Fri | Dec 8, 2023

The rich legacy of Jamaican track and field

Published:Sunday | September 3, 2023 | 7:51 AM

Herb McKenzie passing the baton to George Rhoden in the famous relay at the Helsinki Olympic Games in July 1952.
Herb McKenzie passing the baton to George Rhoden in the famous relay at the Helsinki Olympic Games in July 1952.

Jamaica, a land of vibrant culture, stunning landscapes, and warm spirits, has a history steeped in accomplishments and resilience. Beyond the scenic beaches and reggae beats, the nation’s prowess in track and field has left an indelible mark on the world stage. As we delve into the annals of history, we uncover tales of determination, missed opportunities, and record-shattering triumphs that have forged a legacy of excellence.

The narrative of Jamaica’s track and field journey can be traced back to the early 20th century. In 1908, the remarkable athlete GC Foster found himself barred from competing in the London Olympics due to Jamaica’s absence from the International Olympics Organization. However, from these beginnings, the seeds of greatness were sown. Foster later emerged as a distinguished coach, setting the stage for the nation’s future athletes to rise to the occasion.


Among these rising stars was the young Norman Manley from Jamaica College. His remarkable feat in setting the 100-yard record in 1911 stood unbroken until 1952. Had circumstances aligned differently, he could have graced the Olympic finals in 1912 and 1916, a testament to the untapped potential of the island’s talent.

Jamaica gained international recognition in 1930 when Joseph McKenzie won a silver medal in the high jump at the Central American and Caribbean Games. Herb McKenzie, Arthur Wint, George Kerr, and Leslie Laing broke the world record in the 4x400-yard relay at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

From that moment, the baton of excellence has been passed from one generation to the next. The 1970s marked a turning point, with Donald Quarrie’s golden performance in the 200 meters at the 1972 Montreal Olympics heralding a new era of Jamaican sprint dominance. With each stride, each leap, and each record broken, Jamaica’s athletes have demonstrated not only their physical prowess, but also their unyielding spirit and determination.

Inspired by Jamaica’s track and field champions, “be athletic in your way of life” encourages dedication, perseverance, and belief in one’s own potential. Their stories highlight their limitless potential, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.

Be athletic in your way of life, for within you lies the potential to break through barriers, set records, and emerge victorious in every endeavour you pursue.

Contributed by Dr Lorenzo Gordon, who is a diabetologist, internal medicine consultant, biochemist, and a history and heritage enthusiast. Send feedback to