Aiming for a return to excellence at the middle distances
JAMAICANS are justifiably proud of the country's global dominance of the short sprints — inclusive of the 100 and 200 metres — over recent years.
In the 400 metres, too — both flat and hurdles — Jamaica commands great respect.
However, what's not commonly known among younger Jamaicans is that up to half-a-century ago, the country was a respected force at 800 metres and even 1,500 metres — the so-called middle distances.
Way back in the London Olympics of 1948 and again, four years later in Helsinki, Finland, the legendary Mr Arthur Wint took silver medals at 800 metres.
In 1960, Mr George Kerr took 800 metre bronze at the Rome Olympics and four years later in Tokyo was fourth in the same event.
In later years, others such as Messrs Neville Myton, Byron Dyce and Seymour Newman were outstanding on occasions over 800 metres. Messrs Myton and Bryce were also extremely competitive over 1,500 metres.
But it seems fair to say that since the 1970s interest in the middle distances by Jamaican athletes and coaches has largely fallen away.
It speaks volumes, we believe, that Mr Myton's 800 metre national junior record set in 1964, hand-timed at 1:46.6, is still unbroken.
Indeed, analysts have long suggested that a number of athletes who have fallen by the wayside attempting the glamorous short sprints would have been better off bidding for glory at 800 and 1,500 metres.
That makes sense, since, in the case of the 800 mertrs particularly, such races are increasingly becoming sprints from start to finish with very little time for tactical manoeuvring.
It's with all that in mind that we note testimony from athletes and coaches that the road racing phenomenon, which has accelerated in recent years, is improving their endurance and performance in the middle distances. And, indeed, encouraging them to take on such races.
"The road races help me a lot... It gives me more endurance to run the 800 and 1,500 metres. I intend to break the 800m record at Champs," says Miss Marleena Eubanks of Edwin Allen High.
Of course, road races and cross-country runs are not only about athletes with an interest in competition. Crucially too, it's a way to encourage the wider population to develop a culture of fitness and good health while having fun.
More power to the several private sector companies, coaches and school administrators who are playing their part in the encouragement of distance running.