Gold standard: the Caribbean’s Olympic contenders for Rio 2016

When it comes to athletics, the Caribbean — Jamaica in particular — has dominated the field for the past decade. And as the 2016 Olympics open this August in Rio de Janeiro, all eyes will be on Usain Bolt and his peers from across the region. Kwame Laurence profiles some of our leading Olympic contenders

Ian Walton/Getty ImagesUsain Bolt. Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty ImagesKeshorn Walcott. Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty ImagesKeshorn Walcott. Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesKirani James. Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty ImagesShelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty ImagesMachel Cedenio. Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesShaunae Miller. Photo by Stu Forster/Getty ImagesMichelle-Lee Ahye. Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty ImagesOmar McLeod. Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesAkela Jones. Photo by Alexander HassensteinJehue Gordon. Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty ImagesAlia Atkinson. Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty ImagesLázaro Álvarez. Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images

Come August, Caribbean eyes will be firmly focused on the João Havelange Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the athletics venue for the 2016 Summer Olympics. The region has made its reputation in athletics, and that tradition will continue at the Rio Games, running from 5 to 21 August.

Jamaica will lead the charge in Rio, and the headline acts are expected to be two-time defending sprint champions Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. The 100-metre dash is the blue-riband event at the Olympics, and no athlete has won it three times — yet. Both Bolt and Fraser-Pryce are expected to contest the century at Rio 2016, and on 13 August Fraser-Pryce will have the opportunity to be the first to win three titles. If she fails to complete the hat-trick in the women’s final, Bolt will get his chance one day later to become the first Olympic 100 three-peat champion.

Bolt, the only man with more than one Olympic 200-metre gold medal, will also bid for a third straight half-lap title. And another Jamaican, Veronica Campbell-Brown, the 2004 and 2008 women’s 200-metre champion, could be among the contenders once again. While three in a row is no longer a possibility, she has a shot at becoming the first three-time champ.

Campbell-Brown’s fellow Jamaican Elaine Thompson is among the women expected to challenge her for that 200-metre title. At twenty-four, Thompson is ten years younger than Campbell-Brown, and set to become a global superstar. At last year’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing, the supremely talented sprinter captured silver in 21.66 seconds, the clocking earning her fifth spot on the all-time world list. Thompson could also challenge in the 100 metres, along with Trinidad and Tobago sprinters Michelle-Lee Ahye and Kelly-Ann Baptiste.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Jamaicans Bolt, Yohan Blake, and Warren Weir finished one-two-three in the men’s 200 metres. Blake, who also earned the 100-metre silver in London, lurks as a potential threat to Bolt. Factor in the 2008 100-metre silver medallist Richard “Torpedo” Thompson, his T&T teammate Keston Bledman, Jamaican Asafa Powell, and forty-year-old St Kitts and Nevis sprinter Kim Collins, and the Caribbean is again guaranteed a strong Olympic sprint presence.

Meanwhile, Kirani James will bid to repeat as men’s 400-metre champion. The one-lap event could also feature his fellow Grenadian Bralon Taplin, the Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos, T&T’s Machel Cedenio, Deon Lendore, and Lalonde Gordon, and Jamaican Javon Francis.

T&T’s Keshorn Walcott is the defending men’s javelin champion, and should be among the favourites in Rio. Jamaican Omar McLeod is a strong contender for men’s 110-metre hurdles gold. And in the one-lap hurdles, T&T’s Jehue Gordon and Puerto Rican Javier Culson will hunt precious metal.

Bahamian Shaunae Miller must fancy her chances in the women’s 400 metres. And there are other Caribbean women to look out for in Rio. The list — not an exhaustive one — includes Jamaica’s reigning 100-metre hurdles world champion Danielle Williams, Cuban world pole vault champion Yarisley Silva, T&T shot putter Cleopatra Borel, and Barbadian heptathlete Akela Jones.

 

Usain Bolt

Jamaica, athletics

Usain Bolt is the greatest sprinter in history. The statistics attached to the Jamaican megastar’s name make it almost impossible to challenge that declaration: six Olympic gold medals; eleven world titles; the 100-metre world record, 9.58 seconds; the 200-metre world record, 19.19 seconds.

