Sport

J'can stars to prove worth in London

FROM THE SPORTS DESK

Hartley Anderson

Sunday, July 22, 2012    

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THE barring of journalists from the Jamaican training camp in Birmingham is just one of many noteworthy events to have emerged on the eve of the London Olympics.

Close behind is the heightened medal projections for the country in what may be considered a homecoming of sorts for this little island nation celebrating its 50th year of political independence from the very country hosting the Games.

Within this context, our athletes have a few points to prove as our representatives on the biggest sporting stage. First, they have to demonstrate we've come of age as a sovereign nation with the capacity to stand on our own in the area of sport and culture, and against the background that the last time the Games were held in this city, in 1948, Jamaican athletes represented an alien flag.

Again, the athletes should want to prove to those in the Diaspora that it's worthwhile being Jamaican and the fire of nationalism burns fiercely within their bosoms — despite the challenges that have licked at our heels from the moment we dared venture on our own.

Thirdly, having reaped a harvest of 11 medals in 2008 in Beijing, Jamaica is mandated to prove this was no flash in the pan accomplishment, but rather, the systematic emergence of a "golden generation" of athletes.

In this vein, we recognise veterans like Arthur Wint, Herb McKenley, Les Laing, George Rhoden, George Kerr, Lennox Miller, Keith Gardner and Donald Quarrie — heroes who, in paving the way, convinced their successors it was possible to compete with, and defeat the world.

It would, therefore, not be inappropriate to suggest that in many ways, Jamaican athletes are under pressure to deliver not only for their compatriots at home, but also for the millions of migrants whose roots run deep and who are still passionate about their homeland.

The truth is that perhaps it's no longer feasible to hang onto the coat-tails of the West Indies cricket team as a symbol of Caribbean success, and our athletes are thus the only remaining hope for those who cannot find their way back, yet anticipate the sunshine experience that may be vicarious provided this summer.

On the matter of this generation of athletes, it is fortunate we've hit the jackpot in an era where sport offers a plethora of opportunities. It is a fact that despite our past successes at the world level, including the Olympics, we had never before tasted this level of success so richly deserved, but which was so sparse in coming.

However, with the world watching, facilitated by the upswing in technology, we now have a glorious opportunity to showcase the holistic Jamaican brand, starting with our athletes.

In exploiting this, one acknowledges that this time of plenty does not come at the proverbial "dime a dozen" and while it should be immensely enjoyed, must also be sustained.

It is for this reason that succession planning must be prioritised, using the state of West Indies cricket as a caution against complacency and lack of administrative insight.

Interestingly, as the Games loom, respected members of the local athletics body have cautioned against lofty medal expectations. This encourages objectivity and critical thinking among fans, as opposed to sheer emotion. It also eases the pressure off the athletes.

Simultaneously, however, experts agree that this team is much healthier in talent and experience than in 2008 — at least on paper. The stars of four years ago have returned, but the individual who has significantly ramped-up the quality of the team is 22-year-old Yohan Blake who enters the Games as a strong contender in the sprints and according to the pundits, is tipped for at least one individual gold medal.

A big factor which could debilitate against Jamaica is the weather, which is wet, cold and miserable. In fact, it has been such a wretched English summer that for the first time in decades an entire day of a Test match (between the West Indies and England) was washed out.

With the conditions causing athletes from other countries to seek warmer climes to complete their Olympic preparations, the Jamaicans have, on the whole, remained at their training base in Birmingham.

Without the presence of journalists at these sessions, one is unsure how well they are coping. The presumption, however, is that they are, at least, getting acclimatised and toughening-up for the challenges ahead.

As a consequence of the weather, not many athletics records are, therefore, expected to be broken; neither should the times be phenomenal. This situation is ideal for one Usain Bolt who should not feel compelled to pursue new marks and can thus concentrate on his competitive craft.

Finally, having progressed leaps and bounds in sport as a nation, we have, sadly, yet to master the small matter of communication.

For, in recalling the spat between the athletics authorities and the local media ahead of the recent Olympic Trials, informing journalists of the imminent restrictions at training camp would have at least been expected.

Instead, the local media awakened to the reality that regardless of the willingness of the athletes to co-operate, they would be afforded no special treatment.

Interestingly, the USA contingent doesn't quite see things that way and, in fact, encourage this type of interaction.

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