VERNAMFIELD, Clarendon — When Rusheen McDonald makes his Olympic debut in the 400m heats at London's Olympic Stadium on Saturday, the Garvey Maceo High School family will be among his loudest cheerleaders.
McDonald, 19, created history for the south-eastern Clarendon school when he became its first Olympian following a second-place finish in the 400m final at the National Athletic Championships on July 1.
Before this milestone, Garvey Maceo High — one of three Jamaican schools built by the Cuban Government — was virtually unknown on the track and field circuit. Its previous sporting success came in football and, to a lesser extent, cricket.
"When I went there in 2008 [it] was very tough," said Kirk Beckford, coach of the school's track team.
"I had to deal with a lot of frustration; (from) athletes who never wanted to train, to people telling us that we not to bother train because we not good enough. At one point we didn't even have a field to train on. We were basically training on the outside field, which is about 150m. It had a gutter so the guys were picking up a lot of injuries. It was very challenging, trus' me," he said.
But with the likes of McDonald now making a relatively smooth transition from a high school athlete to a professional so soon after graduation, Beckford is optimistic that the school's fortune is about to change.
He reckons this individual success story can become the perfect marketing tool as the school looks to further develop its track and field programme.
"I always believed that once I was able to put together my own programme we would eventually turn out some good athletes," Beckford noted.
"Today we can say we have produced [an] Olympian, but right now this is just the start for Garvey Maceo in track and field. I just hope that the school community, past students and the wider Clarendon will step in now and give us some more support, because we have a lot of other talented athletes," he said.
Among those promising athletes is sprinter Tyquando Tracey, who was a member of the 4x100m team that won a silver medal at the recently concluded World Junior Championships in Barcelona, Spain.
"We have a lot of other young guys coming up who we think can bring more glory to Garvey Maceo next season," Beckford told the Jamaica Observer Central during a recent gym session at Shermane's Sweat Shop in May Pen.
"At the moment, we have one thrower and we are also looking to get into the hurdles and high jump because we want to match up with the top (track and field) schools like Kingston College, Jamaica College, Calabar and Munro," he said.