MONTEGO BAY, St James — Two-time IAAF World Junior Championships men's 100m champion Dexter Lee and World Youth Championships 200m gold medallist Ramone McKenzie have joined the Akan Track Club based in Kingston where they will be coached by Michael Clarke for the 2014 track and field season.
After spending the last two seasons elsewhere with very little success, both athletes, who were expected to be part of the Jamaican senior set-up after stellar junior careers, will both be seeking to resuscitate their foundering track and field prospects under the guidance of one of the island's top coaches.
In confirming the addition of Lee and McKenzie to his club, Clarke, who was the head coach for the Jamaican team at the recent 14th IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia, last month, told the Jamaica Observer it was a "joy" for him to be able to attract athletes of this calibre to his fledgling outfit.
"I have been doing this for a number of years, and to get the chance to contribute to the talent development in Jamaica is a joy to me as I have a passion for coaching," said Clarke, who has won more than 10 ISSA Boys' Championships with St Jago High, Jamaica College and Calabar High.
He admitted that his success with World Championships 400m relay silver medallist Javon Francis this past season would have helped, but pointed out that he also had two other athletes, 4x100m relay gold medallist Oshane Bailey, and 200m semi-finalist Jason Livermore on the team to Moscow, as well.
"Francis' success was an eye-opener for some," he said. "Others have also noticed the success of Bailey and Livermore as well."
Both Lee and McKenzie were expected to have started pre-season workouts at Calabar High with their new teammates on Wednesday afternoon.
While McKenzie flirted with the 100m over the past two seasons while he was based in Florida, Clarke said the plan right now was for the athlete, who was nicknamed 'Batman' for the mask he wore while competing, to go back to the 200m/400m double, but added that they were keeping their "options open".
Lee became the first Jamaican man to win a global 100m gold medal when he won the IAAF World Youth Championships in 2007 in Ostrava, then became the first man to win back-to-back 100m titles at the World Junior level, in 2008 in Bydgoszcz, Poland, and 2010 in Moncton, Canada, before winning a gold medal at the 2011 World Championships when he anchored the 4x100m team in the heats in Daegu, South Korea.
After changing coaches at the start of the 2012 season, from Claude Grant, the man who discovered him at Herbert Morrison in Montego Bay, and moving to Kingston, Lee had endured two seasons full of disappointments, running 10.15 seconds at the Jamaica International Invitational last year, and 10.19 seconds at the National Senior Trials this year, both far from the personal best 10.06 seconds he set at a meet in Brazil in 2011.
Meanwhile, Clarke said the addition to his Akan club was good for Jamaica's track and field as the two established clubs, Racers Track Club, led by Glen Mills and including world and Olympic sprint medallists Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir, and the Stephen Francis-led MVP TC will eventually become oversubscribed.
"The two top clubs cannot and will not be able to take everybody, so this is a good move for us, and Jamaica's track product will benefit. And for Akan to be mentioned in the same breath as those two, is good, and in time we will blossom," he told the Observer.
The focus at Akan presently is to work with sprinters between 100m and 400m. "We want to keep it tight for right now and just keep quality athletes and at a manageable level."
Getting the opportunity to work with Lee, he said, was "a coach's dream. I am happy to be given the chance to work with a well-decorated athlete of promise. There is no reason why he should not be able to get back to his best, and improve."
McKenzie is 'returning home' after he was part of Clarke's team at Calabar for a number of years. "We have a long association, and when he asked me to be his coach I welcomed the opportunity," Clarke said.