For a country of just 3 million people, it’s amazing how talented Jamaican sprinters are. And this is not just a recent development with Usain Bolt famously winning the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the 2008, 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics and Elaine Thompson accomplishing the same double at the 2016 Games. Jamaicans have claimed Olympic medals in races up to 800 meters in length on 75 occasions, which account for 96% of the medals that this island nation has claimed; the other three of these 78 were in the long jump (two) and cycling (one).
Origins of Jamaican sprinting success
It all started in 1948. It was in that year when a group of Jamaicans crossed the Pacific Ocean to take part in the Games being held in London, the first Olympics since the end of World War II. Jamaicans quickly showed their prowess on the track in their first appearance on the worldwide stage. The first Jamaican gold medal was taken back to the Caribbean by Arthur Wint after he sped past the field in the 400-meter run while he and countrymate Herb McKenley also took home silvers.
Resumption of Jamaican influence on the track
After Jamaicans took two golds and three silvers from track competitions at the 1952 Olympics in Finland, they did not medal again until the 1968 Games, which were attended without crossing an ocean, in nearby Mexico City. Although only one medal was won by a Jamaican then, it was in, of course, the 100-meter dash. Lennox Miller accomplished that impressive feet with a silver-medal placing. He also started a historic stretch of Jamaicans winning at least one medal at every Games since, including at both the 1980 and 1984 Games; much of the world had boycotted one or the other.
Jamaicans in NCAA track
So many Jamaicans follow up competing at the Inter-Secondary School Sports Association Championships in front of 30,000 at the country’s national stadium with doing the same for top college teams in the United States and Canada.
In fact, that is the primary goal for many as, according to Rolando Berch at the 2010 Championships, “that’s why most of us do track and field in this country,” to earn that college education that would not otherwise be possible. Fortunately for Berch, he ended up attending and competing at Johnson C. Smith University and even came in third at the NCAA Division II Track and Field Championships in the 400-meter dash.
Some who do head north for the greater riches available in those countries need to send money to Jamaica to help take care of loved ones there. Those who are in that situation discover that wire transfer comes in handy in getting that money to where it needs to go as quickly as possible.
Future of Jamaican sprinting
The future of Jamaican sprinting appears promising as the combination of athletes hungry for success combined with the quality coaching that’s available in this country is expected to allow Jamaica to continue to churn out fast athletes who will put on shows for the world for some time. In fact, many say that Jamaica’s Olympic trials are a sort of mini-Olympics on their own with non-qualifiers often significantly faster than many from elsewhere who qualify for the Games.
One of the ones who college track and field coaches and fans of this sport around the world are already keeping a close eye on is Tina Clayton. The 14-year-old claimed the country’s high school championship in the 100-meter dash in March with a blazing speed of 11.27 seconds, the fastest time in that event ever recorded by a 14-year-old.
Will she be bringing her own gold medals back to Jamaica? Only time will tell, but it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that several Jamaican athletes will prevail in various events up to 800 meters in 2020 in Tokyo, in 2024 in Paris and in 2028 in Los Angeles as all of this promise shows fruition on the world stage. Jamaicans have won at least nine track and field medals at every Games since 2008, and this trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.