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Usain Bolt and the fabulous Jamaicans!

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

On Sunday afternoon, 27 July 1952, the Jamaicans had a date with destiny or with further disappointment. Before the relay race began, the religious Rhoden led the team in a circle of prayer. The pressure seemed to be getting to Wint, who, incidentally, went on to become his country’s high commissioner in the UK (and ambassador to Sweden and Denmark) from 1974 to 1978. While warming up, he broke three nails in his boots and lost his vest. The team’s American coach, Joe Yancey, drove at breakneck speed back to the Olympic Games Village to pick up a spare set of boots, and Wint snatched a vest from Rhoden.

Even more extraordinary, it is reported that Hans Geister of Germany turned up without his shorts and had to turn to a colleague in the stands for a spare set. Surely that sort of thing could not happen in front of all the television cameras in London 2012 – could it?

McKenley, like Wint, who had won silver in the 800 metres, must have been near to exhaustion from his hard-run close finishes in the 100 metres and 400 metres (as well as the preceding heats). After a false start by the Germans, the race got underway and the Jamaicans were alone with the Americans, a few other athletes, and, above all, their own nerves.

The intensity of the occasion and the after-effect of his earlier efforts, took their toll on Wint. Running the first leg this time, he came in at 46.8 secs, a metre down on Ollie Matson of the USA.

Laing, more at home over the shorter distances, could not compete with Gene Cole, who stretched the Americans’ lead to a commanding 20 metres. Even so Laing kept going and at the end of the leg, which he ran in 47.0 secs, the distance separating the teams was down to a “manageable” 15 metres.

McKenley had to run the third leg against the 400 metres hurdles gold medalist, Charlie Moore, who had beaten him previously over 600 metres. It was a difficult, almost hopeless, task.

Herb was in the same position in which Wint had found himself in London – starting the third leg 15 metres behind the American. McKenley did not repeat his compatriot’s mistake of setting off too quickly. He remembered the words of his former coach, Leo Johnson: “When you are behind, Herb, eat it up a little at a time!” And that is just what he did.

Cheered on by the crowd, McKenley gained swiftly but surely on his rival. Moore, out in front, was at a disadvantage because he could not see where his adversary was and how quickly he was closing on him.

He found out only one stride from the handover as McKenley passed him after having run an outstanding 44.6 sec – that was over a second faster than the time in which Rhoden had won the individual event. It was Rhoden, too, who now took up the baton. The advantage had moved to the Jamaicans because Whitfield was suited better to the 800 metres, in which he had won the gold medal to repeat his victory in London.

On the final lap, neither man yielded an inch but with Rhoden coming home in 45.5 sec, it was enough to give Jamaica the gold medal in the world record-breaking time of 3:03.9 min (a bare tenth of a second ahead of the Americans with 3:04.0 min).

The islanders celebrated a triumph which, while admitting the subsequent performances years later of George Kerr, Lennox Miller, Don Quarrie and Merlene Ottey, was not approached until the success of Usain Bolt (twice in individual events), Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, Melanie Walker and both the men’s and women’s 4 x 100 metres relay teams, caused the Jamaican victory anthem to be sung and their flag to be raised seven times over the stadium at Berlin in 2009 – a competition in which this small island finished second to only the mighty USA in the number of medals won.

The baton which Arthur Wint let slip on the grass with such anguish in 1948, and which was taken up by himself and his colleagues to win gold and break the world record four years later, has been passed to another generation.

The Jamaicans are back in town, in London, and it is also exactly 60 years after they set that world record. The wheel has turned full circle and there is again much to celebrate.

Written By
New African

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