Javon 'Donkey Man' Francis gallops into imagination of track & field world

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

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As part of the intriguing culture of Jamaica, nicknames, or aliases, come aplenty. Some of them are vulgar, offensive, cute, weird, interesting and some simply don't make sense at all.


But most, if not all nicknames, have stories behind them.


Javon Francis, the 18-year-old who by sheer guts galloped like an equine thoroughbred on the final leg to give Jamaica silver on the line of the men's 4X400m relay at the 14th IAAF World Championships, has a nickname that in a sense defines his amazing performance.


With a relay split of 44.00 seconds, Francis, also known as 'Donkey Man', announced himself not only to Jamaica but to the world.


And his nickname, 'Donkey Man', is sure to become as famous over time as his christened names and his World Championships exploits.


People will no doubt recall how this youngster propelled Jamaica from fifth to second spot with a burst of speed, then showed unbelievable courage to hang on for the silver medal under extreme pressure from the renewed challenge of the Russian runner who was being cheered on by his compatriots.


They will also recall that it was 'Donkey Man' from the impoverished settlement in Bull Bay called 'Bobo Hill' who lit up the Luzhniki Stadium, demonstrating the spirit of competition like few others at the games.


But how did this talented youngster get his name nickname?


According to Francis, he was given the nickname while attending St Benedict's Primary School by his then football coach, who said he resembled someone called 'Donkey'.


But the name really didn't stick with him and only got popular while he was going through intense preparation for 'Champs' as a Class Two athlete for Calabar High School.


One of his Calabar coaches told of an incident that was funny but which forever endeared Francis to his teammates and coaching staff.


"We allowed a younger runner to run off seconds before him and told him to chase him," said the coach who wishes to remain anonymous. Francis failed to catch the youngster and when asked why not, Francis replied. "Him fast, sir."


That youngster was no ordinary runner; it was one of the top Class Three athletes but Francis was told to catch him the next time.


Again the same formula was used: The Class Three runner sprinted off in the distance and Francis chased him down and almost caught him.


"How you don't catch him?" the question was asked again of Francis. "Mi a nuh donkey sir," a tired and irate Francis replied. From that day the name 'Donkey Man' never left him.


Francis recalled two warnings from two of his coaches: "If you come in the kitchen you will get burn" and "if you want something your nose will have to run like river".


Despite being extremely exhausted, Francis said he was offered a financial package if he could run the last 200m in 22 flat or 21 plus.


"I said to myself, $400 could do me well and I could stop at Mother's (Patties) or anywhere. I was tired, but I ran the time like I wasn't even tired in 21 something," he remembered.


But that coaching style has turned a talented youngster into a star who loves to chase, and not only has he done it once in recent times, he did it at the Penn Relays, chasing and catching none other than the super talented Delano Williams who just represented Great Britain in the 200m at the Moscow games.


The stage was set at the 2013 Penn Relays as Munro College, being anchored by Williams, had a near 10-metre lead but Francis went into overdrive and surpassed Williams to secure an unlikely victory for Calabar High. He was timed at 44.8 on that leg.


Then months later, he did it again, this time on the world stage, sweeping past not junior athletes, but the best in the world and has now etched his name into Jamaica's track and field folklore.


"Now they want to call me Super Donkey," Francis told the Jamaica Observer yesterday.




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