Tue | Jul 23, 2024

Orville Taylor | National pride: but a humane eye for our athletes

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2024 | 12:09 AM

Later today we will know whether or not it is D-Day or Q-Day. A very unusual position for Jamaica to be in, outside of qualification for the final 16 spots in the men’s 4x400 relay. In a strange alphabetical twist, Jamaica is right behind Zambia, a track and field guppy. Tauntingly, ‘Z’ is the last letter, and as children, we used to joke about finishing behind the second to last person.

It gets worse. France is in the penultimate position; but my tongue remains in my cheek, regarding the initial letter.

By some strange twist of fate, Jamaica failed miserably in the Olympic qualifying World Athletic Relays in The Bahamas, last month. Our 2023 time of 2.59.34 is barely faster than the national U-20 record of 3.00.99. In the Bahamas, we crawled to a limacine 3:02.46.

Whatever the causal factors, the times have been deteriorating steadily since our 2:57.90 in 2019. A year later, we were almost a second slower, with a 2:58.76 season’s best. A marginal improvement to 2:58.58 in 2022 then saw us bottoming out to a full 22 seconds behind Zambia’s 2:59.12. In real terms, at our 2023 season’s best, we would be ‘donkey lengths’ behind Zambia. Visually, imagine Shericka Jackson starting and finishing a 200 meters race within that time/gap.

Yet, let me make it clear; not one single athlete goes on the track to run last or make up numbers. Inasmuch as national pride and bragging rights are on the line, our athletes are human beings first and have to think of their long-term physical and mental health; not just the 10 seconds or three minutes of glory to a country that often rips them apart when they are down.

Armchair gurus, who have never represented the nation before an international audience, sometimes chat too much. Though different, I recall being thrown in as a ‘night watchman’ at a UN Conference as a young civil servant to answer questions on our compliance with fundamental human rights conventions. Nervous and unscripted, there was a subtle difference between being in continental Europe and being incontinent in Europe. Representing one’s country is not only an honour; it is the source of immeasurable pressure, and unless one has been there; one cannot fully empathise.

DEEP SYMPATHY

Using Elaine Thompson Herah as an example, the sight of her finishing down the track in two races chipped national pride. However, her being lifted off the track should evoke deep sympathy, if not empathy.

One might not have seen it, but American collegiate Jacious Sears, with a world leading 10.77 pulled up with a five-metre lead on Brianna Lyston in the SEC championships, allowing our girl the victory. For those of us who are parents, the image of our child pulling up in pain, with the possibility of a career derailing injury, is horrific.

With a mind that recognises that athletes are human beings, one would be hard-pressed to feel undone by the fact that Mackenzie Long defeated Lyston in the NCAA 100 metres final, while bearing the pain of the loss of her mother, which ultimately gave her additional strength.

Nevertheless, there are circumstances where the athlete simply is literally running on an edge and is doing the best she or he can with an injury which, if aggravated, could totally destroy the ultimate career goal of winning major trophies and the benefit of representing one’s country.

If the detractors were to see past their own noses, it would be easy to notice that Lyston ran with a thigh that was completely sleeved. Never mind the black jokes about it matching her complexion. Given the larger picture, her coach and other individuals caring about her personally should not only shut down her season, but also those who look askance at the decision.

In that light, despite our accent, there’s a big difference between a Herah and a hero. Elaine should get the best medical advice and treatment, to avoid using crutches for the rest of her life.

DISCUSSING INJURY

Speaking of crutches, the first time I saw football connoisseur Craig Butler was at the airport in the US discussing an injury. Someone used the term ‘obliterate’ to describe the ligaments or tendons that got damaged. Erring on the side of caution is always best in the interest of the athlete first. Everything else is secondary.

However, not all the challenges are physical. My senior psychiatrist colleague, Aggrey Irons, once told me that the largest sex organ is the brain. Where this has dysfunctions; everything else goes south.

Having watched his son Leon Bailey over these last few years, I have no issue, as a behavioural scientist myself, that a plausible reason for not joining the Reggae Boyz squad as invited, is his mental well-being. As long as this is not recriminations or bad blood; I accept his decision. After all, a mentally unwell athlete is a liability; not an asset to the team. Moreover, employers have a legal obligation to create or cause to be created, a working environment, which is not hostile to the worker.

With just a few days to go before the national track and field championships, we are holding our breaths, anticipating the best performances, including of course the return of ‘Mummy Rocket’ Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Nikisha with the same last name, who showed that Jamaican prices never go down.

Still, I can’t help but poke American sprinter Noah Lyles, whose lower extremities could not back up what his mouth did, blaming a repast of dark ‘Jumaican chawklit’ for not running faster than he ever has. He knows that Jamaicans sometimes fire the gun early with little provocation. However, our sourest fruit is not grapes but tough oranges are called Seville, and the Oblique look he got at the finish line three weeks ago is an angle he should get used to.

Thank you to all who ‘shub out’ in our colours.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com