Athletics legend Usain Bolt should be held responsible for his behaviour after he tested positive for COVID-19, days after he was spotted with patrons sans social distancing and masks, for his surprise birthday party.

The Caribbean’s first female Olympic champion is about to receive a national honour from the Government of Jamaica.

As Jamaica celebrated its 58th year of Independence, her outstanding servants from various fields were announced to receive national recognition come Heroes’ Day October 19.

Twenty four years since shrugging off the challenge of Americans Kim Batten and Tonja Buford-Bailey in Atlanta, Hemmings-McCatty is finally receiving her due.

She is to be conferred with the nation’s fifth highest honor, the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander Class.

We could debate whether this honour is a number of years too late or even if Hemmings-McCatty should be receiving a higher accolade.

But for now, we say, well deserved.

Hemmings-McCatty was no ordinary servant of Jamaica’s track and field. She represented the country at three Olympic Games and won three medals; 2 in the 400 metres hurdles and one in the mile relay.

Since 1980, track and field enthusiasts across Jamaica, the Caribbean and the world felt that Merlene Ottey would be the nation’s first female Olympic Gold medallist.

Ottey, Jamaica’s first female world champion had been a consistent force in major events and therefore that feeling was not without a strong base.

In fact, at the 1996 Games, Ottey was denied achieving that feat by only thousandths of a second when victory in the Women’s 100 metres was awarded to American Gail Devers.

Ironically Hemmings-McCatty’s quest for Gold started the following day, July 28 and culminated on July 31.

Who can forget the voice of American commentator Carol Lewis belting, “… here comes Kim Batten.”

Batten, the world record holder at the time, was indeed making a strong push, but that season Hemmings-McCatty’s improved hurdling technique ensured there were no errors on her part as she smoothly maneuvered her way to victory, almost unbothered by the Americans who had sandwiched her.

Arms aloft as she crossed the line, the then 27-year-old, broke the Olympic record she had set in the semi-finals and became the first woman to run sub-53 seconds in the 400 metres hurdles in consecutive races.

While Atlanta 1996 was the crowning moment of her 11-year senior international career, Hemmings-McCatty’s legacy goes way beyond that.

At the Sydney 2000 Games, she overcame a period of injuries and backed up her “96 Gold with a silver-medal performance.

She also won silver as part of the country’s 4x400 relay team.

She was also a consistent force at the IAAF World Championships, winning four medals, 3 individual and a mile relay Gold, a first for the country, achieved at the 2001 championships in Edmonton, Canada. 

Since her retirement at the end of the 2002 season, she has given back to the sport in several ways, including serving as team manager for national teams and currently organises a development meet, specifically for schools in the Northern region, including in St Ann where she was born.

Not bad for a girl who was given a university scholarship “as part of a package deal” after her high school years ended at Vere Technical.

The record shows she is one of the best to have done it, and while, for whatever reason, the land of wood and water has taken some time to officially acknowledge that fact, we salute her and say thank you for being one of the best firsts to grace this blessed land.

There is something special about the first time.

The first time you saw your child walk or talk, first day of high school, first time you did something significant in sport from as small as the first match at any level all the way to a first World Cup, first century, first goal, first triple-double, first Gold medal for country.

No matter the level or scale, first times tend to be heartwarming and often unforgettable and not just for those achieving but equally for those witnessing it.

That is exactly how I feel about a Commonwealth Gold medal won by a Jamaican at the 2002 Games in Manchester, England.

Yes.

A commonwealth Gold medal.

It was won by Jamaica’s Claston Bernard in the Men’s Decathlon, making him the first Caribbean athlete to secure a medal in this event at the Commonwealth, World or Olympic level.

I was only 12 years old at the time and barely knew anything about the Games and it’s history but I vividly recall sportscasters and analysts discussing with shock that Bernard, a 23-year-old from St Elizabeth, Jamaica, was leading the Decathlon after day one.

Bernard had accumulated 4285 points on day one, almost 300 points clear of Scotland’s Jamie Quarry who had tallied 4015 points.

By the end of day two, shock had turned to celebration as sportscasters across various stations in Jamaica led with news that history had been created and the country had it’s first-ever Decathlon Gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games.

