50 years ago, during the 8th British Empire & Commonwealth Games held August 4-13, 1966 and the following 2nd Paraplegic Games, held August 14-20, over 1000 athletes from around the world made their homes in the halls of residence of the University of the West Indies – at Irvine, Taylor, Chancellor and Seacole Halls. The Commonwealth Games took place at the still new National Stadium, while the Paraplegic Games were held at the university sports facilities at what is now known as the Mona Bowl.
UWI Museum Assistant Miranda La Crette Dressekie is researching this aspect of Mona’s rich heritage, and wrote about the UWI connection and the broader Jamaican context for for the publication ‘Black History Month 365’. We re-post, with permission, an abridged version and provide a link to the original article at the bottom of the page:
There were questions as to whether this small island nation, just four years past independence, would be able to manage such a large international event, given infrastructure and logistical constraints.
“The campaign to host the games began in 1960 and was led by Herbert Macdonald, president of the organising committee for the games, together with George Abrahams, the director of the organisation of the games; they travelled to Perth, Australia in 1962 to secure the bid, successfully winning more votes than their rivals Scotland, becoming the smallest and first nation to host the Games outside the ‘White Commonwealth’.
“The next four years were crucial to Jamaica’s new independence status. Jamaican authorities had invested a great deal of energy and resources in securing the event and developments of Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city began with the construction of a National Stadium at the sport and cultural complex, Independence Park, as a monument to Jamaica’s independence and to accommodate independence celebrations officiated by Her Royal Highness, Princess Margaret on 4th August 1962. When the games approached in 1966, the venue was able to hold 35,000 spectators and was the natural choice to host the opening and closing ceremonies, all track and field events, cycling, and the semi finals and finals of the boxing tournaments. Independence Park boasts an impressive 55 yard swimming pool, enlarged specifically to meet the Commonwealth Games requirements, tennis courts and practice fields, all of which were utilised for the games, and it is also home to the National Arena that was built specifically for the games.”
Miranda notes that the University of the West Indies, four miles from the National Stadium and the historic site of two 18th century sugar estates, became the official Commonwealth Games Village, home for the 34 nations and over 1000 athletes who participated in the games. “In the development stages of the University, Irvine Hall, Taylor Hall, Chancellor Hall and Mary Seacole Hall were built as new and modern halls of residences, and it was in those that housed the athletes that took part in the 1966 games.
“Little is known about the Commonwealth Games Village as there are not many records to be found surrounding the event; however it is well documented as the site that also hosted most of the Paraplegic Games that took place August 14th to 20th on the playing fields at Mona, the pool, gym, and the old library. It is clear the University of the West Indies at Mona, contributed significantly to the overall success of both games.”
Jamaica won four silver and eight bronze medals at the Commonwealth Games, though it was the first host nation to not secure a gold medal while hosting the games. Fast forward 50 years, and it seems fitting that the venue that once hosted the paraplegic games and housed over 1000 athletes in the official games village in 1966, is now home to the Glenn Mills-coached Racers Track Club and the Jamaican triple world record holder, and the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt. Happy Birthday on August 21st, Usain!
Check out the full article on BHM http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/olympics-and-sport/the-freedom-of-jamaica-is-yours/