History of Jamaican athletics

History of Jamaican athletics

This article is about the history of Jamaican athletics from the 1930s to present.

In 74 years Jamaica has won 38 Commonwealth Golds, 7 World Championship Golds and 13 Olympic gold medals in athletics alone. Jamaica has a population of 2.6 million people the 137th biggest country in the world by population. Their current Gross domestic Product (GDP) nominally is $11.2 billion which ranks 108th in the world.



In 1930 Jamaica entered its first-ever athletics team into an international competition. It was the 1930 Central American and Caribbean Games. Joseph Mackenzie won a silver medal in the high jump with a jump of 1.75m. In 1934 Jamaica entered their first ever team into the British Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games) the team won a silver in swimming and Bernard Leopold Prendergast won a bronze in the discus throw with a throw of 40.23m. This was their first major athletics medal.


The first part of the forties was interrupted by the Second World War. 3 years after the war in 1948, Jamaica made their first ever Olympic appearance at the London Olympics and surprised the world by winning 1 gold and two silvers. These medals were won by Arthur Wint and Herbert Mckenley and started a great sprinting tradition. These two men are regarded as the pioneers of Jamaican athletics. In the 400m final McKenley ran out of steam in the last 100m and Wint passed him to become Jamaica’s first Olympic Gold Medallist. Wint narrowly missed out on a Gold in the 800m but still went home a hero.


In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics Jamaican heroes Arthur Wint and Herb Mckenley were back along with George Rhoden and Leslie Laing. Together these four made up the gold medal winning 4x400m relay team team becoming the only team other than the Americans to hold a 4x400m world record by running 3:03.9 in the final. George Rhoden led a Jamaican one,two with Herb Mckenley in the (individual) 400m and Mckenley won his second silver in the closest 100m in Olympic history. Wint won another silver in the 800m. Jamaica finished a remarkable 13th in the medal table ahead of the likes of Japan, Great Britain and Canada.

At the 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Jamaica one won gold courtesy of Keith Gardner in the 120 yard hurdles. Jamaica sent one sole competitor to the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne. It was Keith Gardner but he failed to get through the first round leaving Jamaica with no medals.

At the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games Jamaica won a record haul of 4 golds, 2 silvers and 1 bronze. Paul Foreman led a Jamaican one-two with Deryck Taylor in the long jump, Ernest Haisley won gold in high jump and Keith Gardner retained his 120yards hurdle title by setting a new commonwealth record of 14.0 seconds and won another gold in the 100yards.


Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados entered a joint team known as the British West Indies Federation (BWI). The team won two bronzes from George Kerr in the 800m and the men’s 4 x 400m relay team of Kerr, James Wedderburn, Keith Gardner and Malcolm Spence. At the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games Jamaica won two athletics golds. One in the Men’s 440 yards from George Kerr and one from the Men’s 4x440yards team of Kerr, Lawrence Khan, Malcolm Spence and Mellville Spence. Kerr then followed up with silver in the 880 yards. Unfortunately at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 Jamaica failed to win any medals. The 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games were the first to be held in Jamaica and the first outside the “White Commonwealth”. Much to the disappointment of the Kingston crowd, Jamaica didn’t win any gold medals. Carmen Smith and Una Morris became Jamaica's first major female athletics medalists by winning a silver and bronzes respectively. The Jamaican Men’s 4x110yards team of Lynnsworth Headley, Mike Fray, Pablo McNeill and Wellesley Clayton also got silver and there were another three bronzes won by the team on the track. At the 1968 Olympics Lennox Miller won a silver medal behind record breaking Jim Hines in the 100m and the Jamaican 4x100m relay team was a huge gold medal prospect as they had the 100m silver medalist Lennox Miller, they smashed the world record in the heats but Errol Stewart, Mike Fray, Clifton Forbes and Lennox Miller could only manage fourth place in the final and looked on as the Americans broke the world record they had set only a day before. Jamaica left Mexico with a sole silver medal.