But is Bolt the greatest sportsman of all time? How does he match up against the likes of football’s Pelé, tennis player Roger Federer, basketball’s Michael Jordan, boxing’s Muhammad Ali? The Bolt that showed up at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing last year made a strong claim for the “world’s greatest” label. In the men’s 100-metre final, he clocked 9.79 seconds to retain his title.

Though only six men in history have run faster, the winning time was pedestrian by Bolt’s lofty standards. And striking gold at major global meets is what Bolt is about, so nothing new there. But there was something special, extra special, about this particular victory.

Justin Gatlin was the favourite for gold, heading into the championships — and for good reason. The drug-tainted American dived under 9.80 seconds four times on the road to Beijing, and added another in the semi-final, topping heat two in 9.77. Bolt, meanwhile, was not enjoying his best season. Plagued by injury, he raced sparingly in his World Championships build-up. And in stark contrast to Gatlin, the Jamaican sprint great only managed a 9.96-second run in winning his semi-final heat, following a stumble in the early stages of the race.

But Bolt in a championship final is a horse of a different colour. Dominant in his two previous World Championship 100-metre triumphs, as well as his two Olympic victories, Bolt was made to work hard, very hard, in the Beijing 2015 final. Getting to the line ahead of Gatlin was an uphill battle, but the twenty-nine-year-old Jamaican was equal to the task. Bolt beat Gatlin by just one-hundredth of a second, his grit and determination in securing that narrow win showing him to be the ultimate sprint warrior.

Next stop for Bolt is the 2016 Olympics. This will surely be his last Olympic Games, and he’ll do everything in his power to ensure a golden farewell.

Bolt’s very first Olympic gold medal was earned eight years ago at the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing. What a performance! A world-record run of 9.69 seconds, and a huge two-tenths of a second cushion on silver medallist Richard “Torpedo” Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago. Bolt followed up with another world record, winning the 200-metre final in a jaw-dropping 19.30 seconds. Two gold medals and two world records. But the young man from Trelawny was not done. Running the third leg for Jamaica, he teamed up with Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, and Asafa Powell for 4×100-metre gold in a world record time of 37.10 seconds.

Four years later, at the London Olympics, Bolt recorded another triple triumph. He won the 100-metre dash in 9.63 seconds and topped the 200 field in 19.32. Then, in the sprint relay, Bolt performed anchorleg duties for the victorious Jamaicans, combining with Carter, Frater, and Yohan Blake for a world record run of 36.84 seconds.

The 200-metre final was a momentous occasion for Jamaica. Following Bolt to the line were two of his Racers Track Club training partners: Blake, the silver medallist in 19.44 seconds, and Warren Weir, who clocked 19.84 to bag bronze.

There’s no doubt Jamaica will again be in the headlines at Rio 2016. And the podium charge will be headed by a living legend: Usain St Leo Bolt.

Date of birth: 21 August, 1986
Height: 1.96 m
Weight: 88 kg
Olympic highlights: 2008 men’s 100, 200, 4×100 gold; 2012 men’s 100, 200, 4×100 gold
World records: 9.58 (100), 19.19 (200), 36.84 (4×100)

 

Keshorn Walcott

Trinidad and Tobago, athletics

The Keshorn Walcott story is an amazing one. Walcott was fifteen when he first tried his hand at the javelin. Mere months later, he was in St Lucia representing Trinidad and Tobago at the Carifta Games, an annual meet featuring the best youth athletes in the region. The Toco teen struck gold in the boys’ under-17 javelin. Walcott’s overnight success was a clear indicator that he was born to throw.

Three straight Carifta Games under-20 titles between 2010 and 2012 meant that Walcott left the junior ranks with an unbeaten record at the regional championships. But while his Carifta career was stellar and he celebrated with a record throw of 77.59 metres in his swansong performance in Bermuda, there were far more significant achievements to come in 2012.

Walcott travelled to El Salvador, where he retained his Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Junior Championship title with an impressive 82.83-metre effort — a new meet record. Then came the IAAF World Junior Championship title in Barcelona, Walcott becoming Trinidad and Tobago’s very first global throwing champion. Clearly, this was a young man with the potential to beat the world. He was one for the future. No one, though, could have predicted “the future” would come so soon.

Less than one month after his World Juniors success, Walcott captured the Olympic title. Nineteen-year-old Walcott shocked the world, an 84.58-metre throw earning him top spot at the London Games. At last, 1976 men’s 100-metre champion Hasely Crawford had company in the elite club reserved for Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic gold medallists.