I myself beamed with pride and joy for a man I had never heard about before then, but one who was the country’s first.

By no means did Bernard hit his best performances in that competition. He ended up scoring 7830 points which was off his lifetime best of 8094 points set just over a month prior.

He also set just one personal best, 56.34 metres in the Javelin throw which all but secured victory.

However, at the time, I knew none of those details and to be honest, none of them mattered.

What mattered was that this former Munro College and Louisiana State University graduate had set a new standard and given hope to every young Jamaican and maybe even Caribbean athlete who might not be great at any one event but could deliver when 10 were combined.

Injuries hindered his overall development and he never quite hit the heights one would have hoped at the World Championship and Olympic levels but the foundation was set.

Since his triumph, the Caribbean has won three more medals in the Decathlon at the Commonwealth Games and one at the IAAF World Championships.

Maurice Smith, with a silver medal at Melbourne 2006, Grenada’s Kurt Felix with Bronze at Glasgow 2014 and his brother Lindon Victor with Gold at the 2018 Gold Coast Games are the English-speaking Caribbean athletes to have graced the Commonwealth Games medal podium since Bernard’s breakthrough.

Smith took an even bigger step when he became the first English-speaking Caribbean athlete to win a global medal in the event, silver at the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan.

Smith, for sure, who eventually competed alongside Bernard must have gained some inspiration from his fellow Jamaican.

And while we remember and celebrate Maurice’s effort at the global level, we must never forget that Claston Bernard, on July 28, 2002, made a significant contribution by becoming Jamaica’s first and the first for the English-speaking Caribbean.

Edwin Allen coach Michael Dyke accepts that good sense has prevailed, despite admitting the fact that the cancellation of this year’s Boys’ and Girls’ Championships has come as a significant disappointment for himself and athletes.

Earlier this week, the annual powerhouse track and field event was cancelled following a meeting between various stakeholders.  The meet became the latest in a long line of sporting events, both globally and locally, postponed or cancelled this month as the world struggles to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

Understandably, the news has not been greeted positively in all quarters, with some coaches calling the move a ‘stupid fix’ and insisting the decision was arrived at hastily.  President of the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Keith Wellington has, however, insisted the move was only taken after careful consideration.  Though insisting it was a disappointment, Dyke agreed that the safety of athletes and spectators should come first.

“Naturally I would have been very disappointed based on the fact that we have been preparing since September for the national girls' championships but it is a situation that we all have to understand and take into consideration the seriousness of the situation,” Dkye told SportsMax Zone in a recent interview.

“It is not just confined to Edwin Allen or Jamaica, but it is worldwide.  In my estimation the safety of the patrons and athletes must come first,” he added.

“You don’t want to allow people to be assembling in crowds like this because maybe at the end then you will find a lot more cases.  It would lead us to another situation where the blame game would have started, probably with the governing body or government.  In all of this, we have to put the student’s health on the forefront.”

The annual ISSA Boys and Girls Champs routinely draws crowds in excess of 25,000 at the country’s National Stadium.

 

President of the Bermuda National Athletics Association Donna Raynor has confirmed the fate of this year’s CARIFTA Games remains in the balance but has not yet been cancelled over the threat of the coronavirus.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on sporting events across the globe, with several already cancelled or postponed.  The 2020 CARIFTA Games is scheduled for Bermuda next month but the threat of the spread of the virus has put also put that staging in doubt.

“Basically, what we are in Bermuda is keeping a close on what has been happening with the Coronavirus, not only in Bermuda but in the Caribbean islands as well,” Raynor told the SportsMax Zone in an exclusive interview.

“One of our local organising committee members sits on the Health Organisation Committee of Bermuda and they are having a meeting tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss all of the sporting events that are taking place in Bermuda,” she added.

“We also have the international triathlon set to take place on the Friday after CARIFTA and of course that will involve several athletes from the US, Europe and so forth.  The only saving grace is that most of our athletes are coming from the Caribbean and on charters.  So far Bermuda hasn’t had anybody that has tested positive, but we cannot be confident it will take place.  We are ready to host the Games but we have to be directed by our government.”    