In 1970 Jamaica equalled its 1958 record haul in the 1970 British Commonwealth Games of 4 golds 2 silvers and a bronze. Marilyn Neufville won gold for Jamaica in the 400m after switching to Jamaica from her adopted nation, Great Britain. A nineteen year old Donald Quarrie won two golds by winning the sprint double and led a one-two with Lennox Miller in the 100m. The men’s 4x100m team of Carl Lawson, Don Quarrie, Erroll Stewart and Lennox Miller also won gold.

At the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich it was once again Lennox Miller that won the sole medal this time it was bronze. The 1974 British Commonwealth Games were held in Christchurch, New Zealand. Quarrie retained his Commonwealth Gold Medals. In 1976 Donald Quarrie managed to become Jamaica’s first Olympic champion in 24 years when he won the 200m at the Montreal Olympics. Donald also finished second in the 100m, which earned him a silver medal. In 1978 Donald Quarrie won the 100m Commonwealth Gold for the third time in a row. The Men’s 4x400m relay team of Bertland Cameron, Clive Barriffe, Colin Bradford and Floyd Brown won silver. Colin Bradford won bronze in the 200m and a another bronze with the Men’s 4x100m team of Errol Quarrie, Floyd Brown and Oliver Heywood.


At the 1980 Moscow Olympics Jamaica won a bronze medal in cycling and won two more bronze medals in athletics. Thanks to Donald Quarrie in the 200m and 20 year old Merlene Ottey became the first female athlete from an English speaking Caribbean island to win an Olympic medal after winning bronze in the 200m. The 1982 Commonwealth Games was where Ottey won her first gold medal, in the 200m by setting a new commonwealth record of 22.19 seconds. She also won silver in the 100m and helped the Jamaican women’s 4x100m team of Cathy Rattray-Williams, Grace Jackson and Leileth Hodges to bronze. Bertland “Bert” Cameron became 400m Commonwealth champion winning him Jamaica Sportsman of the year.

In 1983 the first ever World Championships in Athletics were held. This gave Jamaican athletes more opportunities to win major medals. Bert Cameron became the first ever 400m World Champion. Merlene Ottey also got silver in the 200m.

At the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 Merlene Ottey-Page won two bronzes. The Men’s 4x100m team of Albert Lawrence, Gregory Meghoo, Donald Quarrie and Raymond Stewart won Olympic silver as well. Jamaica boycotted the 1986 Commonwealth Games over Margaret Thatcher's stance on aparthied era South Africa. They were however at the 1987 World Athletics Championships. There were no gold medallists but Raymond Stewart won silver in the 100m and Merlene Ottey won two more bronzes to put in her medal cabinet. The Men’s 4x100M team of John Mair, Andrew Smith, Clive Wright and Raymond Stewart won another bronze to add to the medal tally. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul Grace Jackson won one silver in the 200m and so did the men’s 4x400m relay team of Howard Davis, Devon Morris, Winthrop Graham and Bert Cameron. Surprisingly Merlene Ottey didn’t win any medals at these games.


The early nineties was a successful time for Jamaican athletics with Merlene Ottey on top form. The decade started with the Commonwealth Games in Auckland. Ottey won the sprint double just like Quarrie had done 26 years before her. Both men’s relay teams won bronzes. The 4x100m team featured Clive Wright, John Mair, Raymond Stewart and Wayne Watson. The 4x400m team featured Wright, Devon Morris, Howard Burnett and Mair. Next up was the 1991 World Championships in Japan the only gold was the women’s 4x100m team of Dahlia Duhaney, Juliet Cuthbert, Beverly McDonald and Merlene Ottey. Winthrop Graham managed silver in the 400m hurdles and Merlene Ottey once again won two bronzes and the men's 4x400m team of Patrick O'Connor, Devon Morris, Winthrop Graham and Seymour Fagan also won bronze giving Jamaica a record World championship medal tally of 1 gold 1 silver and 3 bronzes .

