Obadele Thompson – the man whose 10-second effort brought Barbados a place in track and field history

By Ricardo Chambers July 01, 2020
At right: Obadele Thompson finishing behind Maurice Green at the 2000 Olympic Games in Athens. Inset: Obadele Thompson (at left) celebrates his bronze medal. At right: Obadele Thompson finishing behind Maurice Green at the 2000 Olympic Games in Athens. Inset: Obadele Thompson (at left) celebrates his bronze medal.

There are those great singular moments in sports that often define how an athlete’s career is celebrated.

A goal in the 90th minute of an important football game, a six off the final ball to win a tight World Cup cricket match or a buzzer-beating three pointer in the NBA playoffs.

Such moments can really serenade one’s memory.

The name Carlos Brathwaite will not be forgotten for a long time to come, not because of any great consistency but because of one stunning performance where he hit four sixes in the final over to propel West Indies to the ICC World T20 title in 2016.

The satisfaction of such a performance tends to linger and endears the sportsmen and women to those they satisfied with that one amazing effort.

Some sportsmen are gifted enough to reproduce performances of that ilk but there are others whose careers are characterized by a single achievement – and that is perfectly fine.

Barbadian sprinter Obadele Thompson can be placed in that category.

It isn’t to say Obadele didn’t have a noteworthy career overall - because he did.

He won an IAAF World Indoor 200m silver medal in 1999, a Commonwealth Games 100m bronze in 1998, a World University Games Gold over 100 metres that same year plus multiple Central America and Caribbean Championships and Games Gold medals.

However those performances, by themselves, might have been lost on the regular track and field fan if not for one stand-out performance. 

Obadele competed at three Olympic Games between 1996 and 2004.

He made an Olympic final on all three occasions but it was the night of September 23, 2000 that defined his life’s work in track and field.

Stoned-faced and focused, there was a sense of determination as he lined up for another shot at glory.

But when the gun went, he slowly picked up from the blocks. It was exactly the type of start no-one wants in an Olympic final.

Thoughts of his narrow misses in global finals must have flashed through his mind but the experience of fourth place finishes in the Atlanta 1996 200m final and both the 100 and 200 metres at the 1999 IAAF World Championships must have aided his composure as he produce a strong last 40 metres to motor by more fancied rivals like Britain’s Dwain Chambers and Jon Drummond of the United States.

It wasn’t his fastest ever performance but those 10.04 seconds have been his most celebrated, certainly in Barbados where they will recognize it for generations to come.

Surprisingly there were no great celebrations on the part of Obadele. There wasn’t even a smile visible from the television shots.

A congratulatory embrace with the men who finished ahead of him, Maurice Greene of the United States and Caribbean rival Ato Boldon followed and then a glimpse of what it meant to the then 24-year-old.

As he walked away from those embraces, and further out of camera shot there was a quiet pump of the fist – He had finally done it, independent Barbados finally had an Olympic medal.

When one thinks of Obadele Thompson his consistency in making Olympic finals might be mentioned.

For the record he competed in four of them.

But what Barbados, the Caribbean and indeed the world will remember, is his bronz-medal-run in Sydney Australia.

That performance, and the many one-off stunners in the world of sport deserve to be honored just as they live on in the memories of many.

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