'Mi nearly mad when mi see the jump!'

Papine High coach, teachers, athletes praise World Champ Tajay Gayle

BY SHARLENE HENDRICKS
Observer staff reporter
hendrickss@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

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THREE days after Tajay Gayle captured the IAAF World Athletics Championships long jump gold medal, upsetting a quality field with a new national record of 8.69 metres, staff and students of his former school, Papine High, were still celebrating.

“Mi nearly mad when mi see the jump! I could not control myself,” said Shaniekie Osbourne, who coached Gayle during his years at the school on Gordon Town Road in St Andrew, yesterday.

“I have been working with Tajay from grade seven, and from then I realised that this boy was a genius. He had a lot of talent. Even by his walk you could tell the kind of talent that he had. He is just a beautiful athlete all round,” Osbourne told the Jamaica Observer when we visited the school.

Gayle had left track and field analysts wide-eyed and O-mouthed when, on his first jump he cut the sand at 8.46 metres, putting immense pressure on his opponents. He fouled the next two jumps but established the record on his fourth attempt to take gold inside Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, Qatar last Saturday.

Yesterday, Osbourne shared the moment she first recognised Gayle's talent for long jump, after initially training him for the 100- and 200-metre events.

“I was working with him on sprinting first, but one day when he was in grade nine and we were having Sports Day, I saw somebody high in the air jumping. When I went over, I realised that it was Tajay. From that time, I started to work with him on the jumps, until now,” said Osbourne who also coaches at MVP track club where Gayle trains.

Speaking with the media after his historic leap, Gayle dedicated his win to Osbourne, who yesterday spoke of his determination after he almost gave up the sport due to academic challenges.

“When he was supposed to leave high school in 2014, he did four subjects and passed three of them. Tajay went home and didn't say anything to me. But because I knew the talent this boy had, I couldn't let it go to waste,” she told the Observer.

“I decided to work with him for another year, and that was when Stephen Francis (MVP head coach) saw him. I believe he remembered that, because probably if I didn't call him to come back to school he would be sitting in August Town or hustling somewhere. I am glad to see his achievement and I know that this will inspire our current athletes who doubt whether they can make it,” said Osbourne.

Gayle's former track mates, Shemar Willis, Dominique Clarke and Sabrina Davis who are now in grade 11 shared their reaction to his historic jump.

“We were always looking forward to see Tajay do great things. It is an overwhelming feeling to know that he is a former Papine High School student,” said Willis, a class one sprinter.

“Tajay was training hard and we could see that he had a lot of potential. It feels great because this will put some highlight on Papine High School,” added Clarke, also a class one sprinter.

“When I saw the first jump, I was shocked. Then he made the 8.69 jump and I felt so excited,” Davis chimed in. “And to know that he was a part of our track team, this shows me that no matter where you are from or which school you attend, you can make it out. I am training hard, so I would like to do well at sprinting as well as in my schoolwork so that I can also achieve,” said Davis.

Vice-Principal Sharon Bennett described Gayle as “an unassuming and quiet student”, and shared her reactions to Gayle's world-beating achievement.

“I was so ecstatic. When I saw the jump, where I live I think the entire community heard me because I was beyond myself. It seemed to me like he was about to jump out of the pit,” Bennett laughed.

“I am not surprised that he has got this far, although it is much quicker than we expected. We had all kinds of excitement here this morning. But when he gets back home, we are certainly going to be lining Gordon Town Road to receive both Tajay and Tiffany,” said Bennett.

Her reference was to Tiffany James, who is also a former Papine High School student and who was a member of Jamaica's silver medal-winning 4x400 Mixed Relay team at the championships.

“James was a double gold medallist at Boys' and Girls' Championship in 2013, and won the world junior title in 2016 and she has been making the national team since leaving high school. She was the student I had who was doing very well, and I am very proud of her as well. I try to let them know that they can reach the top. That is my focus as their coach,” said Osbourne, who also coached James.

Gayle's former integrated science teacher Denise Moore Scott, as well as his physical education instructor and hockey coach Andrea Thomas, shared their elation with the Observer.

“Tajay was always well-behaved. He was a persistent, committed and dedicated student, a nice young man and an incredible athlete. I am happy for his win and I pray that God continues to bless him so that the he can win some more gold medals for Jamaica,” Moore Scott said, grinning with pride. “Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce's mother was a track athlete here. Now we have Tiffany James and Tajay Gayle representing and we are very proud of them,” Thomas boasted.

Principal Leighton Christie told the Observer that he was beyond excited to see a past student dominate on a world stage.

“I have known Tajay from grade seven. He was always a calm student and he was always a fighter when it came to athletics. He works hard. I was very happy to see him win and represent Jamaica,” said Christie.

“We are going to be using this win as a means of motivating our students. But we need the support for the track and field programme here. We struggle to support it over time and we do all we can to support our athletes because it is through sports that many of them are going to accomplish their goals,” the principal said.

“We try to get the scholarships for them to do sports. Many of our athletes go to do cricket, hockey and track and field at the tertiary level,” said Christie, who revealed that Gayle was one such student who received a scholarship to attend the University of Technology, Jamaica after graduating from Papine High in 2015.

“We are now waiting for Tajay to return from Doha so that we can properly congratulate him,” said Christie.


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