The next Olympics were in 1992 and Jamaica had many athletes capable of winning the Olympic Gold medal but none rose to the occasion. Juliet Cuthbert came close but could only manage two silvers and Winthrop Graham won silver in the 400m hurdles behind record breaking Kevin Young. Merlene Ottey won a fourth Olympic Bronze and many were starting to say she should retire.

A year later Ottey proved the critics wrong by becoming world 200m champion at the age of 33. She then won silver in the 100m. At the 1994 Commonwealth Games two young athletes were the only gold medallists 25 year old Michelle Freeman won gold in the sprint hurdles and 22 year old Inez Turner won gold in the 800m. Merlene Ottey retained her 200m crown at the 1995 world championships in Gothenburg. Once again she won 100m silver. At this champiionships Jamaica achieved another record haul of 1 gold 4 silvers and 2 bronzes.

Many believed the 1996 Olympics would be Ottey’s last as she was then 36. Ottey won silver in the closest women's Olympic 100m in history as her and Gail Devers were given the same time of 10.94 but the judges gave it to Devers on the photo finish. Like Herb Mckenley 44 years before her this was the closest Ottey ever was to an individual Olympic Gold medal. She also won a silver in the 200 and showed no signs of stopping. At this Olympics Ottey’s achievements were overshadowed by Jamaica’s first Olympic champion since Donald Quarrie and first female Olympic champion. Her name was Deon Hemmings and she won the 400m hurdles in a new Olympic record of 52.82. James Beckford also managed a long jump silver medal. The next year at the 1997 world championships, Jamaica won no golds but managed 3 silvers. Alexandra "Sandie" Richards won silver in the 400m. Olympic champion Deon Hemmings won silver in the 400m hurdles and women’s 4x100m team of Beverly McDonald, Merlene Frazer, Juliet Cuthbert and Beverly Grant won silver. In Kuala Lumpur for the 1998 Commonwealth Games Jamaica managed 4 golds Gillian Russell set a new commonwealth record of 12.7 seconds in the 100m hurdles. Sandie Richards won gold in the 400m with a new commonwealth record of 50.17. Dinsdale Morgan won gold in the 400m Hurdles and the men’s 4x400m team of Davian Clarke, Gregory Haughton, Michael McDonald and Roxbert Martin won gold in a new Commonwealth record to cap off a successful games. The 1999 Worlds were the last championships before the new millennium. Jamaica won no golds but Beverly McDonald won silver in the 200m. The rest of the team won 5 bronzes.

Early 2000s

There was a lot of controversy before the Millennium Olympics which almost resulted in Jamaica being thrown out of the competition. The reason was that there were protests in the Olympic village because they believed Merlene Ottey had bullied herself into the team as she had finished fourth in the trials but made the team ahead of Peta-Gaye Dowdie who finished ahead of her in the trials. Jamaica won no gold medals at the 2000 Olympics but Lorraine Fenton in the 400m, defending Olympic champion Deon Hemmings in the 400m hurdles, women’s 4x400m relay team with Sandie Richards, Catherine Scott, Deon Hemmings, Lorraine Fenton and the women’s 4x100m team featuring Tanya Lawrence, Veronica Campbell, Beverly McDonald and 40 year old Merlene Ottey all won silvers. This made Ottey the oldest ever athletics medallist. A year later Ottey started competing for Slovenia because of the 2000 controversy. The 2001 World Championships was next and Jamaica won gold thanks to the women’s 4x400m team of Sandie Richards, Catherine Scott, Debbie-Ann Pariss and Lorraine Fenton's world leading run. Christopher Williams and Lorraine Fenton both got well earned silvers.

2002 was a record breaking year for Jamaica as they won a record haul of medals at the Commonwealth Games . In total they won 4 gold medals 6 silvers and 7 bronzes. Claston Bernard won the Decathlon gold. Elva Goldbourne leaped to long jump gold. Michael Blackwood sped to 400m gold and Lacena Golding-Clarke glided to 100m hurdles gold.