In addition to becoming the country’s second Olympic champion, Walcott had the distinction of being just the second athlete from the western hemisphere to capture the Olympic men’s javelin title, and the first black male thrower to secure gold in 116 years of the modern Olympics.

Hampered by an ankle injury, Walcott was unable to make an impact in 2013. In 2014, he seized Commonwealth Games silver in Glasgow. And the 2015 season was a mixed bag: Pan American Games gold; an injured ankle; a superb 90.16-metre throw that earned him fourteenth spot on the all-time world performance list; a twenty-sixth-place finish at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, with a 76.83-metre effort.

It is now 2016, and Walcott is preparing for what he hopes to be a second triumph in as many Olympic appearances. “My expectation is to go and defend my title by any means . . . just go back and win the gold. That’s basically my goal for Rio,” he says.

“The lesson I have learned from 2012 to now,” Walcott continues, “is that you need to listen to your body. When it tells you to stop, you need to stop. When it tells you to rest, you need to rest. I have also learned in the past four years about some of my better abilities in throwing and some of my greater strengths, which can aid me in my quest to throw further.”

Walcott has been an inspiration to many, his Olympic success encouraging a throwing culture in the sprint-focused Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago’s Shakeil Waithe and Tyriq Horsford and Grenada’s five-time Carifta Games champion Anderson Peters are among the region’s thriving javelin throwers. “It’s proven,” says Walcott, “that once somebody does something, others will follow, and others will try to surpass. So, knowing that competition is coming up, you have to do better and better every time to try to stay on top, not just in your country but in the world.”

So Walcott is working hard on the road to Rio, maintaining a single-minded focus as he bids to stay at the top of the Olympic podium.

Date of birth: 2 April, 1993
Height: 1.88 m
Weight: 90 kg
Olympic highlight: 2012 men’s javelin gold
Personal best: 90.16 m

 

Kirani James

Grenada, athletics

Kirani James was only eighteen when, in 2011, he became world champion in the men’s 400-metre event, his 44.60-second run in Daegu, Korea, setting off Carnival-style celebrations in Grenada. But that global triumph was merely the prologue. There was more to come from the teenager from the fishing village of Gouyave in St John’s, Grenada. The following year, James scorched the 400-metre track in 43.94 seconds to strike gold at the 2012 Olympics in London, becoming Grenada’s first Olympic champion and the island’s first-ever medallist on the world’s biggest sporting stage. James led a Caribbean sweep of the 400-metre medals, the Dominican Republic’s Luguelin Santos and Trinidad and Tobago’s Lalonde Gordon earning silver and bronze, respectively.

Like most sports-minded boys in this region, James was not one-dimensional in his athletic pursuits. “I grew up playing basketball and a bit of soccer,” he says, “but then I figured out that track and field was the best choice for me.”

The athletics world too is better off because of that excellent choice. In 2009, James travelled to Bressanone, Italy, where he captured the IAAF World Youth Championship boys’ 200-metre and 400-metre titles. One year later, at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada, the affable Grenadian was golden in the men’s 400.

SpeedZone coach Albert Joseph was responsible for Kirani’s development in the embryonic stage of his career. One of his early triumphs in Grenada colours came at the 2006 Caribbean Union of Teachers (CUT) Games in St Lucia. “I won the 400 metres and came second in the 200 metres,” James remembers. “I realised I could compete with the powerhouses like Jamaica and Trinidad. I realised I was something special.”

Repeating as Olympic men’s 400-metre champion would certainly be a special achievement. Only world-record holder Michael Johnson (43.18 seconds) has achieved that feat, the American winning in 1996 and again in 2000. James has his eyes on the prize, and will go into Rio 2016 as one of the favourites for gold. Now twenty-three, the quartermiler won his first four races this year, clocking 44.36, 44.08, 44.15, and 44.22.

But though James is in great form, there’s no guarantee of gold. South Africa’s reigning world champion Wayde van Niekerk clocked 44.11 in early May, American LaShawn Merritt is always a threat, and there are a number of young, hungry challengers for James’s Olympic title — including his fellow Grenadian Bralon Taplin, Trinidad and Tobago’s 2014 world junior champion Machel Cedenio, and Jamaican Javon Francis.

