Sun | Oct 22, 2017

Orville Taylor | Not so fast

Published:Sunday | August 13, 2017 | 12:00 AM

When I sent off this column to be published, the relays had not yet been run, but I would have stuck out my neck and said that we are up against a big challenge in the 4x100s. However, the Americans will be surprised as to how good we are in the 4x400s. Of course, by then, the majority of Jamaicans would have jumped off the bandwagon, and with their stories ranging from obeah to the 'saltness' of spouses accompanying the athletes. Some very disrespectful comments were also made about the choice of the team, referring to persons who qualified fair and square to run as 'donkeys' because other not-selected athletes were not allowed to displace them.

So, it looks like we will have garnered seven medals, fewer than the jewellery store to which we have grown accustomed, but we made 20 finals. Speaking prophetically, hardly anyone noticed that we finished in third place in the overall championships. Only the USA has won medals in double digits.

 

UNDERPERFORMANCE

 

We speak of underperformance, and of course, if we are looking at Usain Bolt, who has worn a Superman cape and an 'S' on his chest for the past 10 years of Olympics and World Championships, with triple world records in 2009, where else is there to go but down?

Similarly, Elaine Thompson's fifth place in the event she hasn't lost in two years was stunning. Other heartbreaks include Danielle Williams failing to make the finals of the 100-metre hurdles and young Jaheel faltering inexplicably in the 400 hurdles, looking more like Dr Jekyll and less like Mr Hyde. Add to that the subpar performance of Mr 19.79 Warren 'Weirwolf' Weir, 19.80 Rasheed Dwyer, and the defanging of the athlete formerly known as 'The Beast', and one wonders whether Van Helsing has visited our camp.

Thankfully, Omar 'Mr Silk' McLeod, born under the sign of the bull, refused to bow under the pressure and secured gold for us in the 110m hurdles. Tough luck for his female compatriots who all failed to make it out of the semi-finals.

Nevertheless, apart from the victory in finally getting the British commentator to pronounce her name properly, Ristananna Tracey, with strides as long as her tongue-twisting name, snatched a hard-fought bronze in the 400. It is a gut-wrenching reality check; we only won three individual medals. That is not the post-2007 Jamaica that began with Asafa Powell breaking the world record twice in the 100 metres, but it is the reality we must face.

 

BIG DEAL

 

Turning up third in the global championships is a big deal. And those of us who know better have a duty to educate the public to this fact. Even if we break it down to individual performances, we should feel very proud. At least 16 individuals made it into the finals in their respective events.

It might not look like much but it is a big deal, maybe not the meal which his colleague, Jason Morgan, looks like he feeds on, but it would have taken Fedrick Dacres a repeat of the best throw he has ever made to leap on to the podium. A totally locally trained youth, a full-time student and part-time athlete, his fourth-place finish is history-making.

Add to that the tantalising finish of fourth in the female shot put by Danniel Thomas-Dodd. With her hand on the bronze, it took the final attempt by the eventual silver-medal winner to bump her off the medal roster. True, if she repeated her lifetime best, she would have beaten American Michelle Carter by a centimetre. Still, all who beat her have historically better records. This is historically new ground. Hats off also to Aisha Praught, who made the finals of the 3,000m steeplechase, and Kemoy Campbell, who carved out new territory in the 5,000m.

Tell me if young Nathon Allen, who was at St Jago High up to last year, hasn't made us proud with his gutsy performance to finish fifth? And Demish Gaye, who, unperturbed by the big stars, ran with more form than a government department, showed that the pool of Jamaican 400m runners is far from dry. Importantly, no American finished ahead of either of them. And mark my word: Look out for how they run their 4x400 legs later today.

 

EXPECTATIONS VS REALITY

 

Nonetheless, it would be disingenuous for me to try to downplay the fact that we didn't live up to expectations. But expectations must always be tempered by reality and processes. For me, it was never about the individual success of the enigma called Bolt. We have a lot of raw material, in that studies have shown that 70 per cent of our population have the 'speed gene'. Bolt is a once-in-a-century athlete, but we have hundreds of potential sub-10 seconds 100m runners to guarantee that we keep the 4x100 records here until politicians become honest.

Understandably, the Racers camp, with the departure of Bolt, now needs a new poster boy, and it looks like Yohan Blake might not be it. What is important, however, is that we recognise that the recent success of Jamaican athletics has been based on systems, not individuals. We still have one of the best sprint factories in the world, and this is a glitch in the individual performances. As great as Bolt is, he cannot carry an entire nation on his back - and he doesn't need to.

Ironically, he might have also contributed to the poor showing of our athletes by inspiring runners from Turkey (not the transplanted Jamaicans), Switzerland, Brazil, and Cote D'Ivoire. We just need to work hard to keep our competitive edge and not rest on our laurels. We are only as good as our last championship.

But thankfully, those of us who have loved and supported track and field Jamaica since the rock of ages was a grain of sand will be still there when we rise again.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.