OUR FORGOTTEN SPORTING LEGACY

Hopefully Jamaica 50 will focus less on dances; more on learning from Independence Icons of national development.  These Icons could be nominated then inducted by popular vote into suitable legacy protecting Institutions.  In sports (except cricket where we’re still confused regarding nationality), 50 years of independent legacy can be proudly celebrated.

In football, we’ve qualified for world cup finals.  We’ve icons like “Lindy” Delapenha; “Siddy” Bartlett; and Allan “Skill” Cole.  We’ve a structured, independent football programme not copied from the British.  It’s, however, disappointing many Jamaican football aficionados calling themselves “Man U”; “Chelsea”; or “Arsenal” fans can’t name a Reno player.

Track and field’s recent heroics have spoiled us.  The great George Kerr never won Olympic gold but secured an Olympic 800 metres bronze.  I sat in the National Stadium (1966) bursting from pride as George ran his heart out to win a Commonwealth Games bronze medal in the 880 yards.  In 1962, he’d won double gold in CAC Games (400 and 800 metres) and Commonwealth silver in the 880. Those 1962 wins signalled the first time the Jamaican flag was raised in recognition of athletic gold.  The first event held at that stadium was won by boxer Bunny Grant.

We forget Table Tennis (“TT”) was one of Jamaica’s most popular sports.  My hero was Orville “Les” Haslam.  With every respect to Jamaican-born Desmond Douglas, 11 times English Champion who became World Number 7, Haslam, with his savage attacking style and receiving stance reminiscent of a caged tiger, was the best I’ve seen outside of the Asian nations.  Games between Haslam and Fuarnado Roberts, who played a completely different style, were true gems.  Roberts, a patient, defensive player, who could extend a rally interminably, tried mightily to frustrate Haslam.  Les was his master.

In the summer of 1970, I saw the best TT game ever played in Jamaica from a prized seat in a packed National Arena.  U.S. No 2 John Tannehill came for a celebrated match with Haslam who was still based in London and ranked among the British Top 10. Thousands attended that night to cheer Jamaica’s hero. In his 2005 speech inducting Tannehill into the USTTA Hall of Fame, historian Tim Boggan recalls the event thusly:

As the fans were on their feet screaming, John kept thinking, ‘This Haslam hits the ball harder from both sides than anybody I’ve ever seen.’ The normal expression in Jamaica for a good loop that’s returned high and is followed by a good kill is, “Loop! Cock-up! Wham!” But an ardent fan of Haslam’s was yelling, “Loop! Cock up! Wham! Wham! Wham! Wham!” In fact, both players were whammin’  like crazy. Until in the 5th, when Les breaks open the game and by ‘sheer power’ finally subdues John.

In 1971, Haslam travelled directly from Kingston’s CAC games to win the Empire State Open in New York defeating USA’s top players.  The true measure of the man is gleaned from a story told by USA’s John Ebert, one of the Pan-Am winners in the 1971 Wheelchair Games in Kingston, of how Haslam, despite his status in Jamaica as a sports icon, shagged balls for the wheelchair players hour after hour, day and night, for two whole days.

Who knew cricketer Maurice Foster was also one of Jamaica’s best TT players?  His entire family, including sister Joy (at eight, entered the Guinness Book of Records as the youngest senior national sporting representative from any country) and brother Dave, played the game to the highest level.  Joy (1961) and Maurice (1973) are the only siblings to win Sportsman/woman of the Year awards.  Haslam, the Master, Roberts, the Genius, Leo Davis, the Technician, and Cornel France, the Champion with a wicked backhand flick, were TT stars.

For the ladies, Monica DeSouza, three times Sportswoman of the Year and an avid poker player, reigned supreme.  Who knew Supreme Court Judge Ingrid Mangatal, currently unravelling complex commercial lawsuits, was Archbishop Carter medallist from her Campion College graduating class; inducted into Campion’s Hall of Fame (2009); is a former national TT champion; and an English-speaking Caribbean under 17 champion?  She finished runner-up to Venezuelan Elizabeth Popper in the U17 Caribbean open and, still a legal infant, represented Jamaica with Nadine Senn Yuen (doubles), in 1979’s U.S. Open (New York) losing in the quarter-finals to two South Koreans.

Not only Bob made Jamaica world famous.  Jamaican TT champions, including Anita Belnavis (Kymani Marley’s mother); and Sandra Riettie, current national female team coach, also flew the flag.

Peace and Love

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