Game on!

Date of birth: 1 September, 1992
Height: 1.85 m
Weight: 74 kg
Olympic highlight: 2012 men’s 400 gold
Personal best: 43.74

 

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Jamaica, athletics

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is undoubtedly an all-time great.

The first major entry on her sprint résumé came at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where she captured the women’s 100-metre title. The Jamaican track star then travelled to Berlin in 2009 for the IAAF World Championships, and left the German city with 100-metre and 4×100-metre gold medals.

Fraser-Pryce made a successful defence of her century title at the 2012 London Olympics. One year later, she was in irresistible form at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, obliterating the field with a jaw-dropping 10.71-second run in the 100-metre final. Fraser-Pryce added the 200-metre gold to her 100-metre title, before icing the proverbial cake with a golden anchor-leg run for Jamaica in the 4×100-metre relay. It was then back to Beijing for the 2015 IAAF World Championships. Five years after her first Olympic success, Fraser-Pryce made a triumphant return to the famous Bird’s Nest stadium, taking the 100-metre title in 10.76, and anchoring Jamaica to 4×100-metre gold.

Fraser-Pryce’s coach, Stephen “Franno” Francis, speaks highly of his charge. “What has pleased me most is that she has mastered the trick of staying good. A lot of natural factors mitigate against staying at number one, but I think she has conquered those things and developed a mindset that keeps her where she is. Shelly-Ann does everything she used to do, and to a greater extent. That to me is her biggest achievement. She is not very concerned about enjoying the fruits of her success, as opposed to making sure she continues to be successful.”

Fraser-Pryce knows about struggle. Having grown up in Waterhouse, a rough inner-city Kingston community, she refuses to be entrapped by the fame and fortune that have come with her success on the track. “I’m driven from inside, and circumstances and different situations that happened in my life,” she says.

Given her journey to the top, twenty-nine-year-old Fraser-Pryce is unlikely to be fazed by her 100-metre season-opener in late May. Recovering from a toe injury, she finished eighth and last at the Prefontaine Classic IAAF Diamond League meet in Oregon. Fraser-Pryce’s rivals, however, know better than to discount her as a threat for gold at Rio 2016. The 11.18 seconds clocking she produced in that cellar-place finish in Oregon was faster than both her 2013 and 2015 100-metre openers. Both times, the “Pocket Rocket” went on to grab gold at the IAAF World Championships.

Date of birth: 27 December, 1986
Height: 1.60 m
Weight: 52 kg
Olympic highlights: 2008 women’s 100 gold; 2012 women’s 100 gold; 2012 women’s 200, 4×100 silver
Personal bests: 10.70 (100), 22.09 (200)

 

Machel Cedenio

Trinidad and Tobago, athletics

Machel Cedenio has a reputation as something of a comeback kid. The Trinidad and Tobago quartermiler is a strong finisher, and effectively used this weapon to earn his country the Pan American Games men’s 4×400-metre title in Toronto last year.

Cedenio produced another stunning finish in the 400 metres at the 2015 Bauhaus Athletics IAAF Diamond League meet in Stockholm. Way behind the leaders as he turned for home, the talented athlete turned on the afterburners and stormed to the front of the field. He was golden in 44.97 seconds.

Cedenio’s trademark finishing power was on show once again at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing, his efforts helping Trinidad and Tobago to silver in the 4×400 relay in a national record time of two minutes, 58.20 seconds. Cedenio also enjoyed individual success in Beijing, advancing all the way to the 400-metre final. However, the podium was beyond him, the then-nineteen-year-old finishing seventh in 45.06 seconds.

Back in 2014, Cedenio dominated the 400-metre final at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Oregon. His 45.13-second golden run earned him a cushion of more than a second on the silver medallist. Cedenio will never have it that easy in the senior ranks, not with the likes of Grenada’s reigning Olympic champion Kirani James, South Africa’s 2015 world champion Wayde van Niekerk, and American LaShawn Merritt still in the field. And while thirty-year-old Merritt may not have a long future ahead of him, both James and van Niekerk will be just twenty-four this year — and, all things being equal, will be squaring off against Cedenio for many years to come.

