Experts fear knowledge may affect Jamaica's 'best 400m crop ever'
FRANKLIN FIELD, Pennsylvania:
Thousands in chilly 'Philly' froze momentarily when Kingston College's (KC) Akeem Bloomfield pulled up during the Championship of Americas high school boys 4x100 metres at the Penn Relays here Saturday.
Concern over Bloomfield's injury were not restricted to KC. As Jamaicans watched the lanky figure struggle to complete the second leg, second-guessing erupted among observers. Why did Bloomfield run in such cool conditions? Should he even have raced at 'Penns'?
Bloomfield smashed the 400 metres record at Boys and Girls' Championships in late March and won the event at Carifta Games. Yet some describe him as a handle-with-extreme-care athlete, after charting the 17-year-old's injury history and no-show for the 4x400m finals at 'Champs' and Carifta.
Long before Penns, two of Jamaica's most decorated quarter-milers worried about what they believe is the deepest talent pool of young male 400-metre runners in Jamaica's history, Bloomfield included.
"At that level, in high school, when you compare it to the others, even me, this is the best crop I've seen," said Gregory Haughton, Olympic Games and World Championships (WC) 400m bronze winner.
"Great talent," added Danny McFarlane, five-time WC 4x400m relay silver medallist.
Both are impressed by Bloomfield, the first Jamaican high-school athlete to run below 45
seconds in the 400m. He clocked 44.93 to win Class One at Champs. Runner-up Nathon Allen did 45.30. St Jago teammate Martin Manley finished third in 46.41, but has a personal best (PB) 45.89.
Calabar's 15-year-old Christopher Taylor won Class Two with 47.04, but clocked 45.69 at Carifta Trials.
Also among Jamaica's promising young quarter-milers is former Calabar standout Javon Francis, 20, who set the 2014 Champs record with 45.00 and anchored Jamaica to silver in the 4x400m at WC 2013. Javere Bell and Rusheen McDonald, both 22, with PBs of 45.08 and 45.10, respectively, are also in the youthful brigade.
Allen and KC's Twayne Crooks, 19, were named in Jamaica's squad for this weekend's World Relays. The "schoolers" are fast enough to impact the senior level - including WC 2015 - but, observers believe they must prove it against experienced competition.
"If they are the best, you have to put them out there," said McFarlane.
The youngsters, however, still have plenty to learn about their body and mind, training, race strategy and adapting to stress at the highest level.
"That is not something I see with this crop," said Haughton.
He and McFarlane also warned they must be protected from mental and physical burnout or risk breakdown.
"The transition (to seniors) is not only a physical one," said Haughton. "... The difference is the mental maturity, knowledge and experience.
"... We're losing a lot of 400 metre runners," he added. "... As rich as we are (in talent) we need to do more to dominate the 400m at that (international) level. It's not that we lack talent. We lack the knowledge."
Haughton said he first raced at Champs at age 17; McFarlane at 18. The "late" start, they believe, accounted for their competitive longevity.
"I can tell you what over-training does to the body, the young body," said Haughton. "Burnout is one of the worst things an athlete can experience ... You can build a case to show that when you start out young like that, it really damages the person physically, and once you damage them physically, it damages them mentally."
"I'm concerned if they (young Jamaicans) can go on improving," said McFarlane. "The 400 metres will tear down that body. It will tear it apart."
They claim the United States, which consistently produces outstanding 400m runners, is more protective of quarter-milers.
"If you look at the US teams at high school, you don't see the type of talent that's in Jamaica," explained McFarlane, who was largely self-coached and retired in 2012 at age 39. "There's something to that.
"I like late bloomers," he added.
Yet help in the 400m may be limited in Jamaica, Haughton and McFarlane explained, despite the nation's reputation for quality coaching, which produces premium sprinters.
"It's just about Jamaica doing the right thing," said McFarlane. "... No coach in Jamaica has proven they can sustain the 400 metres runner over a long period."
Jamaica men's global 400m medal record is inconsistent. Bert Cameron's 1983 WC victory was the last time the nation earned gold since George Rhoden beat Herb McKenley at the 1952 Olympics. In 2000, Haughton became the next - and most recent - to win an Olympic 400m medal. Michael Blackwood's bronze at WC 2003 is Jamaica's last at global championships.
Haughton and McFarlane fear the workload Jamaican athletes carry in some schools hurt quarter-milers' future and has led to Jamaica's inconsistency in the 400m internationally.
"It's embarrassing to me to see that Jamaica is not developing better quarter-milers," Haughton said. "The history is there to show."