ARTHUR WINT was a great pioneer of Jamaican athletics and with his compatriots Herb McKenley, George Rhoden and Les Laing amazed the world at two successive Olympic Games.
He came to Britain during the Second World War and served as a flying officer in the RAF. He appeared at the White City stadium in 1945 and won the 440 yards in front of a packed Bank Holiday crowd. The following year he won both the 440 and 880 yards titles at the first AAA Championships after the war. He went on to win four more titles, one at 440 yards and two at 880 yards.
It was at the Olympic Games at Wembley that he made his mark internationally. He took the silver medal behind the American Mal Whitfield in the 800 metres and then went on to win the 400m ahead of the more fancied McKenley, with Whitfield third. With 46.2 seconds he equalled the Olympic record. In the 4 x 400m relay, in which Jamaica was expected to challenge for a medal, tragedy struck when Wint, seized by cramp, collapsed on the red cinder track and the team did not finish.
Four years later, at the age of 32, Wint elected to defend his 400m title but he found the task too much for him and had to give way to his countrymen Rhoden and McKenley. In the 800m he again succumbed to Whitfield and had to be content with a second silver.
Jamaica's day of glory, however, came in the final event of the Games, the 4 x 400m relay. Wint was the lead-off man and he gave his country the narrowest of margins. There followed an epic battle with the US, with the lead constantly changing. In the end the athletes from the tiny Caribbean island triumphed by just one-tenth of a second in 3:03.9 for a new world record.
Outside the national stadium in Kingston there is a statue which is said to be a 'composite' of the team. The Governor decreed a national holiday but after the day of celebrating came the day of reckoning as many islanders were brought to the courts for breaches of the liquor laws. Their plea? 'Helsinki, Your Honour.' The local newspaper said that the judge smiled and passed 'sporting sentences'. In Helsinki, the quartet and their coach Joe Yancey offered the Duke of Edinburgh a drink to help their celebrations. They possessed no drinking glasses but found a toothbrush tumbler. Cheerfully the Duke joined in.
Wint was a tall, unassuming character who toured Britain with his more flamboyant colleague, the Trinidadian Emmanual McDonald Bailey, drawing large crowds at meetings from Paignton in Devon to Middlesbrough. He practised as a doctor in Jamaica and returned to London to be Jamaican High Commissioner from 1974 to 1978.
His contribution to athletics has been immense and he was the inspiration that gave birth to such Jamaican stars as Don Quarrie, Grace Jackson and Merlene Ottey. It is extraordinary that such a small island has produced so many athletics stars but it is true that none has been such a fine ambassador as Arthur Wint.
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