The Barcelona Olympics: Hunting Caribbean Gold

Cyclist Gene Samuel, designer Peter Minshall, and sprinter Merlene Ottley are set to make the Caribbean proud this Olympic season

American swimmer Jane Evans was a big crowd pleaser in Seoul. Photograph by AllsportFlorence Griffith-Joyner, heroine of the Seoul Olympics. Photograph by AllsportJamaican sprinter & Olympic bronze medallist Merlene OtteyRaymond Stewart, Jamaican & Caribbean record-holder for the 100mSuriname’s Anthony Nesty won the 100 metres butterfly at the Seoul Olympics in 1988The USA’s Carl Lewis after setting a new wold record of 9.86 seconds for the 100 metres. Photograph by AllsportTrinidad & Tobago cyclist Gene SamuelTrinidad cyclist Gene Samuel with his 1991 gold medal from the PanAm Games and World Championship bronze

Ace cyclist Gene Samuel of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey are the Caribbean’s best medal prospects for the 1992 Olympics, to be staged in Barcelona, Spain, from July 25 to August 9. Providing all goes well, Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival designer Peter Minshall should win a gold too, for his part in designing sections of the grand opening and closing ceremonies.

The Barcelona Games could well be the biggest in Olympic history, with over 10,000 athletes from 167 countries competing in 25 official and three demonstration sports. And the crowds could be massive too: this is Spain’s big summer, with the six-month World Expo in Seville celebrating the Quincentennial, and Madrid enjoying a year of glory as Europe’s cultural capital.

Barcelona is a city with a long sporting and Olympic tradition, a fine Olympic stadium and 44 other competition sites, mostly in the four designated Olympic areas: Montjuic, Diagonal, Vall dHebron and Parc de Mar. The Olympic Village, housing competitors and officials, is in the Parc de Mar area, near the sea. The city has a population of 1.8 million — 3.5 including the surrounding metropolitan area — and has chosen a welcoming slogan for the Games: Friends for Life. (Smokers may have second thoughts: Barcelona is also following the 1988 lead set by Calgary and Seoul, and has declared the 1992 Games smoke free: the International Olympic Committee has decided not to allow advertising or sponsorship by the tobacco industry.)

Caribbean athletes face stiff competition at the Barcelona Games. The main Caribbean threat to the sporting superpowers will probably come from Cuba and Jamaica, whose athletes have won a total of 21 medals (four gold, ten silver and eight bronze) since the great Arthur Wint won a gold in the 400 metres in London in 1948.

At the Helsinki Games in 1952 the Jamaicans won five medals, including two golds: George Rhoden won the 400 metres (Herb McKinley clocked the same time, 45.90 seconds, for a new Olympic record, and the Jamaicans collected the gold and the silver), and teamed up with Wint, McKinley and Les Laing to establish a new Olympic and world record in the 4 x 400 metres relay.

It was the great Donald Quarrie, one of the greatest sprinters of all time, who gave Jamaica its fourth gold medal, in the 200 metres in the 1976 Montreal Games; he also took the silver in the 100 metres, which was won by Trinidad and Tobago’s Hasely Crawford — still his country’s only gold medallist.

Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey won bronze medals in the 1980 and 1984 games, and will be the major female force from the Caribbean this year. The coveted gold eluded her — at one time she was dubbed the “bronze lady” — until the 1991 Track and Field Championships in Tokyo, where she finally won the 4 x 100 metres relay with compatriots Beverley MacDonald, Juliet Cuthbert and Dahlia Duhaney. These four, with the promising Merlene Fraser and the 200-metres silver medallist in the 1988 Olympics, Grace Jackson, could well make the Caribbean’s presence felt among the female competitors this summer.

Jamaica’s Diane Guthrie, the 1991 Pan American Games long jump gold medallist, and Inez Turner, the 800 metres champion, also have good credentials, as do Raymond Stewart (100 metres) and Winthrop Graham (400 metres hurdles). Stewart reached the finals in both Los Angeles and Seoul, but failed to finish among the top three; in last year’s World Championships he finished sixth. Graham on the other hand won a silver medal in the Tokyo World Championships last year with a time of47.74, being beaten by Zambia’s Samuel Matete, and must have a good chance in Barcelona.

