Merlene Ottey

jmnbiogr1.jpg (6316 bytes)

The greatest female sprinter in history

Someone would say that she has been around forever – true is it that she has been among the ten best female sprinters every year since 1980. The name is Merlene Ottey. Ottey’s hometown is Cold Springs, Jamaica, but these years she only has occasional visits to her homeland – especially for the yearly championships that counts as selection for the major championships such as the Olympic Games and the World Championships. She was chosen for her first Jamaican team as a 14-year old and registrated her first 200 metres time in 1975 with 25.9 seconds. Merlene Ottey was formerly married to American hurdler and high jumper Nat Page and has also previously lived with Italian sprinter Stefano Tilli. Now she is living alone in Monte Carlo.

Ottey was the first women to run faster than 7 seconds for the indoor 60 metres (6.96 sec.). She was also the first woman to run faster than 22 seconds for the indoor 200 metres and that time of 21.87 is still the World Record indoors. She has never held a World Record outdoors but has the fourth and second fastest times ever over 100 and 200 meters – only beaten by Florence Griffith-Joyner's questionable (as is often said) World Records of 10.49 and 21.34 and Marion Jones' 10.71 and Christine Arron's 10.73 at 100 metres. The average of her 10 best runs at 100 metres and 200 metres is 10.81 seconds and 21.81 respectively.

Her fastest time over the 100 metres of 10.74 seconds from the 1996 Grand Prix final in Milan (ran that time at the age of 36) and her 21.93 seconds for the 200 metres which she ran as a 35-year old in 1995 are both World Veteran Records (over 35 years). Also indoors she has the World Veteran Record for the 60 metres with 7.01 seconds from the winter of 1999.

Merlene Ottey has loads of special records in athletics – some of which might never be broken. Most amazing is probably her (at the time of writing) 67 legal sub-11 runs for the 100 metres (almost doubling second best Marlies Göhr's 34 sub-11s). Also over the double distance (200 metres) she holds she record with 15 runs under 22 seconds. She has run the best ever 100 metre/200 metre double in one day with the times of 10.90 and 21.77 seconds at the Monaco Grand Prix meeting on August 7th 1993. Moreover she had the 8 best 100 metre times in one season (1991) which is a record just as her 6 season best times over 200 metres in 1990.

Her remarkable 57 100 metre finals (from September 1987 to August 1991) and 36 200 metre finals (from 1989 to August 1991) without losses stands out as a unbeatenable mark in the women’s sprint. Unfortunately for Ottey the first loss she ran into over both distances (ending her unbeaten series) was at the 1991 World Championships – only getting bronze behind Katrin Krabbe and Gwen Torrence at both 100 and 200 metres. That was probably one of the biggest disappointments of her career. 

Though on several occasions she has celebrated international medals. She is the most winning female athlete at the Olympics with 8 medals and she holds the record for both sexes with 14 World Championship medals. Indoors she has a record of 6 medals at World Championships. Still she lacks an Olympic gold medal and a gold medal over the 100 metre distance, but it has been so close a couple of times. 

Counting all the medals Ottey won in different championships you reach an amazing number of 46 (5 junior medals). Following her first individual gold medal at the World Championships in 1993 she was honoured ambassador of Jamaica and now has to be addressed Your Excellence by Jamaicans.

In the IAAF Grand Prix series she has won the overall women’s title twice in 1987 and 1990 (and came second in 1991, 1992 and 1996). Furthermore she won the individuel title for 100 meters in 1989, 1991, 1994, 1996 and for 200 meters in 1992. 

All in all a fantastic career that truly makes Merlene Ottey the greatest female sprinter in history. Let me just finish by qouting ZZ Top: "She’s got legs and knows how to use them"

by Jakob Munkhøj Nielsen
(October 2000)


Back to Merlene Ottey Tribute