Jamaica leads, Caribbean follows
Go Jamaica, the Caribbean is behind you.
Jamaica’s dominance of the sprints at the Beijing Olympics and now the Berlin World Championships is awe-inspiring but it shouldn’t obscure the fact that other Caribbean nations are holding their own as well.
As in China, the Caribbean presence in the shorter races has been strong here.
Five men from the region were in the 100 metres final – the record-breaking winner Usain Bolt and bronze medallist Asafa Powell along with rising talent Daniel Bailey of Antigua and Barbuda, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson and Marc Burns.
It got better in the women’s version with six, including an incredible four from Jamaica – winner Shelly Ann Fraser, silver medallist Kerron Stewart, the 2007 World Champion Veronica Campbell-Brown and Aleen Bailey.
The veteran Bahamians Debbie Ferguson McKenzie, a perennial finalist but non-medallist at world majors, and Chandra Stirrup, also contested honours.
Amid all the justified hoopla, it must be remembered that Bolt’s Berlin win was the first for the country in the men’s 100metres at these games.
But clearly more is to come.
The pedigree of Bolt and Powell is well-known but the likes of Thompson, 24, and Bayley, 22, represent evidence of Caribbean strength in depth.
Spare a thought for former world champion, Kim Collins of St Kitts and Nevis, who went out early and whose career is likely nearing an end.
As for Thompson, he told BBC Caribbean he was very satisfied with his seventh placed performance having being sidelined for two months after a New Year’s Day car accident.
Much was expected of him after his second-place to Bolt in Beijing, and his failure to make the anticipated advance has led to questions being asked of him by his countrymen.
“I’ve been through so much this year …” he said. “I have been criticised a lot, even by my own people in Trinidad. I go on message boards and reach what people say.”
Still, Thompson dedicated his performance to his country, saying the criticism motivated him as he believed that fans forgot about the accident.
Can he challenge Bolt some day?
“As it stands I am really far from Usain, he beat me by almost half a second. I am not going to get ahead of myself and say I’m going to challenge Usain.
"But I can assure that I will be working hard to achieve my best, and hopefully one day my best will be the best ever. Who knows?”
Who knows, indeed, whether Thompson can deliver a global crown for Trinidad and Tobago as Ato Boldon most recently did?
Bailey is the training partner of Bolt and could often be seen joking with the triple record holder at the starting blocks.
He declined to speak to BBC Caribbean but he told the IAAF’s Focus on Athletes project that he was tired of seeing Antigua and Barbuda missing from the athletics map, so to speak.
“Jamaica has been doing it (winning medals), Trinidad and the Bahamas have been doing it also, so why can’t Antigua do it,” Bailey asks.
A fourth place finish in Berlin suggests that medals could be around the corner for the Antiguan (he says he has never been to Barbuda) as well as the drag racing car that he is planning to buy after a breakthrough season.
As for the women, it appears to be all Jamaica for now as Ferguson-McKenzie and Stirrup near retirement.
Stirrup won a relay world gold as far back as 1999 while Ferguson-McKenzie’s remarkable consistency has regrettably not been rewarded with individual honours.
The IAAF says that she has uniquely contested both sprint finals in three successive Olympic Games. Not even the great Merlene Ottey achieved that, even though, of course, she reached more finals, but not all consecutively.
Before the final, Ferguson-McKenzie told BBC Caribbean she was tired of the bridesmaid’s role.
Once again, she can partly blame the Jamaicans, for whom Beijing bronze medallist Olympic Sherone Simpson was absent through injury, but can celebrate being a member of a dominant Caribbean sprint force.