Chanman's Blog

Merlene Ottey – 50 Years Young!

Merlene Ottey's story is a long one and it's still being written.

A couple weeks ago Merlene Ottey anchored the Slovenian 4X100 meter relay team at the European Championships. While this particular item may not be all that newsworthy, a closer examination of the details shows why I am blogging about this.

Merlene Ottey is 50 years old.

This race was thirty years and three days after she ran in the 4X100 relay at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. It was on the same track in Barcelona that she won a bronze medal in the Olympic 200 meters eighteen summers ago.

Born in Jamaica on May 10, 1960, the “Queen of Track,” as many call her, is still competing one half century later. Ottey’s best times may be behind her but they are very good times. Her 10.74 in the 100 meters ranks her sixth of all-time. Even better is her 21.64 in the 200 meters, which ranks her third.

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than her personal bests in the 100 and 200 meters is her longevity. Not just longevity as in participating in the sport, but in competing at a high level. She has competed in seven Olympic Games (every Olympics from 1980-2004), she just missed the time standard for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and is talking about competing at the 2012 London Olympics at the ripe age of fifty-two.

Along the way she has collected more medals than some countries. She has earned twenty-three medals at the Olympics and Outdoor World Championships in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 4X100 relay. At the World Championships in Tokyo (1991), Stuttgart (1993), and Gottenburg (1995) and the Olympics in Atlanta (1996) she medaled in all three of her specialty events. That’s twelve medals in four major championships in a six year period! Her last international championship medal is a bronze in the 100 meters from the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Ottey initially placed fourth in this race but after Marion Jones admitted to steroid use, some nine years after the actual race, Ottey was elevated from fourth to third place.

Merlene Ottey running in the 4X100 for Slovenia at the 2010 European Championships.

When she won the gold medal at the 1995 World Championships in the 200 meters at the age of thirty-five she became the oldest World Championship gold medalist. When she won the bronze at the 1997 World Championships in the 200 meters at the age of thirty-seven she became the oldest World Championship medalist. When she helped Jamaica to the bronze medal in the 4X100 relay at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney she became the oldest Olympic medalist at the age of forty. At the European Championships this summer she set a new record as the oldest participant in European Championship history. Another stat: Ottey had already competed at two Olympics when Usain Bolt was born in 1986.

Even though she is fifty, Ottey is still going strong. She recorded a still pending Women’s 50-54 year old world record in the 100 meters last July. Her time of 11.67 easily bettered the previous record of 12.50. Ottey already owns the world record for women 35-39 (10.74), 40-44 (11.09), and 45-49 (11.34) years old. An 11.67 in the 100 meters for a fifty year old woman is worth 105.12 points on the age-graded scale. As a thirty-nine year old male, I would need to run the mile in 3:42.4 to score 105.12 points.

Ottey’s career has not been without controversy. In 1999 she was banned from competition for testing positive for an illegal drug. This caused her to withdraw from the 1999 World Championships in Seville. She was subsequently cleared by the Jamaican Amateur Athletic Association (JAAA) and then later by the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF), which paved the way for her to compete at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

However her selection to the Jamaican team for the 2000 Olympics was also filled with controversy. Ottey was a late replacement for Peta-Gay Dowdie in the 100 meters, which caused ill-feelings amongst the Jamaican team and even caused a brief protest by some of the athletes in the Olympic Village.

Shortly after the 2000 Olympics, Ottey changed citizenship to Slovenia. Now when she competes in international competitions she represents Slovenia.

If this doesn’t give you hope and inspiration that you can still do it, no matter what your age, I don’t know what will.


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