Bahamian Olympic Greatness

By Shavaughn Moss
Photographs courtesy of Eldece Clarke and The Nassau Guardian

Almost everyone knows the fairytale of “The Little Engine That Could”—the takeaway is to teach the value of optimism and hard work. And then there’s the story of The Bahamas, an island nation whose athletes have proven time and again that they are among the best on the world stage. This little country of approximately 380,000 people has 14 medals to its credit—six gold, two silver and six bronze by Bahamians in just 16 Olympiads. This summer, as Bahamian athletes prepare to put their best foot forward at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, the trend of thought is that when all is said and done, The Bahamas could come away with possibly another three medals.

The country’s total medal haul was realized from nine Olympic Games—one gold and one bronze won at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Games; one gold in the 2012 London Olympics; one silver and one bronze at the 2008 Beijing, China, Olympics; one gold and one bronze at the 2004 Athens, Greece, Olympics; two gold and one bronze at the 2000 Sydney Olympics; one silver at the 1996 Atlanta, USA, Olympics; one bronze at the 1992 Barcelona, Spain, Olympics; one gold at the 1964 Tokyo, Japan, Olympics; and one bronze at the 1956 Melbourne, Australia, Olympics.

Medals have been won by Bahamians in the disciplines of athletics and sailing—12 medals in athletics (five gold, two silver and five bronze) and two medals in sailing (one gold and one bronze).

The 2000 Sydney, Australia, Olympics was the biggest single Games medal haul for The Bahamas, with three medals earned in athletics—two gold and one bronze.

Pauline Davis-Thompson earned individual gold in the women’s 200 metres (m); and she teamed up with fellow sprint sensations Savatheda Fynes, Chandra Sturrup, Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie and Eldece Clarke to stun the world as they romped their way to the women’s 4 x 100m title win to ink their names in the annals of history, becoming known nationally and the world over as the “Golden Girls”.

The men refused to be left out of podium glory, with Andretti Bain, Michael Mathieu, Andrae Williams and Chris Brown striking for a bronze medal in the men’s 4 x 400m relay.

Bahamian athletes won two medals—one gold and one bronze—at the 2004 Athens, Greece, Games, with Tonique Williams-Darling continuing Bahamian athletics greatness in her amazing gold medal run in the women’s 400m. Ferguson-McKenzie ran to a bronze medal win in the women’s 200m that same year.

Another two medals—a silver and bronze—were won in 2008 in Beijing, China.
Bain, Mathieu, Williams and Brown came together for a silver showing in the men’s 4 x 400m relay; while Leevan Sands popped a bronze medal jump in the men’s triple jump.

Two medals—1 gold and 1 bronze—were also the order of the day at the 2016 Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Games at which Shaunae Miller ran (or dove, or fell, according to your perspective) into a gold medal in the women’s 400m. That Olympiad also saw Mathieu and Brown coming together with Alonzo Russell, Steven Gardiner and Stephen Newbold in the bronze showing in the men’s 4 x 400m relay.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Matheiu and Brown teamed up with Ramon Miller and Demetrius Pinder for a Bahamian men’s gold medal strike in the men’s 4 x 400m relay—the lone medal to be had at those Games.

Prior to that, in 1996, Clarke, Sturrup, Fynes and Davis-Thompson ran to the silver medal in the women’s 4 x 100m relay, the first medal won by Bahamians on the track. Ferguson-McKenzie and Philippa Arnett-Willie served as alternates.

Frank Rutherford holds the distinction of being the first Bahamian athletics medal winner, having popped a bronze medal performance in the men’s triple jump at the 1992 Barcelona, Spain, Olympics. Rutherford’s bronze medal was the country’s third medal in its Olympic appearances. After that bronze showing, the floodgates opened in athletics and Bahamian athletes would not let up.

But before Bahamian athletes made their presence felt in track and field, the strikes were felt at the Olympic level on the water.

Like all great stories, The Bahamas’ Olympic accomplishments began many years ago with two people with big dreams.

In 1948, Durward Knowles and Sloane Farrington qualified to participate in the Games of the XIV Olympiad in London. The Games were the first Olympics to be televised, although few people at the time owned television sets. The Games’ ceremonies were officially opened by King George VI, and Knowles and Farrington represented Great Britain. As a result of their outstanding performance at those Games, it was decided that upon their return home the time had come for the formation of an Olympic association for The Bahamas.