2003 was disappointing for Jamaican athletics they won no golds at the world championships but James Beckford in the long jump, Lorraine Fenton in the 400m, Brigitte Foster-Hylton in the (100m hurdles and the Men’s 4x400m team (Brandon Simpson, Danny McFarlane, Davian Clarke and Michael Blackwood) all won silver.

2004 was lit up by Jamaican golden girl Veronica Campbell, first she won bronze in the 100m, next she won gold in the 200m then she anchored the 4x100m team of Tanya Lawrence, Aleen Bailey and Sherone Simpson to a famous victory she also became the first Caribbean woman to win a sprint event. Danny McFarlane then won a surprise silver medal in the 400m hurdles.

In 2005 Jamaica received a record haul of medals they won 1 gold medal 5 silvers and 8 bronzes. Trecia Smith won the gold in the triple jump. Jamaica finished 5th in the medal table ahead of Great Britain and Germany.

More records were broken at the 2006 Commonwealth Games as Jamaica got 10 golds more than double the previous record. In total they won 10 gold medals 4 silvers 8 bronzes. Gold medallists was the then World 100m record holder Asafa Powell in the men's 100m, Sheri-Ann Brooks in the women's 100m, Maurice Wignall in the 110m hurdles, Trecia Smith in the triple jump, Tanto Campbell in the Men’s seated discus throw, Omar Brown in the 200m, Brigitte Foster-Hylton in the 100m hurdles, Men’s 4x100m team of Ainsley Waugh, Asafa Powell, Chris Williams and Michael Frater and the Women’s 4x100m team of Daniele Browning, Peta Dowdie, Sheri-Ann Brooks and Sherone Simpson.

2007 was yet another record breaking year for Jamaican athletics as there was another record haul at the 2007 World Championships Veronica Campbell won the only gold but in total the team won 1 gold medal 6 silver and 3 bronze.

In 2008 21-year old Usain Bolt proved Jamaica's dominance in the 100m which isn't his favoured event, first running 9.76, becoming second on the all-time list and then on 1st June 2008 he ran 9.72 breaking the 100m world record held by fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell by two hundredths.

Beijing 2008:"Sprint Dominance"

The first week of the 2008 Summer Olympics was quiet for Jamaica, but on Saturday 16th August, Bolt won their first of many gold medals by smashing his own 100 m World Record by 0.03 seconds in the final, recording a time of 9.69 s. In the process he became the first man to go under 9.70 seconds. The feat was made more remarkable by the fact that around 15-20 m from the line, Bolt slowed down and started to celebrate early by lowering his hands and slapping his chest. There was no wind to either hinder or help his progress (+0.0 m/s), also it turned out that one of his shoelaces came undone during the race. Asafa Powell and Michael Frater also raced for Jamaica in the final, finishing fifth and sixth respectively.

The next day was the women's 100 m which was expected to be Jamaica vs the United States. Jamaican Kerron Stewart had looked impressive in the earlier rounds, but in the final, Fraser finished well ahead of the field with Stewart and Sherone Simpson getting joint silver medals after recording identical times. This made Jamaica the first country to get a clean sweep in the women's 100 m.

However more was to come as on Tuesday,19 August. Shericka Williams won silver in the women's 400 m by passing the favourite Sanya Richards (who herself is Jamaican- born), on the home straight. This medal gave Jamaica a tally of 2 golds, 3 silvers and no bronzes.

On the 20th August Bolt was back to compete in the final of the 200 m sprint. Before the race there was a lot of speculation over whether he could break Michael Johnson's 12 year-old World Record of 19.32 seconds. In the race, Bolt had a good start and came down the home straight with a considerable lead, continuing to pull away from the rest of the field. He passed the line in a new World Record time of 19.30 seconds. Giving Jamaica a third gold and making him the first man to complete the sprint double since Carl Lewis in 1984, and the first Jamaican to win two gold medals at one Olympics. The same day, Melaine Walker won the women's 400 m hurdles event in a new Olympic Record time of 52.64 seconds.

