Editorial

Whither the practice of overworking our young athletes

Monday, March 31, 2014    

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CONGRATS to Calabar High and Edwin Allen High for their huge victory margins at last week's ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships.

For neutrals such as this newspaper, an aspect of greatest importance was individual performances. We were left very satisfied. The plentiful records broken provided assurance that Jamaica's track and field programme will continue to prosper.

However, as has happened on occasions in the past, this newspaper was jarred by the perception that student athletes are being overworked in pursuit of glory.

The case of Mr Javon Francis of Calabar jumped out at all those watching on Saturday afternoon, during the last few hours of Champs.

Nineteen-year-old Mr Francis, who gained fame for his sensational 4x400m anchor leg at the World Championships in Moscow last year, ran the 400 metres Class One final in 45 seconds, destroying the 11-year-old record set by the incredible Mr Usain Bolt 11 years ago.

As it turned out, Mr Francis had to be helped off the track at the end of the race suffering from cramps.

It seemed logical that, given this hiccup, Mr Francis would be pulled from remaining competition. Not so. Less than three hours later — with Calabar holding an unbeatable points' lead in the race for the boys' championship title — Mr Francis was on the track lining up for the 200 metres final.

To the utter dismay of most of us watching, Mr Francis pulled up, grabbing his hamstring 20 to 30 metres from the finish line. Jamaicans will be keeping their fingers crossed that this athlete, among this country's most promising, wasn't badly hurt.

As we understand it, Mr Francis, having already won the 400m, would have competed in not just the 200m final, but the 4x100m and 4x400m relay in the space of just a few hours, had he remained healthy. Let's not forget that he had done the rounds in both 200m and 400m.

Surely that's asking too much.

We are aware that over the years ISSA, the group which runs schools' sport, has proactively sought to reduce the pressure on student athletes. From a virtually unregulated situation years ago, individual Class One athletes today can compete in no more than five events — three individual and two relays.

On the available evidence year after year — with some schools and coaches apparently intent on glory even at the expense of the long-term well-being of their charges — it seems to us that ISSA will have to tinker still further. For one thing, perhaps athletes at Champs should be asked to choose between the 200 metres and 400 metres.

The latter is among the most gruelling events in track — once described by the great Olympian Ms Grace Jackson as "pure pain".

It needs to be borne in mind that, at the highest level in modern track athletics, only 'super man' Mr Michael Johnson has had sustained success running both 200m and 400m.

Also, it seems to us, there is a case for re-arranging the Champs schedule.

Traditionally, finals are bunched on Friday and Saturday pulling bumper crowds.

Commercial considerations notwithstanding, perhaps, the time has come for finals to be spaced out over several days as is the case at top level international competitions.

Whatever is done, it seems obvious that ISSA hopefully working closely with others such as the JAAA, need to re-jig Boys' and Girls' Championships with the welfare of high school student athletes at the forefront of their minds.

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