But like James and van Niekerk, twenty-year-old Cedenio is a special talent, and still on an upward progression curve. He was just nineteen when he clocked a personal best of 44.36 seconds at the 2015 Cayman Invitational, and once he steers clear of serious injuries this season, his best will be even better by the end of the Rio Games.

One of Cedenio’s time targets will be the 44.21-second Trinidad and Tobago record for the 400 metres, established by Ian Morris way back in 1992. But on the evidence of last year’s World Championship final — in which van Niekerk was the fastest of three men under 44 seconds, at a jaw-dropping 43.48 seconds — a mere national record is not likely to earn Cedenio a trip to the podium. He might need membership in the elite sub-44 club in order to return home from Rio with a medal draped around his neck.

Date of birth: 6 September, 1995
Height: 1.90 m
Weight: 70 kg
Personal best: 44.36 (400)

 

Shaunae Miller

The Bahamas, athletics

Shaunae Miller opened her 2016 individual outdoor campaign with a world-leading 49.69-second run, earning her the women’s 400-metre gold at the Chris Brown Bahamas Invitational. With that clocking, the twenty-two-year-old Bahamian threw down the gauntlet to her one-lap rivals.

The 49.69 scorcher was just two-hundredths of a second slower than Miller’s 49.67 personal best, which she produced in finishing second to American Allyson Felix (49.26) at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing last August. Last year, Miller opened with a 51.83-second run, and had to wait until July to dive under 50 seconds. That pattern suggests a very fast time is on the cards for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Miller is also a top-class 200-metre sprinter, but is not expected to chase the 200/400 double at the Rio Games. Her preference is likely to be the 400, and the long-legged quartermiler would fancy her chances of following in the strides of another Bahamian, 2004 Olympic one-lap champion Tonique Williams.

Miller enjoyed many on-track successes as a teen, setting the stage for her 2015 World Championship silver and her bid for Olympic gold at Rio 2016. At the tender age of sixteen, she became a world junior champion, capturing the under-20 400-metre title in Moncton, Canada, in 2010. In 2011, she was still eligible to compete in the under-18 category, so it was no surprise when the young Bahamian struck gold at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Villeneuve d’Ascq, France. But Miller was unable to make a successful defence of her under-20 title at the 2012 IAAF World Junior Championships in Barcelona, the then-eighteen-year-old finishing fourth in the final.

Three weeks later, Miller made her Olympic debut in London. The memory is not a pleasant one. She pulled up injured in the opening round of the 400 metres, and her season was over.

Miller’s 2013 IAAF World Championship outing in Moscow was a far better experience. Though still a junior, she performed with distinction, earning a lane in the 200-metre final. In the championship race, the baby of the field finished fourth in 22.74 seconds.

The 2014 season was Miller’s first as a full-fledged senior athlete, and she celebrated with the 400-metre bronze at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland. She moved up to silver at the 2015 outdoor Worlds. The Florida-based athlete is hoping to take the next step at Rio 2016, and become the latest Bahamian golden girl.

Date of birth: 15 April, 1994
Height: 1.85 m
Weight: 69 kg
Personal bests: 22.14 (200), 49.67 (400)

 

Michelle-Lee Ahye

Trinidad and Tobago, athletics

Michelle-Lee Ahye is in the race to become Trinidad and Tobago’s first female Olympic medallist. She gave a clear indication that she’s ready to challenge for a podium finish at Rio 2016 when she reached the final of the women’s 100-metre dash at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in Beijing: she finished fifth in 10.98 seconds.

With seven women already under 11 seconds in April and May this year, a trip to the Olympic podium is likely to require a faster-than-10.98 clocking. But Ahye is more than capable. She has a 10.85-second personal best to her name, and is preparing to go even faster.

Early-season times are pointing towards a fast women’s century final in Rio. On 31 May, the three fastest legal times in the world this year were 10.80, 10.81, and 10.83. Add to the equation Jamaican Elaine Thompson’s wind-aided 10.71-second run, and there’s no doubt track and field fans will be served up a treat in August.

Getting to the final at the Beijing Worlds was a significant achievement for Ahye. But she wants more in Rio. The Carenage sprinter is determined to be a headline act, and not merely a member of the supporting cast.

