In recent years, the track and field media have run more and more stories about how the United States and its college-based developmental system is training athletes from other countries, and particularly the Caribbean. The thread goes like this: we're training the people who are stealing Olympic medals away from us.
As luck would have it, sometimes the islands return the favor. Take heptathlete Jamie McNeair. She may have never become one of America's top stars in the demanding multi-event were it not for the Bahamas.
McNeair's mother is a school teacher, a "nomadic type of person." She taught in the Bahamas for three years. At the time, her daughter was a handful. "She's trying to find something to get me interested in because I was something of a hyperactive child in school," explains McNeair. "They had a little track club in conjunction with the primary school I was attending. She got me out there and I just fell in love with it. I started running when I was 6 and I haven't stopped since."
By the time McNeair had left high school, she had scored 4725 for the heptathlon, enough to get a few colleges interested. She chose Purdue and moved from sunny Florida into the snow belt. There she studied business management with an emphasis on industry. Her career in track only heated up. In her freshman season, she won the national junior title. By her senior year, she had cracked the 6000-point barrier and ranked in the top 10 in the country twice.
McNeair's post-collegiate career didn't come alive until 1994, when she added more than 300 points to her best and placed 2nd at the USA Championships. Last year, after an early-season 6266, she seemed poised for her first berth on a major international team. At nationals, McNeair's efforts were sabotaged by a bad hamstring pull in the 200m. "My hamstring yanked on me as we were coming off the turn," she explained. "I had chronic hamstring problems all year. I injured it so severely that I wasn't able to finish the competition."
"Salvage" became the operative word for the rest of the season. "The Olympic Festival was the last heptathlon I could really attack and get a good score in," she says. "The altitude [in Colorado Springs] and the extreme heat kind of messed with me a little bit. I was looking forward to scoring 6400 last year; I came pretty close . So I was satisfied with that competition."
After that, McNeair traveled to France for the prestigious competition in Talence, where she scored 6030 for 5th. "That didn't go well," she says. "I ended it on a bad note so that's given me some motivation to get back into it and train for the coming year."
Still working with her college coach, Purdue's Ben Paolillo, McNeair is now healthy and says, "I'm looking forward to a lot of great things this year." After working in her field of study for a few years, she's now the Boilermakers' assistant strength coach. "If I can stay healthy, I'm looking forward to going up to the 2000 Olympics," she says. "I think past that time I'll be going into my later years and I'll be interested in going into coaching more seriously."
One guesses that the key for McNeair is that life simply be creative and interesting. Hard to know which side of the family the trait comes from. Her father, James Merritt, is a retired jazz musician. He played bass fiddle with some of the greats, including John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. And mother? Her rambling days aren't over. After the Olympics, she's heading to the Ivory Coast for a Peace Corps stint.
Born June 26, 1969 in Buffalo, NY 5-8/1.73m 135/61kg Santaluces Community HS (Lantana, Fl) '86 Purdue '90 Reebok PRs (outdoor): 200--23.74(A) '89 (low-altitude: 24.25 '95) 400--55.20 '86 800--2:09.40 '94 100H--13.08 '96 400H--58.50 '90 HJ--5-11.25/1.81 '94 LJ--20-6.5/6.26 '96 TJ--40-10.5 /12.46'87 SP--43-7/13.28 '95 JT--165-6/50.44 '95 Hept--6374(A) '95 (low-altitude-6323 '94) PRs (indoor): 800--2:17.59 oversized '95 (2:19.76 '95) 55H--7.78 '95 60H--8.25 '95 HJ--5-9.25/1.76 '95 LJ--20-3.75/6.19 '95 SP--42-0.5/12.81 '95 Pent--4403 oversized '95 Major Meets (Hept unless noted): 1987 5h)USA Junior 100H 1987 1)USA Junior TJ 1987 1)USA Junior 1988 7h)NCAA Indoor 55H 1988 3)NCAA 1988 3)USA Junior 100H 1989 4)NCAA 1989 7)USA 1990 7s)NCAA 100H 1990 3)NCAA 1990 5h)USA 100H 1990 4)USA 1991 1)USA Indoor Pent 1991 6)USA 1992 6)Olympic Trials 1994 5h)USA 100H 1994 2)USA 1995 2)USA Indoor Pent 1995 9)World Indoor Pent 1995 1)Pan-American Games 1995 dnf)USA 1996 5)Olympic Trials Major Relays: 1987 5h)NCAA 4 x 400