Initially, Raynor admitted that the body had been confident of being able to stage the event due to the limited footprint of the virus in the Caribbean so far.  With Jamaica confirming its first case on Wednesday and Canadian authorities claiming that one of their latest cases travelled to the country from Trinidad and Tobago, things could be about to change.  Trinidad and Tobago have, however, reported no cases so far.  The CARIFTA Games have been staged every year at various countries around the region since 1972.

“It changes the ballgame (Jamaica positive test).  Today it’s Jamaica, tomorrow it could be the Bahamas, the day after that Bermuda.  So that’s definitely shaken our confidence and we definitely cannot say it will take place.”

Former world record holder Asafa Powell is confident he will get to the elusive target of 100 sub-10 clockings sometime in the coming season, despite insisting that it is not necessarily a primary focus.

Powell, who set the world record twice, first in 2005 (9.77) before lowering the mark in 2007 (9.74), has the most sub-10 clockings in history with 97.  The 37-year-old has, however, been hampered by injury in recent years and has struggled to dip below the mark in recent years.

The runner has not managed to go below the mark since 2016, when he clocked 9.92.  With a solid preseason behind him, however, Powell feels he is ready to get back to his best form and achieving the target is well within his grasp.

“Based on how training has been going this year I expect it to be a walk in the park,” Powell said of getting to 100 sub-10 clockings.

“I’m not really focusing on that it will come naturally.  I’m focused on going to the national trials where you have to go sub-10 and on the Diamond League circuit you have to go sub-10, so I’m not focusing on it,” he said.

“I’m just taking it step by step and making sure I stay healthy.”

Former 100m record holder Asafa Powell has insisted he remains in great shape to compete despite being dismissed as an 'old guy' by a competitor at the Boston Indoor Grand Prix on Saturday.

In his prime, Powell cast an enviable figure for many sprinters, his picture-perfect running style taking him to a world record time of 9.77 in 2005 and then lowering that mark with a time of 9.74 in 2007.  The Jamaican went on to clock the most sub-10 second times for any sprinter with a total of 98.

In recent years, Powell, who has been plagued by injuries, has struggled to reach close to such heights.  On Saturday, the sprinter finished in 5th place in the men’s 60m, with a time of 6.71, expectedly well off his best of 6.44.  His efforts seemed to do little to impress United States sprinter Demek Kemp.  The 23-year-old South Carolina representative took the event in a personal best time of 6.50. 

"Feels great," Kemp said of the run.

"I had some good competition. Glad to have a personal record,” he added.

He clearly did not feel Powell was among them, however.

"He's an old guy," Kemp said when asked about competing against the Jamaican.

For his part, Powell, who insisted the run was about testing his legs, however, claims he is feeling as good as ever and is confident he should still be competing.

“I am still feeling very strong, still feeling as fast as I did years ago,” Powell told Track Alerts.

“With the entire Jamaica is motivating me, and with that kind of support, it’s hard to give up,” he added.

 

Jamaican sprint superstar Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce insists athletes should retire on their own terms not feel pressure to step aside due to factors like aging.

With sprinting and sports in general often considered the domain of younger athlete, Fraser-Pryce became one of several current stars willing to buck that trend after capturing gold at the Doha World Championships last year.  In the process, she became the oldest woman to ever win 100m gold at a global championship.  The 33-year-old also became the only sprinter to be crowned world champion over the 100m four times (2009, 2013, 2015 and 2019) and the first woman to hold dual world and Olympic titles on two separate occasions.

With 10-years having passed since she made her debut as a 21-year-old at the 2008 Olympic Games, her achievements are as much a testament to her longevity as much as it is to her talent.

“The last time I won this award was 2015 and to be here over a decade later still representing the unique legacy that we have here for Jamaica in sprinting and athletics is a huge honour,” Fraser-Pryce said.

“I hope that with this award a lot more athletes can understand that there is so much more to us as athletes and so much more to give.  You decide when its time to go,” she added.

Fraser-Pryce registered another milestone two years ago when she took time off from the sport to have her first child.

 

Promising young Jamaica sprinter Christania Williams has left the local MVP Track Club to join Florida-based Tumbleweed Track Club in the United States.