On the 21 August Jamaica completed a clean-sweep of all the individual sprints (100 and 200 m), and confirmed the nation's dominance when Veronica Campbell-Brown won the women's 200 m event, with Stewart taking bronze.

On the 22nd August, the Jamaican women's and men's 4 x 100 m relay teams took to the track. Their chances for victory were boosted when both American 4 x 100 m teams were kocked-out in the heats. The women's team of Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart and Veronica Campbell-Brown were the first on the track, going reasonably well until the third changeover between Simpson and Stewart, which was poorly timed and resulted in the disqualification of the entire team. However, the men's team consisting of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell were next. Their own runs went without any problems, Powell received the baton from Bolt well ahead of the other teams, crossing the line in both the fastest electronically timed anchor run ever (8.70 seconds), and an overall World Record time of 37.10 seconds. This was a full 0.30 seconds quicker than the previous world record of 37.40. Bolt now had three gold medals and three World Records to his credit.

Jamaica's last medal of the games came in the women's 4 x 400m relay. The team of Shericka Williams, Shereefa Lloyd, Rosemarie Whyte and Novlene Williams claimed bronze. This finally gave Jamaica a medal tally of 6 golds, 3 silvers and 2 bronzes, smashing the previous national record that was set in 1952, and finishing 13th in the medal table.

Youth athletic development in Jamaica

Most Jamaican schools have an athletics program in the curriculum, so Jamaican children are into athletics at a young age. Budding young athletes have to impress at primary school level as this can get them recognised by good athletics schools like Kingston College and Vere Technical High. The most important athletics event in Jamaica is the VMBS Boys and Girls Athletics Championships which begun in 1910 at Sabina Park and were won by Wolmer's High School, these championships are a chance for athletes under 19 show off their talents to national and overseas coaches. These championships are incredibally popular in Jamaica and the athletes are normally competing to crowds of 20-25,000 people which is good preparation for major championships and some of the championship records are world class. The championships are the climax of a series of athletics meets for under-19s in Jamaica and this is similar to the grand-prix series which is normally climaxed by a major championships in Senior athletics. Dominant athletes are normally picked for the Penn Relays which is a competition where the best Jamaican schools and universities compete against the best American schools and universities. Herb McKenley entered the first Jamaican high school team in to the Penn Relays in 1964 and since then Jamaicans have won more than half the events.

Jamaicans in America

Many Jamaican athletes chose to train in the United States to use the better facilities. There are currently 21 Jamaican coaches in American universities. The American university system gives athletes the chance to continue their academic studies and train to become an international athlete at the same time. Over 200 Jamaican athletes train in America. Most of Jamaica’s successful athletes have come through the American collegial system, including Jamaican pioneers Herb McKenley, who attended the University of Illinois, Leslie Laing, who attended University of California and George Rhoden, who attended Morgan State University. Although in Jamaicans are starting to stay in Jamaica with successful results.

Coaching in Jamaica

In recent years Jamaican athletes have decided to stay in Jamaica to train. Stephen Francis a Jamaican coach created the MVP (Maximising Velocity and Power) club in 2001 based in University of Technology (U-tech), Kingston. He created this club because he felt Jamaican athletes were becoming "Americans" not interested in coming back to Jamaica. In 2001 Bridgette Foster-Hylton came from America and joined this club. Foster was an unknown in the first year so no one was interested in sponsoring her. Francis sold his car to keep funding the club. In late 2001 Asafa Powell an athlete with a personal best of 10.70 joined the club. In the years to come Asafa Powell smashed the 100m world record twice. Bridgette set a new national record in the 100m hurdles and is now Commonwealth champion. Sherone Simpson hadn’t won a race and since joining the club she is now one of the world’s top sprinters and Olympic silver medallist. Francis also coaches 100m Olympic Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser, Olympic 400m silver medallist Shericka Williams and 400m hurdles Olympic Gold medalist Melaine Walker. Francis has also influenced the careers of Ainsley Waugh and Germaine Mason. Jamaica's recent successes are thanks to home based coaches like Stephen Francis and if Jamaica can continue producing coaches like Stephen Francis they will remain successful. A few years ago the Jamaican Amateur Athletic Association (JAAA) built the High Performance Training Centre in U-tech to try to get athletes to stay in Jamaica since it was built there is now several high profile athletes from all over the Caribbean training there including triple Olympic champion Usain Bolt.

