Laurie Foster | Saint Stephen? ... MVP boss showing softer side
Is the sport of track and field actually seeing a new Stephen Francis?
Talk is that in recent times, most specifically, after the Rio Olympics, the MVP Track Club's head coach is displaying a softer side to his personality, previously hidden from public view. Foster's Fairplay has received a few calls on the matter and is compelled to give an ear to what seems to be real chat.
The traditionally highly combative Francis is known for his belligerent stance, taking on the sport's elite thinkers, adamant to illustrate that he should be included in that lot.
His open defiance of, aligned with ranting and raving against, certain edicts from top administrators, has become a feature of the highly spirited interaction with the authorities, while on the cusp of major championships. Usually, the point of discussion rests with compulsory pre-competition camps, which the University of Michigan MBA graduate sees as anathema in respect of the needs of his athletes.
Immediately after the crowning of MVP's new sprinting sensation, Elaine Thompson, as the latest Olympic 100m queen, the dethroned Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, amidst all her grace, elegance and charm, dropped a bombshell. She responded to journalists' queries in a manner that suggested that all did not go well in her preparation for a momentous event.
Her chance of becoming the first ever triple-gold medalist in the short sprint, had been shattered. A series of interviews, revealed that coach Francis was being asked to shoulder the blame for a performance that denied Fraser-Pryce a special place in history.
Then came what was described as the "Shelly Shocker" with this newspaper's special projects editor, AndrÈ Lowe, reporting from Rio that "MVP coach Stephen Francis has confirmed that Olympic 100m bronze medallist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has lost confidence in the programme and is moving on."
Francis responded: "I am in agreement with her that she should try something different." This was after another alleged statement suggesting that he held up his hand when the question of Shelly-Ann's not making the historic cut a few weeks earlier was raised.
There was an admission of guilt. "Coaches of the disappointed people, like myself have to take the blame, and I accept full blame for Shelly-Ann not performing the way she expected to."
NO REVOLVING DOOR
Judging from all this, as was the case in previous situations, with Asafa Powell, Sherone Simpson, Melaine Walker and so many high profilers, the MVP door is not a revolving one.
Once you leave, you stay out - no room for reconsideration or revisit by either party - rough but real.
Returning to Jamaica seems to have brought out a change of direction. The hitherto perceived 'my way or the highway' super coach is now singing from a different hymn sheet. Regional track and field exclusive website, Trackalerts.com carried a story: 'Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could return to MVP'.
The thought was fuelled by a Francis comment that did not typify the no-nonsense, no retreat, no return, academically gifted former accountant.
"From what I'm hearing, it looks as if things are not as clear-cut as they were before. It seemed clear-cut back in Rio, but it doesn't seem as clear-cut now," Francis continued, "we will see what happens."
That final offering at the Airport welcome ceremony, has sparked the sentiment that Francis is on a different path. Could it be one that accommodates a view leading to dialogue?
Jamaica, nor for that matter, the world is not awash with coaches of the calibre of a Stephen Francis. He has been vilified in the past for an attitude that can compromise the fortunes of our most talented. A case in point was that anti-camp face off at the 2009 Berlin World Champs that led to a frenzied pull-out of some eventual medalists. It was only astute and assiduous action by some top administrators that saved that day and the nation's global image.
Every Third World nation deserves to have its best athletes and its best coaches working in tandem to achieve best results.
If what we are seeing is real, Foster's Fairplay welcomes the new and refreshed Stephen Francis.
• For feedback: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.