Date of birth: 10 April, 1992
Height: 1.68 m
Weight: 59 kg
Olympic highlight: 2012 women’s 100 semi-finals
Personal best: 10.85 (100)

 

Omar McLeod

Jamaica, athletics

Omar McLeod is just twenty-two, but has already claimed his own chapter of track and field history. In April this year, he clocked 9.99 seconds to win the men’s 100-metre dash at the John McDonnell Invitational in Arkansas, his fine run handing the Jamaican the distinction of being the first-ever athlete to dive under 10 seconds in the 100 and under 13 in the 110 hurdles.

It’s in the latter event that McLeod hopes to make waves in Rio. He got his first taste of global success at the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships in Oregon, where he produced a 7.41-second national record run to strike gold in the 60-metre hurdles.

McLeod carried his fine form into the outdoor season, clocking 12.98 seconds to win the 110 hurdles at the IAAF Diamond League meet in Shanghai. At the time of writing, the 12.98-second scorcher was the fastest time in the world this year.

Though he’ll be making his Olympic debut at the Rio Games, McLeod will be a strong contender for precious metal in the sprint hurdles. He’d do his chances no harm by reproducing or bettering his 12.97-second personal best in the 16 August Olympic final.

Date of birth: 25 April, 1994
Height: 1.80 m
Weight: 73 kg
Personal bests: 9.99 (100), 12.97 (110 hurdles)

 

Akela Jones

Barbados, athletics

Akela Jones is an extraordinary talent. The Barbadian is just twenty-one, and has time on her side in her quest to become the best. The question is: best at what?

Jones is already a world-class heptathlete, and could mature into an all-time great in the seven-discipline event. But she is also a potential world-beater in both the long jump and high jump. In fact, two years ago, Jones emerged as the best under-20 long jumper on the planet, striking gold at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Oregon.

At the end of May, Jones was second on the women’s high jump 2016 world outdoor performance list at 1.95 metres. She enjoyed an even better jump during the indoor season, her 1.98-metre clearance earning her second spot on the global list. She’s also been making strides in the long jump. In March, she produced an indoor best of 6.80 metres, and followed up with a 6.75-metre outdoor leap in May.

Jones is on a progression curve that could take her to the podium at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. But she is special, and cannot be discounted as a medal threat this year, at Rio 2016.

Date of birth: 22 April, 1995
Height: 1.86 m
Weight: 77 kg
Personal bests: 1.98 m (high jump), 6.80 m (long jump), 6,371 points (heptathlon)

 

Jehue Gordon

Trinidad and Tobago, athletics

Jehue Gordon knows about global glory. At the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, Canada, the T&T athlete captured the 400-metre hurdles title. And three years later in Moscow, he dived across the finish line to grab gold at the IAAF World Championships. But for any world-class track and field athlete, Olympic gold is the ultimate achievement, and Gordon is hoping to add his name to the list of champions at the Rio Games.

The 2015 season was a rough one for Gordon. Plagued by an injury, he was never at his best, but insisted he would die with his boots on and defend his title at the Beijing Worlds. The mind was willing, but the body was weak, and the man from Maraval bowed out in the opening round.

Gordon is determined to turn things around in 2016. At the 2012 London Olympics, he clocked 48.86 seconds to finish sixth in the final. Gordon’s 47.96 semi-final clocking would have earned him bronze in the championship race. As he works assiduously towards his golden Rio goal, the twenty-four-year-old track star will be ever-mindful of the importance of being at his best when it matters most.

Date of birth: 15 December, 1991
Height: 1.90 m
Weight: 80 kg
Olympic highlight: 2012 men’s 400 hurdles, 6th place
Personal best: 47.69 (400 hurdles)

 

Beyond the track

The Caribbean Olympic presence goes beyond athletics, especially for Cuba. The Spanish-speaking nation is particularly strong in boxing, sixty-seven of its 209 Olympic medals coming in that sport. Among the boxers hoping to be golden for Cuba at Rio 2016 are lightweight Lazaro Álvarez (profiled on page 66), welterweight Roniel Iglesias, and heavyweight Erislandy Savón, the nephew of three-time Olympic gold medallist Félix Savón. Cuba has also earned thirty-five judo medals at the Olympics, and will again be expecting precious metal in this sport. The list of Cuban qualifiers includes reigning women’s heavyweight champion Idalys Ortiz and London Games men’s middleweight silver medallist Asley Gonzalez.