The 25-year-old Williams, a former high school standout star at Jamaican high school Edwin Allen, is considered by many as one of a new generation of talented athletes expected to continue the country’s success.

Williams was part of Jamaica’s silver medal-winning team in the 4x100m relays at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games and claimed bronze, in the same event, at the London World Championships a year later.  The sprinter, who holds personal best times of 10.96 in the 100m and 23.48 over the 200m, was a double silver medallist at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia in 2018.

The sprinter will join the likes of compatriots Omar McLeod, the 110m Olympic champion and World Youth Champion Christopher Taylor.  Williams is the second top-ranked athlete to leave the MVP Track Club this season with hurdler Megan Tapper having left at the start.

 

Double sprint world record holder Usain Bolt has offered words of encouragement for athletes preparing to take part in the 2020 Youth Olympics in Lausanne.

A total of 1783 athletes from 79 nations are expected to compete in some 81 events over the next month.  His native Jamaica will not be among them, with the Caribbean represented at the winter event by Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago.

The former sprinter took the time out to wish all the young competitors about to take part in the event good look and encouraged them to enjoy the experience as they reach for their dreams.

“That’s where I started, that’s where your future starts to take shape,” Bolt said via a video message.

So, go there and do your best and enjoy yourself.  That’s the key thing.  Enjoy the experience.  You’re this young.  Take your time develop and get great,” Bolt added.

The Jamaica speeders would know all about excelling at the youth level after claiming gold medals in the 200m, 4x100m and 4x400m relays at the 2002 World Junior Championship in Kingston and gold in the 200m at 2003 World Youth Championships in Sherbrooke.  Bolt went on to win a total of 20 Olympic and World Championship medals in a stellar career.

 Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake believes he has suffered from competing in the same era as compatriot and athletics great Usain Bolt.

The 29-year-old Blake has recorded some stunning achievements of his own on the track, in a career that has also been hampered by injury.  His best times over the 100m (9.69) and 200m (19.26) are the second-fastest ever recorded over the distances.  Bolt still holds both world records.

In addition, Blake claimed the gold medal at the 2011 Daegu World Championship and silver medals in both the 100m and 200m at the 2012 London Olympic Games.  On both occasions, the sprinter finished behind his illustrious teammate Bolt.  Once thought as the natural successor to the athletics sprint throne, Blake then suffered major hamstring injuries in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons.  While insisting that he is satisfied with what he has achieved in the sport to date,  Blake believes things could have been different had he been born in another era.

"I would be the fastest man in everything. I feel like I was born in a wrong time. But nevertheless, I am happy with what I have achieved,” Blake told reporters recently.

“It would be hard to top Usain because it was his time and it was hard to compete against him. The first time I beat him in Kingston, I had to work day and night to do it."

Heading into the 2012 Olympics Blake defeated Bolt over both the 100m and 200m at the Jamaica National trials but never managed to repeat the feat.

If dreams come true, United States sprinter Noah Lyles could be the new 100m world record holder before even setting foot in the Tokyo Olympics final.

The 22-year-old American sprinter has been one of a handful of prominent stars to emerge from the pack as up and coming athletes chase the legacy of Jamaica sprint king Usain Bolt.  Despite being universally acknowledged as a tremendous talent and winning his first major title earlier this year, which was the 200m at the Doha World Championships, for now, Lyles remains firmly in the Jamaican's big shadow.

In addition to boasting eight Olympics and 11 World Championship gold medals, it is Bolt who still holds the records for the fastest times ever clocked over both the 100m (9.58) and 200m (19.19).  The American has already at least broken one of Bolt’s records in pursuit.  Earlier this year, the young sprinter broke Bolt’s meet record at the Paris Diamond League.  Lyles clocked 19.65, eclipsing the Jamaican's previous time of 19.73.  With the Olympics on the horizon, the American has much bigger hopes, well bigger dreams in any case.

“I’m very excited for Tokyo. Japan is one of my favourite countries outside the US. I’ve got big plans,” Lyles told Olympic.org.

“I’ve got a dream that I ran 9.41 in the semis at the Olympics,” he added.

The athlete must, of course, secure himself a spot on the United States national team before having a chance to chase his dream.

 

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