Usain Bolt and the fabulous Jamaicans!

Usain Bolt and the fabulous Jamaicans!
  • PublishedJanuary 25, 2012

Then it happened…

As McKenley waited for the handover to run the last leg which would have given him a share in the gold medal, he heard a groan from the crowd and saw that Wint had fallen on the track. He had gone down with a pulled muscle as if he had been shot from the stands – his arms went up, he staggered, and as he sprawled on the grass the baton slipped from his hand.

“Get up, get up,” screamed McKenley. Rhoden fell to his knees and wept. Laing blamed himself for setting his teammate too tough a target. With the Jamaicans out of contention, Whitfield completed the gold medal run for the USA.

The losers could only contemplate what might have happened … and what might happen again if they got to the next Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952.

Well, they got there easily enough. The Jamaicans’ form held up so well in the intervening years that they still had only the Americans, and themselves, to fear.

McKenley, with two individual gold medals and one silver, and Rhoden, with one gold and one silver, performed well in the 1950 Central American & Caribbean Games in Guatemala City.

Competition in Helsinki, however, was generally tougher all-round than it had been in London because the powerful Soviet Union team, which had missed the 1948 Games because of the ravages of the Second World War, along with the defeated nations Germany and Japan, had now returned to the fold.

The hosts, Finland, had a strong athletics tradition going back to the achievements of their long-distance runners and national heroes Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen from 1912 to 1928.

Scandinavian fans had already taken the Jamaicans to their hearts – especially after McKenley’s outstanding performance in winning the 400 metres in 46.1 sec in pouring rain in Stockholm shortly after the 1948 Games, and with Rhoden setting a new world record for the same distance of 45.8 sec at Eskilstuna, Sweden two years later.

McKenley, though regarded as being the best athlete of the four, was destined never to win an Olympic Games individual gold medal. He came close here – very close – twice.

Although the joint world record-holder, Emmanuel McDonald Bailey, a colourful Trinidadian running for Great Britain, was favoured to win the 100 metres, McKenley fared so well in the heats of this shorter distance that he came into the final with a very good chance of winning.

The Jamaican started badly and then cut through the field. He outpaced McDonald Bailey and appeared to have crossed the finishing line a fraction ahead of Lindy Remigino, a comparatively little-known American: indeed, the first three runners finished almost together in a time of 10.4 seconds. Alas, it was not to be.

Intense study of the photograph (today’s sharp technology was not available then) showed that McKenley had been edged out by what was described as being “the skin of his right shoulder”.

Three Jamaicans were “in the running” for the gold medal in the 400 metres – McKenley, Rhoden and Wint – with Whitfield once more their chief challenger.

Wint, as if he had not learned from his experience in the relay in London, set out like a rocket but in the third 100 metres he lost ground to his team colleagues.

In the outside lane, Rhoden held the advantage. McKenley came back at him strongly, as he had against Remigino, and as in that race the first two competitors crossed the line in the same time (45.9 secs). Once again, too, he lost out on the gold medal – by the proverbial hair’s breadth. It was particularly disappointing because McKenley had finished ahead of Rhoden in the semi-finals. He was left with only the 4 x 400 metres relay to improve on his double silver.

Written By
New African

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