A Lifetime Experience at Stadium Australia

Merlene literally sparkled in the bright lights of Stadium Australia. She looked the picture of physical and athletic perfection in her black and gold flecked Jamaican suit when she stepped on to the stage for the semifinals. Swathed in a large Jamaican flag, I sat 10 rows from the front track side past the finish line at the top of the bend. This was a seat worth ten times the $165 I had paid for it.

Australia's own Melinda Gainsford was introduced to a 110000 strong, deafening cheer in Lane 1. As Merlene was introduced in lane 4 the roar rivalled that of Gainsford. Australians are very knowledgeable spectators and one thing they love is a battler; or someone who continues on in the face of setback and hardship. We all know Merlene is the epitome of that. As her imaged flashed up on the large screen many people around me commented that she looked more beautiful and athletic than ever (is that possible???). My pulse quickened to a frightening rate as they went down on their marks. As the gun went I screamed like a crazed teenager at a rock concert till she crossed the line. The ease of her win and the scalps she had taken (Sturrup, Pintusevich, Arron, Ferguson) had the crowd questioning whether now Jones had a serious challenger for the gold. I was slightly concerned at the relatively slow time of 11.22 but keep in mind that there was a head wind of 0.5m, quite cool conditions and Merlene was clearly not at full pace.

When all four qualifiers in the second semi posted faster times that Merlene, it was clear that she had a battle on her hands if she wanted to be on the podium. I have never been as nervous in all my life as I was when the finalists were introduced. The false start from Thanou didn't help either. I can honestly say that I did not see Jones win as my eyes never left Merlene in lane 3. Although as she appeared to get a slow start, she actually had the 2nd fastest reaction of 0.163 behind the lightning start Tanya Lawrence. Merlene kept balance and form throughout the race and crossed the line for what to me seemed obviously to be the bronze. By this time I had already run track side.

I had called Daniel, Merlene's manager, about an hour before the semi while they were out on the warm-up track, to wish her luck and to tell Daniel I would go track side with the flag if she got a medal.

I did not know how to react when the results where made official that Merlene had again missed a medal by 0.01 ( how many times have us fans endured that). It was Stuttgart (1993) and Atlanta (1996) all over again. With all the grace, dignity and professionalism that personifies Merlene she was very quick to congratulate the winners especially Tanya (which I thought was touching considering the dramas of the team relay boycott) and not wanting to take any of the limelight away from Jones (who I must say was supreme) and the other winners, Merlene turned and slowly walked towards the mix zone and out of the stadium.

While Merlene was competing on Friday night I had delivered and gift package of flowers, the Jamaican flag and good luck card to her manager's hotel. The card read: "On behalf of all your fans I would like to wish you all the very best of luck. Whatever the result you have done yourself , your country and your supporters proud. Thank you for the excitement and inspiration you continue to give us. God speed and GO GIRL !!!!"

Many spectators around me commented that there is certainly no performance based reason for Merlene to stop now. What I love the most about Merlene is that she is living proof to the human race that age is just a number on a birth certificate.

Jocelyn McLennan, official Sydney Olympic delegate.


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