Merlene Ottey, a Unique Athlete Who Performed at a High Level for a Long Time 


Jamaica and the English-speaking Caribbean have produced a number of great female sprinters who have lit up the global stage for many years, but there is one who toiled hard to pave the way and she did it for an unusually long time.

On May 10, 1960, in the small village of Cold Spring, Hanover, the world welcome Merlene Joyce Ottey, an extraordinary athlete who became the first woman from the English-speaking Caribbean to win an Olympic Games medal when she claimed bronze in the 200m at the 1980 Moscow edition.

Ottey would go on to win eight more medals at the Olympic Games (three silver and five bronze), to go with the 14 medals she won at the World Championships (three gold, four silver and seven bronze). She also won seven medals (three gold, two silver and two bronze) at the World Indoor Games, for a total of 30.

The former Vere Technical High School standout, who ran barefooted in many local events in the early stages, represented Jamaica at the international level for 24 years (1978 through to 2002), before switching allegiance to Slovenia where she added another 10 years (2002 to 2012).

The seven-time Olympian has never won an Olympic Games gold medal and has lost narrowly on a number of occasions. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, she clocked 10.94 seconds in the 100m final but lost to Gail Devers, who recorded the same time.

Still, that was not her closest defeat, having lost to the same American athlete at the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart in 10.812 seconds to Dever’s 10.811 seconds.

The University of Nebraska alumna’s seven Olympic Games appearances between 1978 and 2004 are second only to Spain’s race walker Jesus Garcia.

At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games Ottey, who had placed fourth in the 100m at the Jamaican Trials, was controversially promoted to the individual event to replace Peta-Gaye Dowdie despite a Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association rule which gives the top three finishers the right to contest the individual events.

A Games Village protest ensued but that did not deny Ottey contesting the event where she finished fourth in the final, beaten by compatriot Tanya Lawrence.

Still, Ottey anchored the 4x100m relay team to a silver medal.

A 13-time Sportswoman of the Year awardee, Ottey also received the Order of Jamaica.

She represented Slovenia at her seventh Olympics in 2004 where she reached the semi-finals but failed narrowly to qualify for Slovenia in 2008.

However, she continued representing Slovenia but failed at age 48 in 2008 to make the Olympic Games team. But two years later she was a member of the Slovenia 4x100m relay team, becoming the oldest athlete at 50, to compete at the European Championships.

Merlene Ottey retired two years later.

Read Similar Story: Fraser-Pryce breaks Merlene Ottey’s 100m record


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