Fri | Apr 19, 2019

Mark Ricketts | Our national treasures need greater attention at Champs

Published:Sunday | April 7, 2019 | 12:11 AM

While my column is on sports, it is not just about sports. It is about Jamaica’s national treasures, in the form of our young athletes, who give it their all for five days at our stellar sporting event, the Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships, at the National Stadium.

In our hoopla to showcase Champs as the greatest show on earth and our youngsters as being the fastest on the planet, we sometimes treat them as automatons, mechanical creatures we wind up, recharge, and send on their way to demonstrate their talent in a series of miniOlympics, beginning with Champs, then Penn Relays, CARIFTA games, and the World Youth games.

All this on the tired legs, exhausted hearts, and aching bodies of our young athletes who have just finished hectic, highly competitive development meets, every week or two, for three months prior to the end of March, when Champs gets into full swing.

Prior to the development meets, the athletes start their training and preparation work by September of the previous year. Some even begin mental and physical preparation from the summer, a month or two following their last miniOlympics.

Follow me here. Athletes, including the supertalented, could be representing their school or their country at four mini Olympics, plus any trials required for team selection. That means that they reach peak performance not once, but at least four times. Sometimes when you see them in between meets, they are emotionally and physically drained, literally on their last legs.

Those growing bodies and underdeveloped muscles are telling Jamaica that we are destroying what could be a sustained and important legacy on the global stage in years to come.

LIGHTNING IN A BOTTLE

Last year, Edwin Allen’s Kevona Davis, our lightning in a bottle, put on a clinical display of immaculate running. She elicited ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ at the National Stadium as everyone acknowledged superb talent uncorked.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Paul Wright immediately called for her to be dubbed a national treasure and be managed to preserve her immense potential. If only Jamaica had listened.

She smashed the Class two 100 metres record in her first year in Class two while doing her personal best (PB). One does not have to be a track aficionado to understand what this young ‘phenom’ did running the required three 100 metres in three days in Class two, but running faster in this class than everyone else in the history of Champs, and running faster than she had ever done. For most athletes, that alone would have warranted extended rest and recuperation.

But wait! Kevona replicated her 100m feat, running three 200-metre races within three days, producing another record-breaking performance and PB. Then there was the 4x100 relay. Surely that was enough for the year.

My heart cried out when I heard that she went to Africa for the World Youth games shortly thereafter and pulled up. We make these terrible mistakes all the time, many of which I can recount, yet we continue to do so.

I grieved as I watched her legs taped and saw this immense talent winning her races again at Champs this year, but she was not the same Kevona. She was not as commanding, as imperious, with amazing stride extension in her drive phase. I hope we have not lost this national treasure.

GREAT TRACK RECORD

This is not a frontal attack on Champs. In its 109-year history, it has been a phenomenal institution, allowing young men and women to compete on centre stage while facilitating spectators’, both local and overseas, to enjoyment of a treat of a lifetime. Many young men and women excelling at the gruelling demands of athletic competition have got track and academic scholarships.

Champs has had remarkable changes, moving from Sabina Park to our National Stadium, and has benefited immensely from the coaching skills taught at G.C. Foster. The Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) umbrella organisation has been a boon, and corralling GraceKennedy as a major sponsor has been huge.

Champs is leadership, management, organisational efficiency, experience, and it makes all Jamaicans proud that 3,000 students from 113 boys schools and 108 girls schools can compete with clockwork efficiency while the bleachers and grandstand bathe in exuberance and passion.

PROTECT AND PRESERVE

Champs and coaches, after decades of internal wrangling, are to be commended for making changes to protect and preserve the athletes by restricting them to two individual races, plus relays. But they must go further to protect talent that is rare and special. Imagine after the gut-wrenching performances at Champs, this week, there are the CARIFTA trials.

I can feel the athletes’ pain, exhaustion, exhilaration, and I think I can offer testimony to it. As a first-year student at Jamaica College, I broke four records, doing three PBs. I was on top of the world, untouchable, but so exhausted.

In my final year at Calabar, I was on the Herb Mckenley-trained championship team and could capture the highs of so many superb athletes from all schools, but I also witnessed the pain of superstars overworked and pushed to register more records, more PBs. Many got track scholarships; some were heard from no more. Megastars, even in other countries, having been pushed prematurely, floundered unexpectedly.

Let us properly manage as national treasures our specially gifted, including at this year’s Champs, Wayne Pinnock, Oblique Seville, and the remarkable 14-year-old sprint twins, Tia and Tina Clayton. Tina had a world age-group record of 11.27 in the 100m. We can’t make the young pay a price for their awesome talent, sweat, and dedication by burning them out.

Even this year, highlighting just two examples involving Tarrant’s Jeremy Bembridge and Holmwood’s Danaille Brissett, the race demands and race scheduling were so destructive to them, it was painful to watch. The unfulfilled potential and horror stories are too much. They can’t be ignored any longer.

- Mark Ricketts is an economist, author, and lecturer. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rckttsmrk@yahoo.com