Knowles and Farrington hold the distinction of having won The Bahamas’ first medal—a bronze medal in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia, in Star class sailing.

Several years after his initial Olympic appearance, Knowles teamed up with Cecil Cooke to become the country’s first “Golden Boys” as they sailed to a gold medal win in Star class sailing during the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. It was during those Japan Games that Thomas Augustus Robinson, after whom the country’s national track and field stadium is named, would be remembered for becoming the country’s first track finalist at the Olympic level.

Heading into the 2020 Tokyo, Japan, Games, The Bahamas is expected to field teams in athletics and aquatics among the 33 sports and 22 Paralympic sports to be contested at the July 24 through August 9 XXXII Summer Olympiad.

Team Bahamas will be a mix of youth and veteran senior athletes, according to Romell “Fish” Knowles, Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC) chief. “We feel fairly good going into these Games,” said Knowles.

Quarter-milers Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Steven Gardiner are expected to lead the Bahamian charge.

Davis-Thompson and Ferguson-McKenzie hold the record for being the most decorated individual Bahamian Olympic athletes with three medals each.

Davis-Thompson’s medals were gold in the women’s 200m and women’s 4 x 100m relay, both at the 2000 Sydney, Australia, Games; and silver in the women’s 4 x 100m relay in 1996 in Atlanta.

Ferguson-McKenzie was a member of the 2000 Sydney, Australia, Olympic Games gold medal women’s 4 x 100m relay team; a member of the silver medal 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games women’s 4 x 100m team; and she also won a bronze medal in the women’s 200m at the 2004 Athens, Greece, Olympic Games.

On the men’s side, Chris Brown is the most decorated Bahamian Olympic male athlete, with four men’s 4 x 400m relay medals to his credit—a gold medal from the 2012 London Games; a silver in 2008 from the Beijing, China, Games; and bronze medals won at the 2000 Sydney, Australia, Olympic Games and 2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Olympic Games.

Looking toward the 2020 Tokyo Games, the now retired Davis-Thompson said she’s proud of her fellow Bahamian athletes. She said they are gifted and talented, and she wants them to continue to uplift the Bahamian people as they compete—especially, she said, as young, impressionable children will be “glued” to their television sets watching them.

Davis-Thompson competed in five Olympiads—the first in 1984 in Los Angeles, and bowing out after an epic 2000 showing in Australia, with Olympic appearances for The Bahamas in 1988 in Seoul, South Korea; 1992 in Barcelona, Spain; and 1996 in Atlanta, USA, in between.

She recalls competing at her first three Olympics and not attaining a medal podium standing, but refusing to quit.

“I wanted to stand at attention and hear my national anthem played and not hear athletes from other countries talking down to me that The Bahamas doesn’t have any athletes and would do nothing. I knew [Olympic gold] was coming. I wanted all those athletes that said we wouldn’t do anything to me to hear my national anthem played.”

After Barcelona, Davis-Thompson said she visualized what was to be the Golden Girls’ relay medal to come—and spoke to Clarke, Sturrup, Fynes and Ferguson-McKenzie about coming together for the effort, with Clarke backing her up. The Bahamas struck hard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games for the silver in the women’s 4 x 100m. They followed that win with a gold medal romping in Sydney, Australia, in 2000 where Davis-Thompson ran second to American Marion Jones for the silver in the women’s 200m. A decade after the Sydney Olympics, Jones was stripped of her medal after admitting to steroid use. Davis-Thompson was declared the winner and awarded the gold medal, which she said she always knew within herself she had earned on the track.

“I knew within my heart that I was the gold medalist,” she said.

The Bahamas’ national anthem has been played and the flag has been raised six times since 1956. Like that little train that could, The Bahamas has proven time and again that it is the little nation with great athletes that have done and will continue to do.

The Bahamas first participated in the Olympic Games in 1952 and has sent athletes to compete in every Summer Olympic Games since then, except when they participated in the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics.

Bahamians have competed in the disciplines of athletics, sailing, aquatics, tennis, boxing, wrestling and rowing at the Olympics, and have seen podium-topping successes in athletics and sailing.

A little-known fact is that a Bahamian wrestling team, Robert Nihon and his father Alexis, competed at the 1968 Mexico City Games.

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, The Bahamas’ Olympic story seemed to come full circle on the water as Emily Morley made history when she became the first rower to represent the country in women’s single sculls.

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