There was some official trepidation about the game being held in Jamaica – a country of economic disadvantage and Third-World conditions. I certainly didn’t share the unease; the name Jamaica after all had a magic ring to it. Harry Belafonte was singing his poignant “Jamaica Farewell” back then and it all sounded quite glamorous. But we realised that Kingston was a tough and dangerous town when the instruction came through that we were not to be the out on the streets at night.
First impressions of Kingston were quite startling in fact. The drive to the games village from the hotel where we had been briefly based on town took us through a slum district through filthy run down suburbs with people living under sheet metal lean-tos with dogs and flies in great abundance. This was not the glamorous Jamaica of Belafonte’s song!
I remember very well the first drive to the pool where we were to train – the bus swerved round a dead donkey that lay rotting in the road. A little further on was another with vultures picking over the corpse. What have we come into here I thought at the time.
The water level in the pool was about two feet below the scum gutters and the water was hot – over 30 degrees C. We were told there was a water shortage but eventually the pool was filled to a more reasonable depth. The swimmers were very unhappy with the water temperature and there was talk of blocks of ice being thrown in to cool it down. That never happened.
We had some great swimmers on the team that year and despite the difficulties it turned out to be a great success for us in the outdoor Stadium Pool – a ‘fast’ pool featuring the cutting edge technology of Kiefer Non-Turbulence Floats, although the water level was never what it should have been.
The Australian Men’s team won ten of the 13 events with Michael Wenden, Backstroker Peter Reynolds and breaststroke swimmer Ian O’Brien outstanding. Reynolds won the backstroke double and also the 440 yards IM in a world record breaking swim. Kathy Wainwright was outstanding among the women winning the 440 yards freestyle gold in a world record time.
We ended up with 30 in total including 11 golds and set nine world records while our swim team did what no other team in competition had ever done – every one of them won at least one medal.
Adapted from “Talbot: Nothing but the best” by Don Talbot with Ian Heads and Kevin Berry.