Whither Jamaica's track & field...

Richard
Blackford

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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The curtain came down over the weekend on the 2019 running of the IAAF Word Relay Championships in Yokohama, Japan, and for the first time in more than a dozen years in international competitions Jamaica failed to win a single gold medal. At least two years ago at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London, Omar McLeod saved us total blushes when he sped to victory in 13.05 seconds in the men's 110-metre hurdles. At the end of those championships I wrote an opinion piece presaging the kind of results that we are now seeing. After all, the gargantuan figure of Usain Bolt thundering out of the starting blocks over the 12 years that he graced the track guaranteed Jamaica at least two gold medals in those competitions, and almost as an afterthought, a win in the sprint relays. Not anymore since Bolt pulled the curtain on his career.

The truth be told, Bolt's dominance over the period masked the fact that the overabundance of talent exposed by each of those years at Champs has not been coming through. Further, the long occupation by Nesta Carter, Nickel Ashmeade, Michael Frater, Asafa Powell, and Yohan Blake meant that there has been little opportunity to apprentice much, if any at all, of that talent. Thus, with Bolt's departure, and that of the regular guard, as far as Jamaica's male sprinting is concerned we have moved from an embarrassment of riches to a position in which pole medals may become few and far between.

The women's division, although not mining gold in the last two years, still shows some promise, with defending double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson spearheading our women's efforts alongside her mentor, former Olympic and IAAF champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Those two apart, there is still some gap between them and the members of the waiting pool. Certainly, the veteran Veronica Campbell Brown, who has been around now for nearly two decades, should not be allowed to become another Merlene Ottey, looking to make five Olympic Games at the expense of the ocean of talented young women that the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Boys' and Girls' Championships has produced over the past 12 years.

I believe that we should ask ourselves the question as to how many of the outstanding performers at ISSA Champs over the past 20 years have actually been elevated to the national track team, and the extent to which their junior success has translated to success at the national senior level. For, if high school championships programme is the incubator that it is publicly recognised as, where exactly are the results? How has the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) capitalised on ISSA's efforts given the huge expenditure among high schools to produce world-beating athletes at the junior level?

My assessment is that the JAAA has been an abysmal failure to Jamaica as an administrative body for athletics over decades. As, beyond the God-given talents possessed by these athletes, the organisation has done very little for which it can claim any athlete's individual success. The fact is that the outstanding individual performances on the international scene since 2007 served to mask the JAAA's deficiencies as Jamaican athletes enjoyed those majestic 12 years.

Watching Bolt tumble and Olympic champion Elaine Thompson failing to medal back in 2017 in London and our relay teams fumble again and again in Japan last weekend, it seemed as if the skies had fallen...or colloquially, that the athletic gods had suddenly deserted Jamaica. Fans of the sport are asking how this could have happened. What could possibly have gone wrong with Jamaica's programme?

My answer is simple: Nothing has happened that wasn't there before. The truth is that there is always a strong inevitability component at play in all sport, summed up simply as “eventually, winners will eventually lose”. It is the same premise that underscores the rise of empires. Eventually, they too will fall.

Perhaps now is a good time for the JAAA to step back and to take stock of how effective it has been at administering the sport in Jamaica. Maybe it is time for not only a reinventing of itself as an organisation, but also time to look, holistically, at Jamaica's athletics programme and to ensure that everything is being done to maintain the solid reputation built on the performances of all our athletes over the years.

In the process, we may need to embrace a little more grace and humility even as we appreciate the efforts of all those who toil to bring us fame. Their failure to deliver is no harbinger of doom, but a mere wake-up call for us to work even harder.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a self-taught artist, writer and social commentator. He shares his time between Lauderhill, Florida, and Kingston, Jamaica. www.yardabraawd.com Send comments to the Observer or richardhblackford@gmail.com.


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