Jamaican-born athletes who have competed for other countries

Many Jamaican-born athletes have chosen to compete for other nations. Linford Christie was born in Saint Andrew, Jamaica he immigrated to Britain at the age of seven and competed for them. He won three European Championship golds, three Commonwealth golds, one World gold and an Olympic Gold medal in the 100m. Tessa Sanderson was born in Saint Catherine, Jamaica she immigrated to Britain she won two Commonwealth golds and an Olympic Gold for her adopted nation. Former world record holder Donovan Bailey was born in Manchester, Jamaica but immigrated to Canada at the age of 13. He went on to win 3 World Championship golds and 2 Olympic Golds for Canada. Sanya Richards was born in Kingston, Jamaica she moved to America at twelve years old. Despite being the daughter of a Jamaican football player Sanya chose compete for the United States. In 2005 she won a silver medal at the World Championships and in 2008 won Olympic bronze. Canadian drugs cheat Ben Johnson was born in Falmouth, Jamaica and immigrated to Canada at the age of 15 he has won two Olympic bronzes. Angella Taylor was born in Jamaica but competed for Canada. She won two Commonwealth golds it was later discovered that she was part of a doping regime with Ben Johnson. Sprinter Charmaine Crooks competed at four concsecutive Olympics for Canada winning a silver medal in the 4x400m relay but was actually born in Mandeville, Jamaica. High jumper Germaine Mason originally competed for Jamaica as he was born in Kingston but switched to Great Britain as his father was born there. He won an Olympic silver medal in 2008.

Athletes who have Jamaican parentage

There are also some star athletes with Jamaican parentage. Kelly Holmes’s father is Jamaican. Kelly won two Olympic Golds in 2004 and has won two Commonwealth Golds for Great Britain. Denise Lewis’s mother was born in Hanover, Jamaica. Denise won Olympic gold in 2000. She also won a European Championship gold and two Commonwealth golds. Both of hurdler Colin Jackson’s parents were born in Jamaica but he competed for Great Britain. Colin won two World Championship golds and an Olympic Silver. American sprinter Inger Miller is the daughter of Jamaican Olympic legend Lennox Miller. Inger won two World Championship golds. Italian long jumper Fiona May has Jamaican parentage. Fiona won two World Championship golds. Derrick Atkins won 100m silver at the 2007 World Championships he is the cousin of former world record holder Asafa Powell as his parents are originally from Jamaica.

ee also

*Jamaica at the Olympics
*Jamaica at the 2006 Commonwealth Games


Denise Lewis(2001) Personal Best London:Century ISBN:0712677372


[http://www.thecgf.com/sports/default.asp Commonwealth Games Results]

[http://www.jamaicans.com/culture/sports/index.shtml Jamaicans.com]

[http://www.pennrelaysonline.com Penn Relays Results]

[http://www.jaaaltd.com Jamaican Amateur Athletics Association]

[http://www.sporting-heroes.net/athletics-heroes/default.asp Sporting Heroes]

[http://www.todor66.com/olim/index.html Olympic Results]

[http://www.golocaljamaica.com/champs VMBS Boys and Girls Athletic Championship Results]

[http://www.jamaica-gleaner.com Jamaica Gleaner]

[http://www.talawah.com Jamaican Athletics Information and Results]

[http://www.olympic.org International Olympic Commitee]

[http://www.athletix.org/statistics/stats.html Athletics Statistics]

[http://en.beijing2008.cn/ 2008 Olympic Results]

[http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/olympics/2008/08/the_secrets_of_jamaicas_sprint.html BBC Article]

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