Why Jamaica is now the sprint darling of the world
Jamaica is undoubtedly the country that is the pride and joy of the athletic world. To put the historic 12-medal haul by our athletes at the recently concluded London Olympic Games in perspective, it is important for us to be aware of the medal count over the years, as well as the factors which have led to this development.
Although Jamaica won 5 medals in 1952, and did well thereafter, we were not able to come near that feat again until 1992, some 40 years later, when we won four medals. Since 1992, it has been a steady increase in medal count, except for 2004 when we went down to 6, after the memorable feat of 9 medals in 2000.
Unlike the steady tapering off which took place after 1952, the country has maintained a growing consistency since 1992, culminating in the highest medal count this year. The question can, therefore, be asked, what are the factors which have influenced this development since 2002? I wish to highlight four such possible factors.
GC Foster College
The first I believe is the visionary decision taken in 1977 to invite the Cuban Government to construct the GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport.
Many will recall that Cuba at the time, and to an extent still is, was a veritable sporting powerhouse, with the likes of Teófilo Stephenson in boxing, and the long striding Alberto Juantorena on the track. These Cuban athletes were home grown and home trained, having been exposed to the technical craft of the coaches who were graduating from institutions in Cuba similar to what later became the GC Foster College in Jamaica.
Since its inception, 'GC Foster' has produced coaches of all types, and they are now spread far and wide across Jamaica. They are able to spot talents from early and help young aspiring athletes come to the fore. Many of these coaches continue to work, despite very limited resources. Yet, they continue to do what they do best because of the exposure which they received at 'GC Foster'. It is not surprising that some of those persons who are seeking to take credit for what is happening today were in the forefront of the campaign against the establishment of 'GC Foster' in 1980.
Funds dedicated to sport
The second reason was the decision taken in 1995 by the Government to have a steady stream of funds dedicated to sport. The Sports Development Foundation (SDF) was established to receive government revenue under the terms of a licence granted, in the first instance, to the Jamaica Lottery Company and, thereafter, to Supreme Ventures Limited. Agreed amounts paid over by Supreme Ventures would be listed as a tax and paid over on a weekly basis to the Commissioner of Inland Revenue.
The sum collected is now administered by the Culture, Health, Arts, Sport, and Education (CHASE) Fund which was created in 2002. As a result of the collaboration between CHASE and the SDF, nearly $2b has so far been directly contributed to sport.
Since 1995, the Foundation has constructed some 347 multipurpose courts, constructed or contributed to the construction of 132 playfields, and the seating and lighting of several complexes. The Foundation also established an Athletes' Welfare Fund to assist present and retired persons in need who have represented Jamaica at different levels in sporting activities with medical expenses, wheelchairs, housing modification, training equipment, accommodation, and living expenses during preparation for national representation, competition fees and some form of school related grants.
The third factor is that we are keeping a lot more of our athletes that came through the high school system here in Jamaica. We have been able to do so because in recent times we have developed home-grown track and field clubs marshalled and superintended by coaches who are some of the best in the world.
Prior to the establishment of these local clubs, which are attached to some of our finest tertiary institutions, athletes who did well would continue their higher education and track and field involvement by pursuing scholarships in the USA.
The absorption of the best of Jamaica's track and field talent into the USA system was not by chance. It happened because of two main reasons. In the first instance the USA is Jamaica's largest trading partner and by necessity, the two economies are heavily intertwined. The other reason is that there is a large Jamaican Diaspora in the USA. It was and is, therefore, quite easy for our track and field talent to seek both professional, as well as, sport development in the USA.
The programme of scholarships to the USA continues, and should not be curtailed because it has helped many athletes in the past, continues to help many current athletes and will be the saviour to many in the future. While this is extremely positive, the fact is that we have lost many of our talented and gifted athletes because of their inability to cope with conditions elsewhere.
The majority of our current crop of athletes are spared this challenge because we have now fully Jamaicanised our home grown athletic talent and are able to give the guidance required based on our cultural norms, our understanding of the international track and field requirements, and most important, based on the human and psychological peculiarities of our own athletes.
Performance enhancing drugs
The fourth reason is that the international drug testing requirements are far more rigorous. There are many among us who feel, to this day, that outstanding former athletes such as Merlene Ottey, Grace Jackson and Juliet Cuthbert were denied gold medals largely because of the 'souped-up' condition of some of their competitors.
Despite bans and random testing which were carried out by national and international sport organisations, a uniform programme for the testing of athletes was not agreed upon until 1999, when the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) was established.
Since then, there has been a major assault by the authorities on the use of performance enhancing drugs. Jamaica, for its part, despite the utterances of Carl Lewis and Dick Pound, has a very strong and proactive anti-doping stance.
This manifested in the fact that on February 10, 2004 the country signed the Copenhagen Declaration on Anti-Doping in Sport. Later, on May 16, 2005, Jamaica adopted a Policy against Doping in Sport. In the same year the Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) was formed to carry out the country's anti-doping programme, in accordance with the dictates of WADA's Code.
On July 31, 2008 the country adopted the Anti-Doping in Sport Act, giving JADCO the right to, among other things, promote a drug-free environment for sport and provide athletes and athlete support personnel with protection of their right to participate in drug-free sport, and thus promote health, fairness and equality for all participants in sports.
No other country of Jamaica's size, with a population of less than three million, has been as successful in the last 10 years, as Jamaica at the Olympic Games. In fact, the performances of our athletes in the last two Olympics have made Jamaica the sprint capital of the world, an accolade that formerly belonged to the USA.
This is an amazing feat when one considers that the USA has a population of over 300 million and incomparable financial and human resources that are used to facilitate their track and field programme.