Jamaican is well known for its excellent performances in the world of track and field, in this article we will look at one of the country’s favourite athletes of all times, Merlene Ottey, born on the 10th of May 1960 to parents Hubert and Joan Ottey in Hanover, Jamaica.
She is ranked fourth on the all-time list over 60 metres (indoor), sixth on the all-time list over 100 metres and third on the all-time list over 200 metres. A nine-time Olympic medallist, she holds the record for the most Olympic appearances (seven) of any track and field athlete and for winning the largest number of World Championships medals (fourteen).
Ottey’s was inspired while listening to the track and field broadcast from the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, where Donald Quarrie ran in the sprint finals. Her athletics career took off when she moved to the US and attended the University of Nebraska in 1979, where she joined the track team.
Ottey became the first female English-speaking Caribbean athlete to win an Olympic medal during the 1980 games in Moscow. Back in Jamaica, she was awarded an Officer of the Order of Nation, and the Order of Distinction for ‘services in the field of sport’.
After being successful in track and field and representing her country, one of the worst things that can happen in her career was the banning from something she loves, during a meet in Lucerne, Switzerland, a urine sample submitted had returned positive for the banned anabolic steroid nandrolone in 1999. Merlene was banned by the IAAF from competing in the World Championships in Seville, Spain.
Ottey was cleared of all charges by the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association in 2000, the two year ban was subsequently lifted, after the CAS dismissed the case; it is important to note the Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed the case because the retesting was not completed in the allotted time. Ottey has won more Olympic medals in track & field history than any other woman, with nine one behind Carl Lewis for the most by any gender.
Jamaica loves Merlene but somehow there is a feeling that if the dubbed ‘Bronze Queen’ had won that elusive Olympic gold medal or two, she would be even more venerated. That and the fact that she had her fair share of controversies that threatened to tarnish her legacy.
In her last years of representing Jamaica, Ottey was living in Slovenia, training with Slovene coach. However, in May 2002, she became a Slovenian citizen after moving there in 1998, which has drawn the ire of some Jamaicans.
Throughout her illustrious career she suffered many disappointments and setbacks that would have broken the will of an ordinary individual. But she remained positive and strong despite many setbacks, her longevity, 29 medals at the highest level and 46 overall, are an inspiration and challenge to every athlete, whether Jamaican, Slovenian or any other nationality.
Her determination and resilience was appreciated by track and field fans the world over, and when she won the 200m gold at the 1993 Stuttgart World Championships, she was given a three-minute standing ovation that was the longest in the history of those Championships.