlete, lauding them as some of the greatest, to have emerged over they years. We have selected 10 of these athletes, not as a sign of disrespect to others, and especially to todays Super-Stars, but in acknowledgement of their forerunners, named and unnamed, as trailblazers.