Her very long Olympic career began at the Moscow Games in 1980. She finished sixth with the Jamaican relay team in the final. But it was in the 200m that she shone to take the bronze medal, an Olympic first by a female athlete in her country. Four years later at the Los Angeles Games, she once again excelled, taking two bronze medals, in the 100 and 200m. She again led the 4x100m relay team in the final, which this time finished in eighth place.
Although injured, she ended her third Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988 with a fourth-place finish in the 200m, and two eliminations in the 100m semi-final and relay final. The woman who was elected “Athlete of the Year” 15 times in Jamaica won a new bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games, still in the 200m. Over 100m, she finished fifth, and in the 4x100m relay, Jamaica failed once again in the final by not finishing the race.
At 36, she found recognition at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. There she won three medals. In the 100m, she finished at the same time as the USA’s Gail Devers, separated only by the photo finish, the gold being awarded to Devers. In the 200m, Merlene finished 12 hundredths of a second behind France’s Marie-José Perec. In the 4x100m relay, Jamaica was rewarded with the bronze medal in a thrilling neck-and-neck race, with the USA finally victorious and the Bahamas second.
The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games allowed Merlene Ottey to win a silver medal with the relay behind the Bahamas. The 100m final ended with her taking fourth place. Competing for Slovenia, her coach’s country and her new adopted country since 2002, Merlene Ottey competed in her last Olympic Games in Athens in 2004. At the age of 44, she managed to qualify for the semi-finals in the sprint events.
Only an Olympic title is lacking from her incredible career tally of eight medals at the Games (a record) and 14 World Championship medals, including two world titles over 200m, in 1993 and 1995, and another obtained with the Jamaican relay team in 1991. Along with Swedish fencer Kirstin Palm, she is the only woman to have competed at seven editions of the Olympic Games.