Sustaining Jamaica's track and field legacy
THE success of Jamaica's track and field team to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Daegu, and more recently London 2012 Olympic Games, has captured the imagination of not just sporting enthusiasts, but also many persons who had only a passing interest in sports.
London 2012 may eventually go down in history as the event that has set new standards in the organisation of mega sporting events, as well as the planning and implementation of a legacy programme. While Jamaica's successes have been nothing short of phenomenal and we celebrate the fantastic performances of our athletes, I am sure there are many who are actively asking the question, how all this will be sustained?
One government official suggested the need to diversify our approach and work towards participating in areas other than track and field athletics. In a country where GDP is approximately U$9,000 and our unemployment figures are trending upwards, our best bet may be to spend our scarce resources on strengthening the area in which we are currently most successful and have a competitive advantage.
Once our economy picks up we will undoubtedly be better equipped to afford the cost associated with expansion so as to enter more sports in the Olympic Games. Let us not lose sight of the fact that our rich medal haul is limited to only a few events in track and field and, therefore, we may well be advised to first expand our efforts in track and field where we have a decided advantage.
Initially, we should confine our expansion for the immediate future to track and field discipline simply because our track and field facilities are generally underdeveloped. Speed is an essential component in virtually all track and field disciplines and we are blessed in that area. The harsh reality is that we have many average sprinters who may very well be advised to seek glory in other events where the transition can be seamless, such as long and triple jumps. Over the years our successes bear absolutely no relationship to the poor facilities available islandwide. We may well have world-class candidates for the pole vault, but may never realize any success, as the facilities for pole vault is virtually non-existent, and facilities for high jump are very modest.
After our Beijing success there was a loud outcry for establishing a Centre of Excellence. In this case, I'm happy it was only talk as too often we overlook what exists and rush to create new structure in the hope of getting improved results.
I am deadly scared of any suggestion to build new facilities as we all know of our exceptionally poor track record in maintenance of public facilities.
Many Jamaicans have some desire to see us maintain and expand our dominance at the international level in athletics. In order to sustain the current standard we should develop a plan for upgrading our facilities across the island. Our high schools and colleges already have the space, security and some level of maintenance which can provide a solid basis for improved facilities. An additional benefit is that our educational institutions also serves the needs of adjoining communities.
There are international companies that may be approached to prepare "special affordable packages" designed for Jamaica which can be negotiated as part of an islandwide development plan for upgrading large numbers of our facilities. The packages would provide for upgrading long jump pits and, where practical, high jump arch, pole vault facilities and throwing circles with appropriate safety cages.
We should strive to ensure all high schools and colleges that have organised programmes have at least their long jump and throwing facilities upgraded. Pole vault and high jump may be more challenging. However, we could select schools with the appropriate space to install these and have them serve as focal points for a cluster of adjoining schools to facilitate training and competition until the required funds are available for further expansion.
Jamaican sprint stars Usain Bolt (left) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who won their 100m events in Beijing, Berlin and London
EDITOR'S NOTE: Anthony Davis is a PhD scholar at the University of Glasgow and president of Jamaica Intercollegiate Sports Association (Intercol)