World Championships facts, expectations and opportunities for Jamaica

Robert EVANS

Monday, August 17, 2015

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ALTHOUGH Chris Gayle's Jamaica Tallawahs are aptly named, Jamaica's historical performance in the IAAF World Championships demonstrates the essence of the word tallawah. This uniquely Jamaican word depicts an individual of small stature exhibiting prowess way beyond his/her size, and one who must never be underestimated.

With the 15th World Championships only days away, we can reflect on the rich past of little Jamaica in this world event and recognise that our track stars -- and, of course, cricketers -- have given Jamaica and Jamaicans a stellar reputation. Look at Jamaica's performance compared to the approximately 200 countries and 2,000 athletes that attend this biennial event which started in 1983.


When one studies the statistics of the event, the USA's dominance is evident. They head the medal table with 300 to date. A tally of the 14 games so far, Jamaica ranks fifth overall with 98 medals. Russia is second with 168, Kenya third with 112, and Germany fourth with 101 -- all nations with populations ranging from 120 (US) to 17 (Kenya) times Jamaica's inhabitants.


Usain Bolt's nine (eight gold, two silver) is tied with USA's Carl Lewis (8 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze) for the most medals won by a male to date. The medal-rich female side is led by Merlene Ottey in first place of all time with 14 (3-4-7), who is three medals ahead of second place USA's Allyson Felix with 11 (8-1-1). Jamaica's Veronica Campbell Brown has nine medals, while three other Jamaicans, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Beverly McDonald, and Lorraine Graham, have seven each.


The athletes in the record book who have attended 10 and 11 meets did so in walking and discus throwing events. In running, the male athlete with the most appearances (nine) is Jamaica's Danny McFarlane (400m/400m hurdles/4x400m). He is tied with Maria Mutola of Mozambique (800m) who has the most running appearances for a female. Merlene Ottey is tied with a number of walkers and throwers, and one 1500m runner for eight appearances from 1983 to 2007.


Only two nations, USA and Germany, have medals (male and female) in every speed running event (100m, 200m, 400m, 100m and 110m hurdles, 400m hurdles, 4x100m and 4x400m relays). This is 14 events for men and women. Jamaica is one short and needs a medal in the 100m hurdles for men to become a member of this elite club. The UK must medal in the 100m women to join the club.


Jamaica was third overall of over 200 nations in the 2013 championships. The medals were Russia in first place (seven gold, four silver, six bronze), USA second (six, 14, five), Jamaica third (six, two, one) and Kenya fourth (five, four, three). The ranking is based on gold medals and it would appear that seven or eight gold medals could put a team into first place.


The 2015 World Championships, spanning nine days, begins on August 22 at 7:35 am in Beijing, which is August 21 at 6:35 pm in Jamaica. The speed-running event finals, Jamaicans' primary interest, will be between 7:00 am and 8:30 am in the mornings. Forty-seven events are scheduled -- 24 male and 23 female. Once again, the event will have about 2,000 participants, and Jamaica can look forward to four possible landmarks:


* Jamaica winning the event outright


* Usain Bolt distancing himself from Carl Lewis


* Jamaica joining USA and Germany in the exclusive speed event winners club, and


* Jamaica overtaking Germany (currently in fourth place) in the all- time medal count




Surely Jamaica's very rich history in track and field opens the door to an opportunity for really big business. A state-of-the-art stadium in Jamaica could attract international Track and Field meets. Diamond League and World Championships are not out of the question. After all, in 1966 Jamaica successfully hosted the Commonwealth Games. The Indian Premier League and Caribbean Premier League business model is founded on engaging well-known performers from other countries as members of a local league, thereby attracting international viewership with commensurate advertising revenue. Perhaps a similar concept could be used in track and field.


I would like to see a mixed-gender 4x100m relay added to the schedule. The winner of such a race could claim the title "World's Fastest Nation" -- and, yes, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could reach up high enough to hand the baton to Usain Bolt.


But, at the end of the day, whatever the result, Jamaica will remain tallawah -- the little fish in the big pond that has the respect of the biggest fish.


PS: Watch out for Elaine Thompson about whom Jamaican Olympian Vilma Charlton, herself a sprinter who represented Jamaica in the '64, '68 and '72 Olympics, says: "She looks very, very fluid, and she runs like a Bolt."




Robert F Evans, PE, is an engineer. Send comments to the Observer or bobbyevans27@gmail.com.



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