Though he loves to gallop, Javon Francis is no 'donkey'

By Dr Rachael Irving

Sunday, April 13, 2014    

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NEW Class One 400m record holder Javon Francis limps up the stairs as he makes his way on stage in an emotional farewell following his final appearance for Calabar High.

The staging of the ISSA Boys' and Girls' Championships has always been phenomenal. It is from Champs that we expect to see young talents emerge who will eventually replace the Shelly-Anns and Usains when they retire. Young Javon Francis is one of those talents.

I cried when he did that impossible run that took the men's 4x400-metre relay team from fifth to second position at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. On Saturday, March 28, 2014, you could not imagine how choked up I was when Javon ran the Class One 400 metres final in 45 seconds to demolish the 45.35 seconds set by Usain Bolt in 2003.

At the end of the superb run, I started to get a little worried when I saw him limping. Yet, in less than three hours, Javon was back on the track in the 200 metres final. What on earth was Calabar thinking?

It is senseless to have the muscles of an emerging talent like Javon damaged because of overwork. After that blistering record-breaking 400 metres, lactic acid would have been built up in his system making him hypoxic (lacks oxygen).

This was indicated because he was having muscular tinges/cramps after the 400 metres race, pointing to inflamed or fatigued muscles. Possibly because his muscle energy storage or glycogen was depleted and needed refuelling and rest to revert back to the pre-400 metres race level.

Javon is in a transitional stage in his athletic development and must be guided properly if he is to do both the 200 and 400 metres. My theory for the error in judgement in overexposing young Francis is that someone induced him to test the strength of Jevaughn Minzie of Bog Walk, who had done a fantastic 10.16 seconds in the 100 metres.

Minzie was the clear favourite in the 200 metres final, after the pulling out of Zharnell Hughes, who had nipped him at 10.12 seconds in the 100 metres to break the record and take the gold for Kingston College.

Incidentally, Hughes had pulled out of the 200 metres final because of an injury. ISSA cannot leave the welfare of athletes to individual schools. Coaches and students are emotional during the Champs period and often winning the Mortimer Geddes trophy is more important than the athletes' health.

The administration of Champs has gone well over the years, but too many horrible stories about injuries suffered by young athletes have surfaced. The talented Christiana Williams from Edwin Allen has just resurfaced at Champs to cop the Class One 100 metres in 11.19 seconds, after suffering some debilitating re-injuries, which could have been prevented had she not been overworked.

The only person to have ever gone faster than Christiana in Class One was Veronica Campbell Brown. Young, emerging talents like Javon and Christiana must be protected, they are national treasures. ISSA has instituted a policy where students cannot participate in Champs if they have less than a 45 per cent average in four subjects. They must also initiate a policy where an overworked athlete is withdrawn from further competition during Champs.

There are ways to check overworked muscles. Cheap, cutting-edge equipment can detect overworked muscles even if the coach says otherwise. An athlete who complains of muscle cramps after any race must be checked for lactate build-up using a simple lactate analyser which costs less than $25,000. If the lactate level is above a threshold amount, then the athlete should be pulled and allowed to rest for at least 24 hours before competing again.

So many mishaps can be prevented by proper management of our young talented athletes. ISSA must also invest in a Cardio-metrix Pulse Oximeter which cost less than $30,000. If the recent NACAC team had travelled with a Cardio-metrix Pulse Oximeter to test the oxygen saturation level of those athletes competing in the cross country competition in Tobago, the death of that young St Jago High School athlete, Cavaughn McKenzie, may have been prevented.

This tiny machine must be present in the first aid kit at Champs and must be in the travelling kit of managers of athletic teams. This machine is minute and is a small wrist- held pulse oximeter attached to a cellphone. Red and infrared light from this small machine is shone through a selected finger of the athlete and on to a photodetector which is projected unto the cellphone. Since the two types of lights are absorbed differently by fatigued athletes and those not fatigued, heart rate fluctuations can be detected on a cellphone for athletes at risk for cardio-respiratory failure during competition.

I do not understand with so many nurses, doctors and physical therapists associated with ISSA, why they have not instituted small, cost-effective solutions to protect our young athletes from harm. ISSA, please urgently put some structures in place to protect these athletes under your care. Jamaica, particularly you, ISSA, owes these athletes more than a crowded stadium during Champs.

Editor's note: Dr Rachel Irving is the Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at the University of the West Indies, Mona.





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