Orville Higgins | Biggest dramas off the track
The postmortem into the London World Championships is still continuing. Much of the discussion centres on decisions made by the team management, especially as it relates to the relays. Every time there is a global tournament, it seems there is always relay drama - who should run, and who should run on what leg.
At the London World Championships, there were three glaring cases. The decision not to run Demish Gaye and Nathon Allen in the heats of the 4x400m may have cost the Jamaicans another medal. Management has accepted responsibility for that, but many people to whom I have spoken feel that this was too serious a foul-up to be forgotten, or forgiven, by merely an apology.
Then there was the case of Stephenie-Ann McPherson. She didn't take part in the 4x400 relay after that now-much-talked-about altercation with Shericka Jackson. Whether it was because of a genuine injury or as a result of the bad blood with her MVP teammate depends on who you talk to. And then, of course, maybe the most significant of all was the no-show of Elaine Thompson in the 4x400 for women.
Immediately after her shock fifth-place finish in the 100m, she announced that she would be looking forward to the relays. She wasn't the only one. Jamaicans at home and in the diaspora were looking for her to make amends in the relays. Her gold medal was sure, it was thought. It is still not clear what could have caused her to lose so badly.
When we didn't see Elaine in the relays, it was like, "Here we go again!" Bruce James, the president of MVP, told us on television that it was "politics" why she didn't run. He didn't elaborate, and he wasn't pressed. What then complicated matters was Stephen Francis coming out afterwards to say she was never ever down to run the relays. So athlete says she was looking forward to running, coach says that was never in the plans, and president says it was politics! Where, in between these dramatically different stories, is the truth?
Coach Francis blamed
As expected, fingers have been pointed at Stephen Francis again. His decision not to make Elaine Thompson do the double had already made him face more vilification. Talk that Stephen was more interested in his athletes' welfare, rather than national interest, was making the rounds long before the Jamaicans touched down in London. When Elaine didn't run the relays, the cries grew louder.
I was speaking to Glen Mills on radio on Wednesday, August 16, and he said directly that if we don't sort out the decision-making for the relays, we would always perform below our true capabilities and take home fewer medals. He sounded guarded. Other people in track and field circles feel the same way. It is clear that there is a problem. When should the authority of the personal coaches stop, and where does the authority of the national coaches start? Where should we draw the line?
People have said that there should be statute that gives personal coaches less say at these global meets. They feel that once the athlete is within the national team set-up, personal coaches should no longer have a say in the relays. It sounds reasonable on the surface, but it is not as simple as it sounds. The personal coaches can always draw for their most potent card: The athlete is carrying a niggle that would make it best for them to opt out of the team event.
The MVP management said McPherson was injured. What else could the national team coaches do? After Stephen Francis said that Elaine would not run the relay because he had to manage her Achilles problems, what could the team coaches do? In this regard, the personal coaches will always hold sway, unless the athletes decide to defy orders.
I'm not blaming Francis necessarily. Francis will argue that his athlete's personal interest, not necessarily the interest of the country, should be paramount in his decision-making. And we really can't blame him. I can't see an end to this. The next World Championships will see problems like this again. Maybe we need divine intervention.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.