Laurie Foster | Creating another Bolt
With the IAAF World Championships scheduled to begin its 10-day course this weekend, the tension continues to build as the expectations and fortunes of the country’s athletes continue to occupy the minds of an adoring public. As the tradition compels, after a showing two years ago that fell way below the bar set in previous years, it will be all about the number of medals Jamaica can garner. As reluctant as some are to accept it, the Usain Bolt phenomenon is unlikely to return in the near future. As such, one can only reminisce on those days of glory, try to identify the roots from which Bolt phenomenon sprung, and strive to replicate it – no matter how unlikely that seems.
It all began when a former Jamaican sprinter, Pablo McNeil, who had represented the country at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, spotted a talent and made sure that the young Bolt made it to Champs as a less-than-average Class Three athlete. The worldwide recognition did not come until the following year when the 15-year-old blew away the opposition in the 200m before his home crowd at the eighth IAAF World Junior Championships at the National Stadium. As demonstrated at Champs in 2003, the young legend-in-waiting was dominant in both the 200m and the 400m, setting national junior records of 20.25 and 45.35 seconds, respectively.
FOCUS ON SHORTER DISTANCES
For years, he concentrated on the shorter distance, and he finally broke an already outstanding world junior record of 20.13 seconds, lowering it to an incredible 19.93 at the Carifta Games in Bermuda in 2004. He was encouraged to try the 100m, and he did so. In May, 2008, in New York, he broke the world record with a time of 9.72 seconds. He was not yet finished, as he came big again at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, posting 9.69 seconds for the 100m, despite all the chest-beating antics at the end, and 19.30 seconds in another world record in the 200m. The 2009 Berlin World Championships saw the big man winning the two races with his best times ever, registering the still-existing world records of 9.58 and 19.19 seconds.
The question should now be asked, as we look back with pride on the achievements of this phenom: How will it be possible to produce the likes of him again? Foster’s Fairplay thinks that there is no need to change the model. Preparation should be centred along the lines of home bases for our young athletes who possess superior talent.
In earlier times, Bolt’s coach, Glen Mills, at the height of his career, and his equally gifted counterpart, Stephen Francis, embarked on a ‘make it Jamaica’ journey to prepare the country’s athletes for world-class competition as the United States colleges were the route to go after high school. The suggestion is that with the global stretch of Jamaica’s athletic model and what it can do for the nation’s economy, the sport should be treated as an industry and receive all the attention that this status demands. The country, as is the case with all the exports that become available, needs to earn from athletics in the same way that it earns from tourism, bauxite, and other products.
The same expertise that the country’s coaches and other professionals bring to the fore to identify and nurture the awesome talent should be utilised with the support and guidance of knowledgeable persons who represent the Government. Needless to say, there need to be adequate funding and oversight to maintain this model but this should not be beyond the capabilities of the State.
The nation’s athletes continue to tell the story of how much the country’s brand is respected when they compete overseas at international events. It should be to the everlasting benefit of Jamaica if more is attempted in this way to raise and widen the level of participation in these events because doing so should ensure greater exposure to our hallowed image.
It is not being suggested that the sport should ignore the trek to US colleges as elite athletics will never be the goal of everyone who participates. This initiative is just a means to ensure that the many who are not now receiving the encouragement or support to realise their dreams are offered an extra opportunity to do so.
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