Jamaican swimmer Alia Atkinson (also profiled on page 66) will be a medal contender in the pool, and Trinidad and Tobago veteran George Bovell, the men’s 200-metre individual medley bronze medallist in 2004, will bid for 50-metre freestyle honours. T&T cyclist Njisane Phillip also has a genuine shot at a podium finish in the sprint.

Thanks to Yona Knight-Wisdom, Jamaica will make its Olympic comeback in diving. He will become the country’s first diver to compete at the Games since 1972. Nigel Paul is the first T&T super heavyweight boxer to qualify for the Olympics. And T&T sailor Andrew Lewis is back for a second appearance in as many Olympics.

The Lewis story is an amazing one. A freak accident in Brazil nearly snuffed out his life. Lewis suffered serious injuries, but he had already qualified for the Rio Games, so instead of settling for mere recovery, he pushed his body. Displaying the heart of a champion, he returned to the water to resume his Olympic preparations.

There will be a debut for Barbados when Jason Wilson becomes the country’s first triathlete to compete at the Olympics. Two young women, Jamaican Toni-Ann Williams and T&T’s Marisa Dick, have earned their respective countries’ first-time qualification in gymnastics. Bahamian Emily Morley and T&T’s Aisha Chow did the same in the sport of rowing.

And more history will be created by half-heavyweight Christopher George. He will become T&T’s first-ever Olympic representative in judo.

 

Alia Atkinson

Jamaica, swimming

Jamaica is the sprint capital of the world. But speed in the northern Caribbean island is not limited to the track. Alia Atkinson is fast in the pool. In fact, the twenty-seven-year-old Jamaican is the joint-fastest-ever in the short course women’s 100-metre breaststroke. She clocked one minute, 02.36 seconds at the 2014 World Short Course Championships in Qatar to equal the world record established by Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte.

Atkinson’s record swim earned her the gold medal, becoming the first black woman to win a global swimming title. It was gold at last for Atkinson, following double silver at the 2012 World Short Course Championships in Turkey and another silver medal performance in Qatar in the 50-metre breaststroke. There was more precious metal for Atkinson at the 2015 World Long Course Championships in Russia. She seized silver in the 50-metre breaststroke and bronze in the 100-metre.

The Alia Atkinson medal collection is vast: six at the World Championships, two each at the Commonwealth and Pan American Games, and nine at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, including eight gold. An Olympic medal was within Atkinson’s grasp at the 2012 London Games, but she just missed out, finishing fourth in the 100-metre breaststroke final. Rio in August will be another shot at the podium.

Date of birth: 11 December, 1988
Height: 1.72 m
Weight: 71 kg
Olympic highlight: 2012 women’s 100 breaststroke, 4th place
World record: 1:02.36 (100 breaststroke short course)

 

Lázaro Álvarez

Cuba, boxing

Lázaro Álvarez has the Midas touch. He struck bantamweight gold at the 2011 Pan American Games in Mexico. He returned to Mexico in 2014 to capture the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games lightweight title. And in 2015 the Cuban boxer became lightweight champion at the Pan Am Games in Canada.

Álvarez is also a three-time gold medallist at the World Amateur Championships. The winning streak started in 2011 in Azerbaijan, where he was crowned bantamweight champion. Two years later, in Kazakhstan, Álvarez stepped up to the lightweight division, but the result was the same. Gold! He repeated the feat at the 2015 Championships in Qatar, beating Azerbaijan’s Albert Selimov by TKO (technical knockout) in the final.

Olympic gold is the one major accolade that has eluded Álvarez so far. At the 2012 London Games, he beat American Joseph Diaz and Brazilian Robenilson Vieira de Jesus to reach the bantamweight semi-finals. However, Ireland’s John Joe Nevin halted his run, and the Cuban was forced to settle for bronze. Álvarez plans to set that right when he competes in the lightweight division at Rio 2016.

Cuba already has thirty-four gold medals in Olympic boxing, and Álvarez seems set to add to that tally. Few would be brave enough to bet against the twenty-five-year-old southpaw.

Date of birth: 28 January, 1991
Height: 1.70 m
Weight: 60 kg
Olympic highlight: 2012 bantamweight bronze
Other career achievements: 2011 World Championship bantamweight gold; 2013 World Championship lightweight gold; 2015 World Championship lightweight gold

  • Penelope Nottage

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