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Middle distance programme struggles to gain pace

Published:Wednesday | June 24, 2015 | 11:08 PMDania Bogle

Middle-distance programme struggles to gain pace

SOME OF the most celebrated athletes in the world have been middle-distance runners, but these events continue to fail to attract many Jamaican athletes.

Ethiopia's Haile Gebreselassie, Mozambique's Maria Mutola and the United States' Steve Prefontaine, for whom an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Diamond League meet is named, all earned their fame running 800m and beyond.

The last Jamaican to make an Olympic final in the 800m was Kenia Sinclair in Beijing 2008, 44 years after George Kerr won a bronze medal in the event at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) president, Dr Warren Blake, said the hard work involved in running these longer events serves as a deterrent.

"A lot of the glory and the hype is around the sprinting events, and to run distance means much more hard work and you have to cover much more miles each week, and it also needs more investment in terms of a feeding programme. I think all these factors combine to keep it down," Blake said.

Kenyan athletes have carved out a niche for themselves in the longer events, which has worked for them. Blake says Jamaica has similarly carved out a short sprint niche. The fastest sprinters in the world for much of the last decade were Jamaican - Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt.

Blake said Kenya is now trying to diversify its track and field programme.

"If you notice, the Kenyans are trying to spread their wings into sprinting and they, in fact, have a sprinter who is going sub-10 and they also have a javelin thrower who won at the Diamond League events."

He said the answer lies in investment.

"We need to get the coaches involved and invested and we are trying to get the cross country programme as part of the Champs programme to get more athletes to go that route, and having gone that route at the high school, we are hoping that they will continue that route when they become seniors," he said.

Blake also believes athletes who struggle to run these distances should be encouraged by their coaches to take up longer races.

"I think we need somebody of that type who will look at them and have a serious talk and say 'It's time you consider going for a longer distance. You have the speed for a sprint to the finish, but you need to do the background work'," said Blake.