Stewart was also one of the six runners who finished the men’s 100 metres dash in last year’s World Championships in under ten seconds, setting a new Jamaica and Caribbean record of 9.96 seconds. In the fastest race ever, he was beaten only by Carl Lewis (USA), who set a new world record of 9.86 seconds, Leroy Burrell (USA), Denis Mitchell(USA), Linford Christie (UK), and Frank Fredericks (Namibia), all finishing within a tenth of a second of each other. This year’s 100 metres finals could well see the same group battling it out.

Trinidad and Tobago’s Gene Samuel, gold medallist at the Pan American games, was the fastest cyclist in the western hemisphere in the kilometre time trial for Barcelona, and must be seen as one of the Caribbean’s brightest Olympic prospects. Samuel, nicknamed Geronimo, enhanced his reputation with a bronze medal in the 1991 World Championships. He was edged into fourth place at the Los Angeles Games by a mere one hundredth of a second, and in Seoul in 1988 he finished seventh. But he has progressed steadily over the years, and will surely be riding like a devil in Barcelona.

Two of his compatriots should be in the finals of the men’s 400 metres, seeking their first medals: quarter-milers Ian Morris, who finished sixth at the Seoul Olympics and at the 1991 World Championships, and fast-improving Alvin Daniel. Both have performed well at major indoor meets in the United States, Canada and Europe.

Trinidad and Tobago’s first Olympic medallist was weightlifter Rodney Wilkes, who won a silver in London in 1948. He won a bronze in Helsinki in 1952, as did his colleague Lennox Kilgour. The Trinidad-born sprinter McDonald Bailey, running for Great Britain, was also successful in Helsinki, taking the silver in the 100 metres. Before 1976, however, Trinidad and Tobago’s best year was 1964 in Tokyo, where Wendell Mottley — once his country’s finance minister — won the silver in the 400 metres, Edwin Roberts took the 200 metres bronze, and the two teamed up with Kent Bernard and Edwin Skinner to take the bronze in the 4 x 400 metres relay.

Apart from track and field, Cuba’s main strength is in boxing: at Moscow in 1980 five fighters took home gold medals, including the great Teofilio Stephenson who had also won gold medals in 1972 and 1976. Javier Sotomayer is the world high jump record holder, and high jumper Marine Drake, quarter-miler Roberto Hernandez and middle-distance runner Ana Quirot will also present a challenge. Other Caribbean athletes who should reach the finals in Barcelona include sprinter Pauline Davis and high jumper Troy Kemp from The Bahamas (which won one gold for yachting at the 1964 Tokyo Games) and triple jumper Brian Wellman of Bermuda.

Quite apart from medals, many will also be watching the general trend of the Games this summer.

In the ancient Greek games, held at Olympia in Greece for several centuries (there are records of the winners from 776 BC until the Games were abolished in 393 AD), athletes had to take a vow not to indulge in foul play; violators were fined. When Baron Pierre de Coubertin revived the idea and the ideal of the Olympics in a speech in Paris in 1892, he visualised the Games as a cementing force, spreading the message of universal brotherhood and promoting peace and understanding among countries. Nationalism and commercialism were the twin evils de Coubertin feared most: contests were to be between individuals, not nations; the spirit of amateurism was to be protected.

The modern Games were launched in Athens on April 6, 1896, and will mark their centenary in Atlanta in 1996. The first great body blow to the Olympic ideal came in Berlin in 1936, when Germany’s Adolf Hitler wrenched the soul out of the last pre-war Games with his concept of racial superiority, the herrenvolk standing supreme among the peoples of the world. He refused to shake hands with non-white winners, including the American Jesse Owens and the legendary Indian hockey wizard Dhyan Chand.

