Laurie Foster: Good job Calabar High
Saturday, January 23, 2016, was a significant day in the already richly endowed history of Jamaica's track and field. It signalled the dawn of a new day in which Calabar High School hosted a track meet on a home-based, synthetic surface. The event was in honour of two of its athletic products who have etched their names in the annals of the sport around which the country has received its most global acclaim.
That such prominence, privilege, and prestige should have gone to Red Hills Road was indeed fitting, given that school's meaningful contribution to the process. The celebrants, Herb McKenley and Dr Arthur Wint, stand as the first two Jamaicans to record medals at the highest echelon of the sport. These came at the 1948 London Olympics when the country, not then an independent nation, huddled under the Union Jack, singing God Save the King, took gold (400m) and silver (800m) from Wint's efforts, and silver (400m) from the McKenley performance.
As if by a divine mandate, with the demands of history not to be denied, Saturday last was to feature a spectacle that could not have been accorded a more appropriate stage. On display, opening the year of the XXXI Olympiad, were two home-grown athletes of a more recent generation, both given to top world ranking at their age levels in the 400m, similar to Wint and McKenley. Javon Francis and Christopher Taylor have made their announcement that they would be factors to be considered when up against their global competitors.
Francis took the spotlight at the 2013 Moscow World Championships after a spine-tingling anchor run in the 4x400m relay that plucked a silver medal out of nothing. His 44.00 split called to mind the gold medal, world record-breaking leg of 44.6 at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics by the undisputed great, Herb McKenley. Taylor ran to Jamaica's only gold at the World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia, last year, registering 45.27, not only a national youth (Under-18) record, but the second-best ever for a 15-year-old. If ever the healthy tradition was on the doorstep of repeat greatness, the time must be now - the prospect of it being cemented, mouth-watering.
That the raison d'Ítre for being present was sidelined is testimony to the atmosphere and ambiance that was the Red Hills facility on the day. The presence of old stagers in local scholastic sport, representing the administrative, supporter or on-the-field cohort, detracted somewhat from the competition, however enticing. This columnist, in several aborted attempts to take up trackside viewing advantage, was thwarted by absorbing conversation with such sporting stalwarts as Bernie Panton of a former local governing body fame and a Calabar old-timer; 'Bowla' Morant of mid-60's Fortis football glory; and Devon 'Stone Age' Smith, who they all acknowledged to have been a fierce middle-order batsman at the host school.
NOT A MAN MOVED
Add Russell 'Midnight' Thompson and his vivid story-telling - fiction with a sprinkling of fact - the five- or six-strong Wynter clan, all representing the black and green, and the call was like that following a Sir Garfield Sobers extra-cover drive - "not a man moved". They all craved their 'I was there' status and had to be seen in the place - talk about distraction as the distant sound of a gunshot, piercing the air at intervals, indicating the start of yet another, seemingly irrelevant race.
There was a cost for all this. Those highly anticipated races went by without the visual input of some of the most ardent followers of the sport. Thank you, 'Stewie' Spencer for passing by and bringing the group to attention as to what had been missed.
It was a good day, and the hospitality of the homesters was first-class. It only needs a little fine-tuning to get the event in more spectator-friendly mode. Calabar has a tradition of excellence in the sport to uphold. Wint and McKenley started the trend, and those now in the limelight are carrying the baton, protected by a host of well-wishers.
There can be no better way to concretise the tradition of the 'Utmost for the Highest'. They were summoned to perform last Saturday, and the response was tumultuous. "Here, Sir."
Good job, Calabar!