ONLINE READERS COMMENT: George Rhoden, Jamaica's forgotten track hero

ONLINE READERS COMMENT: George Rhoden, Jamaica's forgotten track hero

Friday, January 24, 2020

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Dear Editor,

The track-and-field community is arguably the best informed of Jamaica's diverse sports groups. Thanks in large part to a plethora of literature and many top class commentators, Jamaicans know well the history of the sport in which we have made our largest international impact.

That history goes back to more than 100 years of Champs, from the exploits of National Hero Norman Manley through the era of the Helsinki heroes, past Lennox Miller, Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, Deon Hemmings and many others, to the current Golden Era of Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell Brown, Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and many, many more.

Track and field fanscan recite the times, distances and medals of our many greats.
This vast body of knowledge among the current generation is in sharp contrast to the relative paucity of historical knowledge among followers of other sports, such as football, boxing, tennis, table tennis and even cricket, where the knowledge seems not to go much beyond the Clive Lloyd era when we were the world's best.

How many, for example, know that Franz Alexander captained Jamaica in both football and cricket, and might well have captained West Indies in football had he not been too busy captaining West indies in cricket, a remarkable achievement of both skill and leadership?

It is therefore surprising that amidst the highly appropriate flag waving, cheering and erection of statues at the National Stadium that one name seems to have been forgotten -- George Rhoden.

It was said at the time of the erection of the first statue that it represented all four Helsinki heroes, including Rhoden. But let us put that canard to bed. The first statue is that of our first Olympic gold medallist Arthur Wint, pure and simple. Which is, perhaps why another Helsinki hero, Herb McKenley, deservedly got his own statue. No such luck for Rhoden, our second Olympic gold medallist and world 400 metres record holder. He beat both McKenley and Wint to win the 400 metres gold in Helsinki and then anchored the 4x400 gold medal winners.

Rhoden's rise to the top was even more remarkable as, unlike Wint, McKenley and our modern heroes, he never had the chance to run at Champs. He was from a poor Kingston family. There were no clubs like Racers in those days. He thus never had the benefit ofearly career coaching from the likes of the legendary G C Foster and modern gurus like Stephen Francis, Glen Mills, Maurice Wilson and many others. Local track meets were very few and far between.

Unsurprisingly, his style was not refined and pleasing to the eye. No McKenley, Quarrie or Shelly-Ann, he. Rhoden reached the very top the same ungainly way he ran: by clawing his way around the track, grit, dedication, determination, self-help and self belief oozing from every pore, in defiance of all the odds. He literally talked and willedhimself over the finish line ahead of the field.

Olivia 'Babsy' Grange has been doing an excellent job in her portfolios. She has announced plans for a sports museum, first mooted 60 years ago, which should help fill out this lacuna in the history of other sports. She has also announced that additional statues are to be erected. I believe she can be relied on to do the rightthing and correct this glaring omission. Vincent George Rhoden thoroughly deserves to be included in the pantheon of our track-and-fieldgreats as exemplified by the statues at the National Stadium.

Errol W A Townshend

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