When multiple World Record (WR) holder Usain Bolt graced the tracks of the London Olympic Stadium for the last competitive race in his career – the men’s 4x100m relay final, not a few would have wondered if Jamaica’s fortunes in the sport would remain the same after his exit.
Even more sobering was the less-than-perfect manner the legendary sprinter called time on his illustrious career, with a Bronze in the 100m and a Did Not Finish (DNF) in the 4x100m after succumbing to a torn hamstring on the anchor leg of the relays. This sort of anti-climax only seemed to further reinforce the sentiment that an uncertain future lay ahead for Jamaica’s Athletics.
Bolt not retaining his titles in the 100m and 4x100m was not the only downside to Jamaica’s participation at the 2017 World Championships. Elaine Thompson who had been tipped to win the women’s 100m GOLD, finished a shocking 5th in the race that was snatched by USA’s Tori Bowie. Alas, Omar McLeod was the only Jamaican athlete who finished with a GOLD medal in London, while Ristananna Tracey and the women’s 4x100m team ended with Bronze medals.
This performance saw Jamaica finishing joint 15th with the Netherlands on the medals table as USA reclaimed its No.1 spot in the world. Kenya, which topped the medals table in Beijing in 2015, finished 2nd, while South Africa placed 3rd. This position is Jamaica’s lowest placing on the medals table in about 14 years, and a far cry from their Top 5 position since 2009.
And so it will not be out of place for fans and stakeholders alike to worry about Jamaica’s fate in the post-Bolt era, seeing that the sprinter is responsible for a good number of medals the country has amassed at the World Championships and Olympics since Beijing 2008 where he broke the WR in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m.
Prior to Bolt’s spectacular breakthrough in 2008, Jamaica had finished in 8th position at the 2005 and 2007 editions of the World Championships, but in 2009, the country moved up to the 2nd spot after Bolt won three GOLD medals and set WRs in all three events, with only the USA finishing ahead of them on the medals table. However, it must be said that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce also contributed to Jamaica’s medal haul after winning the women’s 100m and anchoring the 4x100m team to victory as well.
Jamaica occupied the 3rd spot on the medals table in 2011 and 2013, and then moved up to 2nd in 2015.
Looking at Jamaica’s performance at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, long before Bolt’s appearance on the stage (at senior level), the country finished in 26th position in Athletics due to the absence of a GOLD medal in any event, despite winning a total of nine medals.
At the next edition of the Olympics in Athens, despite winning a less tally of medals (five), Jamaica finished joint 7th with Cuba with two GOLD, one Silver and two Bronze medals, with Veronica Campbell-Brown and the women’s 4x100m relay team accounting for the two GOLD medals.
The Caribbean nation moved to 3rd place on the medals table in Beijing four years later, with Bolt accounting for three of the six GOLD medals Jamaica secured in Track and Field, and he would go on to replicate the same feat in London four years later, and then in Rio in 2016, with Jamaica finishing 2nd on the medals table in 2012 and 3rd in 2016.
And while the rest of the world may feel that Jamaica has depended too much on the sprinting superstar such that the country’s fortunes are not likely to remain the same following his retirement, Jamaican stakeholders think otherwise.
In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, the Assistant Coach of Calabar High School, Yanik Morrison had this to say:
“Jamaican Athletics is in a good position. Usain Bolt is someone who has done so much for the country, so much for the sport, and so much for Jamaican athletes, that they now believe they can achieve what they want. He has set the trend and most athletes want to be like him – most of those here want to take it professional.
“We have a lot of youngsters coming through and they just need to believe they can do it and use what Bolt has done as initiative to achieve their dreams. As a country we can stay on the map. It will be a lot of work, but there are definitely more kids coming through.”
Christian Coleman ran the fastest time in the world in 2017 and is one athlete to watch out for in future.Considering the fierce rivalry that exists between Jamaica and the USA, especially in the sprints, the Americans would not be resting on their oars and will seek to prove that they remain the No.1 sprinting nation in the world. The US returned to the No.1 spot at the 2017 World Championships with an impressive haul of 30 medals, and will be hoping to extend that dominance for as long as possible.
Also helping USA’s case is the array of young talent that are already setting impressive markers, talking about the likes of Christian Coleman who finished ahead of Bolt twice in London, won a Silver medal behind Justin Gatlin, and also ran the fastest time in the world in the 100m last year; and Noah Lyles who won the 2017 IAAF Diamond Trophy in the 200m.
However, Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) second vice-president and Olympian Vilma Charlton believes that 2017 was only an off year for Jamaican athletes, and is confident of the country’s ability to still rule the world, Bolt’s retirement notwithstanding:
“Since 2002 we have been endowed with many, many stars, male and female; not one or two, but many. Last year Usain Bolt retired while some females had a break in their career for one reason or another.
“However, we will not declare a drought of stars as, with development programmes such as ours, we will continue to unearth new talents. We will not see another phenomenal athlete like Usain Bolt for a very long time, but we will produce stars who will shine and rise to the top,” Charlton said to www.jamaicaobserver.com.