At first glance, Glasgow is hardly a place where you’d expect Caribbean sportsmen to thrive. Yet, despite rainy weather, that’s exactly what happened at the 20th Commonwealth Games in July. Led by Jamaica, Caribbean athletes won 11 gold, 9 silver and 17 bronzes to outstrip the 21 medals won at the 2010 Games.
Michael Alexander of Trinidad and Tobago beat Barbadian Cobin Breedy in the 60 kg quarterfinals to secure a medal. He got the bronze as he lost his semifinal to the eventual runner-up, John Joseph Fitzpatrick of Northern Ireland.
Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace of the Bahamas and Jamaica’s Alia Atkinson both were 2012 Olympic swimming finalists, with Arianna becoming the first Bahamian woman to do so. In Glasgow, she made history again. Faster in every round, she placed second in the 50 metre Freestyle to Francesa Halsall of England. Her silver is the first swimming medal for her country in Games history.
Atkinson set Games records on her way to the 50 metre butterfly medal swim but unlike Vanderpool-Wallace, she was slower in the final. That cost her. She took second in a loss to Leiston Pickett of Australia. She also took the bronze medal in the 100 Butterfly.
In-form Malawi had experts contemplating a shake-up at the top of world netball. However Jamaica beat the Africans and later squeezed through a play-off for the bronze medal against England 52 to 48.
Caribbean strength in track and field was on full display. Not only did Jamaica come close to topping the athletics medal table but there were also a number of historic firsts. Kirani James set a Games 400 metre record of 44.24 seconds and gave Grenada its first Commonwealth gold medal. His teammate Kurt Felix chipped in with a third place finish in the decathlon, another first for Grenada.
With a history in the women’s 400 metre hurdles that includes 2 Olympic champions, it was a surprise that Jamaica had never won the event at the Commonwealth Games. Kaliese Spencer put an end to that anomaly in 54.10 seconds. Jamaican newcomer Janieve Russell was third.
That was part of a Jamaican gold rush. Kemar Bailey-Cole, Rasheed Dwyer, Stephanie McPherson, Odayne Richards, Andrew Riley and Kimberly Williams won the men’s 100, 200, the women’s 400, the men’s shot put, the 110 metre hurdles and the women’s triple jump respectively. Dwyer, the surprise Jamaican champion, led Olympic bronze medal winner Warren Weir and Jason Livermore to a historic medal sweep in the 200. McPherson, Novlene Williams-Mills and Christine Day copied that 1-2-3 in the 400.
Richards made history in the shot put. He launched his shot 21.61 metres, a national record and a Games record. It was the first Jamaican victory ever in a Commonwealth throwing event.
Olympic javelin champion Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago seemed set for gold after a national record throw of 85.28 metres in qualifying. Then the weather turned against him. Sadly, rain precipitated to a loss to Kenya’s Julius Yego.
Jamaica surged with three relay wins. The first came with McPherson closing a Games record in the 4×400. In the men’s 4×400, veteran star Chris Brown uncorked a 44.4 second anchor leg to pull the Bahamas from fourth to second and just short of the winning English team. Trinidad and Tobago placed third with 400 bronze medallist Lalonde Gordon on the first leg.
Superstars Shelly-Ann Frazer Pryce and Usain Bolt anchored Jamaica’s 4×100 teams to victory. Their world leading times – 41.83 seconds for the ladies and 37.58 seconds for the men with 100 3rd placer Nickel Ashmeade on the third leg – were staggering for a cold and rainy night.
That brought Jamaica level with Kenya on 10 gold medals in track and field but Kenyans outscored Jamaica 10 to 3 on silver medals.
Cleopatra Borel, the current queen of Caribbean shot putters, finished second. Her Trinidad and Tobago teammate Ayanna Alexander took third place behind Jamaica’s Williams in the triple and St Lucian star Levern Spencer won a second successive bronze medal in the high jump.
Jason Morgan took a bronze medal in the discus, the first in that nation’s Games history.
Behind Riley’s gold medal run in the 110 hurdles, Shane Braithwaite took the bronze for Barbados. In the 400 metre hurdles, some might have expected World Champion Jehue Gordon to win. However, in a season where he has focused on his UWI studies, he was beaten by Cornel Fredericks of South Africa. He dived at the finish to protect the silver medal from Jeffery Gibson whose time of 48.78 seconds was a Bahamian record.
In the end, it was a solid all-round regional performance with many firsts and one which points the way to Rio and the 2016 Olympics. All things being equal, the weather there should be much better.
HUBERT LAWRENCE has attended the Olympics in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.