By Zaheer E. Clarke
Originally aired July 23, 2016, via Zaheer’s Zone on Sports Nation Live
Published July 31, 2016, in the Jamaica Observer
Republished August 8, 2016
34 Jamaican women will participate in the 2016 Olympics in Athletics, Swimming and Gymnastics. Who are the likely candidates to take home Olympic medals?
The Olympics are less than two weeks away and unsurprisingly, experts, on the streets and in the studios, are predicting the medal hauls for their respective countries. Of interest to many locally are Jamaica’s medal prospects at Rio. Thirty-four women will be representing Jamaica in Swimming, Athletics, and Gymnastics at the 2016 Rio Olympics. In reality, only a small fraction of the number of the Jamaican female athletes in Rio will return as Olympics medallists. Truthfully, the expectation is that the Jamaican women will snatch approximately six to seven medals. Therefore, who are the Jamaican women likely to medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, and in which events?
At the Rio Olympics, Manchester native, Elaine Thompson, the future darling of Jamaica female sprinting, is our best medal prospect on the women’s side. She will be contesting the women’s 100m and 200m, where, for 2016, she is ranked number one and number four in the world respectively. Thompson’s standout performance at the Jamaica Senior Championships earlier this month, when she equalled the national record with 10.70s in the 100m, and her breakout performance at the 2015 World Championships, when she ran 21.66s in the 200m, confirms her growing pedigree as Jamaica’s best bet. Based on her lifetime bests, she is ranked as the fourth-fastest woman of all-time over the 100m and the fifth-fastest woman of all time over the 200m. She’s expected to mine gold or silver in both events, with her main rival being the other breakout athlete from last year, the Netherlands’, Dafne Schippers.
Also, in the 100m, two-time Olympic Champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is listed as a potential medallist, with a bronze being most likely if she can overcome a persistent season-long toe injury. Fraser-Pryce, the joint fourth-fastest woman of all-time in the 100m, has not broken 10.90s in 2016, with 10.93s being her season’s best. This is extremely unlike the last Olympics and World Championships where she entered those with best times of the year, before eventually winning. This distressing 2016 season is eerily similar to 2011 when she placed fourth at the Daegu World Championships. Her championship mettle will be severely tested, with strong competition from the Americans, English Gardner or Tori Bowie, for bronze. Fraser-Pryce will be in a full-fledged fight to be amongst the medals and she is not expected to abjure. If coach Stephen Francis can stabilize her dangling left hallux (big toe) and she ultimately prevails, it would only further enlarge the reputation of Francis’ athletes peaking at major championships and further cement Fraser-Pryce’s championship heart.
STEPHENIE ANN MCPHERSON
Shericka Jackson, Christine Day and Stephenie Ann McPherson are all expected to make the 400m final at the Rio Olympics. Ironically, McPherson, who came fifth behind Jackson and Day in the finals of the 400m at the 2015 World Championships, has leapfrogged both women as the leading Jamaican candidate to capture a medal. McPherson has been the form athlete from Jamaican this season. She is ranked sixth in the world this year at 50.04s and is the fourth-fastest woman – this season – down to contest the 400m in Rio. Interestingly, world champion Allyson Felix – if healthy – the super fast and world-leading Bahamian Shaunae Miller, the surprise entrant South African Caster Semenya, along with the Jamaicans and the rest of the Americans could make this women’s 400m, arguably, the most competitive race this year. Nevertheless, the belief is that McPherson is poised to mine a medal, even a bronze.
The true revelation of this season has been Janieve Russell, Jamaica’s 400m hurdler, who is ranked third in 2016. Russell was one of four Jamaican athletes granted medical exemptions from the Jamaican National Senior Championships and when healthy, she is a strong medal prospect in the 400m hurdles. Her personal best of 53.96s was run in Rome this year and in Rio, she will be the second fastest woman down to start the event. If she lines up, is healthy, fit, and still in top form, then she’ll be a shoo-in for a medal in Rio. The colour of the medal, however, this far out, is as unpredictable as the weather forecast.
Though Jamaican women have dominated the flat 100m at the Olympics in the past two editions, capturing at least two medals on both occasions, they have failed, however, to snare the gold medal in 4x100m relays. The only time they have won it was in 2004 when vanguard Veronica Campbell-Brown anchored the team home. Interestingly, this time, she might be the one leading off the team in the quest for gold. Three of the six women in the Jamaica relay pool are in the top-10 over the 100m this year, therefore, a silver medal at minimum is expected. Nevertheless, with all sprint relays, the baton exchanges are important. The US team is the defending Olympic champions and is the stronger team individually, with five of the six women in their relay pool in the top-10 for the 100m this year. Nonetheless, it wouldn’t be surprising if a mixture of youth, past failures and experience propel Campbell-Brown, Fraser-Pryce, Thompson and newcomer Christania Williams towards gold.
Jamaica has won the 4x400m women’s relay twice at the World Championships, in 2001 in Edmonton, Canada and last year in Beijing, China. However, Jamaica has never won this women’s relay event at the Olympics Games. Jamaica’s best performance was in the 2000 Sydney Olympics when they won silver with the likes of Sandie Richards, Deon Hemmings, Lorraine Graham and others. Jamaica won the 4x400m women’s relay at the World Championships last year with the second-fastest time by a Jamaican quartet. This is arguably Jamaica’s best generation of women 400m runners. Albeit, the US is heavy favourites to win. Jamaica only has two of the top-10 women over 400m this year in their relay pool. Astonishingly, all six runners in the US relay pool are in the top-10. All things being equal, a silver medal is expected for Jamaica. However, all Jamaicans worldwide are hoping and expecting more.
OUTSIDERS & LONG SHOTS
- Kimberly Williams and Shanieka Thomas in the triple jump. Both are in the top-7 in the world this year and finished fifth and eighth respectively at last year’s World Championships. They will need to do lifetime bests close to 15.00 m in order to make the podium.
- Shericka Jackson and Christine Day in the 400m. Both finished third and fourth respectively at 2015 Beijing World Championships are expected to reach the 400m finals. The 400m women’s field is extremely deep, however, with Herculean feats, albeit a long shot, either of them could be amongst the medals.
- Alia Atkinson in the 100m breaststroke. She is ranked 12th this year in the event. If she can find her seemingly lost mojo of 2014 and 2015 in the pool – when she medalled at the Short Course and Long Course World Championships – then she’ll be among the medals again.
So, from the women’s events, Jamaica is expecting two medals in the women’s 100m, one in the 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles, as well as two from the relays: 4x100m and 4x400m. Henceforth, that is seven medals from the females. There’s a probability that Jamaica might miss one of these medals with one of the outsiders taking up the slack. Nevertheless, if the women do this well, coupled with men’s expected performance, this might be Jamaica’s best overall medal haul yet at an Olympic Games.
Next time Daveon Nugent will look at the likely medallists among the men.
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is a freelance sportswriter, who was flushed with immense pride when at the 1996 Olympics Deon Hemmings became the first Jamaican woman to win an Olympic gold medal and remembers being overtaken by a similar feeling when he had watched Juliet Cuthbert and Merlene Ottey cop medals at the 1992 Olympics.