In Munich in 1972 the Olympic ideal took an even worse mauling. Nine Israeli hostages, two other athletes, five Arab guerrillas and a policeman were killed when Palestinian commandos climbed over the wire mesh barricades of the Olympic Village in the small hours of September 5 and broke into the Israeli quarters. The resulting hostage drama and massacre threatened to strangle the Games as people from all over the world expressed dismay and horror. But the outgoing president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Avery Brundage, stood firm: “The Games must go on. We cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and goodwill that we have in the Olympic Movement.” The Games continued, and amidst the confusion some outstanding performances managed to make the headlines.

The Munich games belonged to the “winged wonder” Mark Spitz, the American swimming sensation who won the gold medal in all his seven events and established new records in all of them too, a feat still unsurpassed.

The Montreal Games in 1976 were boycotted by 22 African nations over the presence of New Zealand and its rugby affiliations with South Africa. It was at these Games that Trinidad and Tobago’s Hasely Crawford blazed down the track to win the premier race, the 100 metres, in 10.06 seconds, the fastest time recorded at sea level for that distance; his record remained intact until 1984, when the American Carl Lewis brought it down to 9.99 seconds. It was a clean sweep for the Caribbean in the shorter distances that year, as Jamaica’s Don Quarrie took the 200 metres and Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena won the 400 and the 800 metres.

The 1980 Moscow Olympics also faced a boycott: 65 western nations stayed away because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Then the USSR and East Germany plus 14 other satellite countries boycotted the 1984 Los Angeles Games. The boycotts allowed the Soviets to make hay in 1980, winning 195 medals (80 gold, 69 silver and 46 bronze), while the Americans celebrated at home in 1984, winning 174 (83 gold, 61 silver and 30 bronze).

For the 1984 Games, South Africa-born Zola Budd was hustled out of the land of apartheid to become a British citizen, but suffered the humiliation of being tripped in the 5,000 metres when she tangled with the hometown favourite Mary Decker-Slaney, who blamed the bare-footed South African for the mishap. Since then the reform movement in South Africa has changed things radically: South Africa has been readmitted to the international sporting world and is anxiously awaiting approval to join the 1992 Games.

In Los Angeles, the Olympic Games started to take on a more commercial image under the influence of IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch. Elected in 1980, the Spanish-born former ambassador to Moscow worked to make the Games viable not only for the host country but for all competing nations, who shared in the $215 million profit generated by the new entrepreneurial spirit in Los Angeles with the help of the American sporting maestro Peter Ueberroth.

The Seoul Olympics in 1988 attracted 9,581 competitors from 160 countries, including professionals. Tennis became an official sport for the first time in more than 50 years. These were the Games that dramatised drug taking by athletes, though drug problems had been obvious since 1980. In Seoul, Ben Johnson blazed down the 100 metre track in an amazing display of speed and power to beat his arch-rival Carl Lewis. But it was Lewis who eventually collected his second consecutive gold medal when the IOC banned Johnson for two years and stripped him of his record of 9.79 seconds, the fastest time ever recorded. Tests showed evidence of the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol.

But the Seoul Olympics really belonged to the fastest and most glamorous woman athlete ever, Florence Griffith-Joyner, who won three golds and one silver with breathtaking performances. She won the sprint double, plus a gold in the 4 x 100 metres and a silver in the 4 x 400 metres relays. East Germany’s swimmer Kristin Otto and American swimmer Janet Evans were big crowd-pleasers; so were the American Matt Biondi and Tamas Darnyi. But the biggest surprise came from the Caribbean, in the shape of Suriname’s Antony Nesty, who became his country’s first Olympic swimmer to win a gold at the games, whipping Biondi in the 100 metres butterfly. Nesty whipped Biondi again at the 1991 World Championships, and should be ready to defend his crown successfully.

In Barcelona, much will have changed. The USSR and East Germany no longer exist; their state-backed sports programmes have been under threat. The former Soviets will be under the uneasy banner of the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), while the East Germans are now part of a unified Germany. South Africa, banned from the Olympics since 1960 because of its apartheid, is set to return to competition in Barcelona.

And the Caribbean, with a new crop of hopefuls, will be working hard to bring home gold.