BAHAMIAN athletes are still to win a medal in the London 2012 Olympic Games. But they are poised for success in two of the last great Olympic competitions this week - the Women’s 4 x 100m Relay and the Men’s 4 x 400m Relay.
Rashad Rolle looks back to where that strong relay tradition came from - the 1996 Olympic Games, held in Atlanta.
Plus we look at the games of Sydney and Athens.
THE Bahamas took part in three disciplines during the 1996 Olympic Games: Track and field, swimming and tennis.
That year, Frank Rutherford carried the flag for the Bahamas during the opening ceremony of the games which was held in Atlanta, USA, and starred 10, 318 athletes, a record 197 nations in 26 sports that year.
The United States team, bolstered by their supporters who were infamously loud, was dominant that year, winning 101 medals to lead the final medal tally.
While the Bahamas won only one medal at the games, it is important to note that many of the athletes who took part remained among the most prominent athletes in the country for much of the next decade and more.
After competing in their individual events, some of those athletes, Eldece Clarke-Lewis, Chandra Sturrup, Sevatheda Fynes and Pauline Davis-Thompson, came together for the Women’s 4 X 100m race.
The quartet won the silver medal, finishing second behind the USA in a time of 43.14.
It was during these games that the strong showing of Bahamians in relay events began.
Veteran Bahamian sprinter, Pauline Davis-Thompson, anchored the relay team with Eldece Clarke-Lewis running the first leg. Chandra Sturrup ran the second leg, also known as the back stretch, and Sevatheda Fynes ran the curve, also known as the third leg.
Another one of the Bahamas’ most prominent relay sprinters, Debbie Ferguson, competed in the semi-final of the event and was given a silver medal for her participation.
The 1996 games in Atlanta would not, of course, be the final games for any of these women and nor was it their greatest success.
Eldece Clarke-Lewis and Pauline Davis Thompson would both compete until the year 2000 when they took part in their final Olympic Games.
Sevatheda Tynes retired in 2008. Both Debbie Ferguson and Chandra Sturrup were competing for the Bahamas in this year’s games.
THE final of the Women’s 4 X 100m at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games was one of the most memorable events in Bahamian sports history.
Hundreds of Bahamians stayed up the night of the event to see if ‘the girls’ could duplicate their championship winning performance from the previous year, when they won gold in the sprint relay at the 1999 IAAF World Championships in Seville, Spain. The girls, of course, did not disappoint.
With Sevatheda Fynes on the first leg, Chandra Sturrup on the second leg, Pauline Davis Thompson on the third leg and Debbie Ferguson McKenzie anchoring the team, the Bahamas won gold in a track and field event at the Olympics for only the second time.
The first gold came only days earlier when Pauline Davis Thompson came second in the Women’s 200m, a position that was later changed after the first place finisher from America, Marion Jones, was stripped of her medals from those championships for using banned substances.
By winning gold Pauline became not only the first Bahamian woman to win an individual Olympic medal, but also the first person in Bahamian sports history to win a gold medal in a track and field event.
The Sydney Olympic Games featured 28 sports and 199 nations, with 10,651 athletes.
Pauline Davis Thompson, in her final Olympic appearance, carried the Bahamian flag during the opening ceremony.
Given the rivalry that existed between the United States and the Bahamas heading into the event, it was no surprise to hear the athletes boast when the race was won.
“What did we just do? We kicked (their butts) to the ground,” said Pauline Davis Thompson, after the race.
“I can’t think of a better way to leave this sport. I am so grateful to the Bahamian people. I thank the entire Bahamas for all the love and support they gave me over the years. Everyone said it was a fluke we won before, but we showed them again. We showed the United States and the whole world how powerful the Bahamas is.”
Indeed, the Bahamas had sent out a warning to competitors in the relay early in the games, when Sturrup, Fynes, and Ferguson all qualified for the final of the Women’s 100m, placing sixth, seventh and eighth.
No other country had so many representatives in the final, and the girls were determined not to be intimidated by Marion Jones, the winner of the event, when the relay came around.
Sevatheda Fynes said: “Marion is just one person and they have three other legs and we showed them.”
The president of the Bahamas Amateur Athletics Association, Desmond Bannister, later said the team was the best ever.
“When this team was picked I said it was the best Olympic team, and this is the best performance we’ve ever had at an Olympic Games.”
THE star of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, for the Bahamas, was Tonique Williams Darling.
She won the first of her two major international championship gold medals that year in the 400m, running a time of 49.41 in the final of that event. The only other Bahamian medallist from the Athens games was a familiar face: Debbie Ferguson McKenzie, one of the Bahamas’ golden girls. She won bronze in the Women’s 200m in Athens, completing a long-time goal to win an individual medal at an Olympic Games.
During the 2004 Olympic Games, 10,625 athletes from 201 countries took part in 28 sports. Once again, the United States led the final medal count, this time winning 103 medals.
Debbie Ferguson was given the honour of carrying the flag for the Bahamas during the opening ceremony for the second straight Olympics.
After the country had won its two medals at those championships, Ferguson said: “I think per capita, the Bahamas already won the Olympics.”
She had a point. Before the London games, the Bahamas had, per capita, been the most successful country at the Olympics since the Sydney Olympic Games of 2000.
Although Pauline Davis Thompson was eventually given the gold for her performance in the Sydney Olympic Games, Bahamians relished the opportunity to see Williams-Darling crossing the finish line first in her event, and many of them sang the lyrics of the Bahamian national anthem with pride as it was played during the Athens games.
After Williams-Darling won gold in Athens, she said: “I can’t wait to get home and celebrate.”
Her performance even prompted a response from the then Prime Minister, Perry Christie.
He said: “The Bahamas’ high-level performance at the Olympic Games continues to defy odds. The gold medal performance of Tonique Williams-Darling in the Women’s 400m Final in Athens constitutes a [moment of] proud Bahamian history. It was a stupendous victory and an historic one at that, for it marks the very first time in Olympic history that a woman from the Caribbean has won a gold medal in an individual track event.”
Williams-Darling would go on to win gold at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Japan, her final major championship appearance.