Hubert Lawrence | Well done, Stephen Francis
It's a sign of how important success in track and field is to Jamaica that the sport's operatives often get national awards. Just days ago, volunteer official Ian Forbes and coaches Stephen Francis and Maurice Wilson stood in the spotlight on National Heroes Day alongside hundreds who have served the country with distinction. All three deserve to stand in such company.
Forbes has continued his family's record of service in sport. His father, Headley, is a giant, and Ian has carried on brilliantly. In addition to his work at Jamaica College, he has served as a meet official, director of the JC Invitational and manager of national teams at the youth and senior level.
Ian and Ray Harvey were especially good as they led the wonderful meet-management team that did Jamaica proud when it staged the 2002 World Junior Championship.
Wilson has not only distinguished himself by coaching Holmwood Technical to 10 wins at Girls' Championships but also by serving as technical leader to Jamaica's most successful Olympic and World Championship teams and by teaching the next generation of fitness and sport practitioners at the G.C. Foster College for Physical Education and Sport.
Now, his Sprintec Track Club has produced a 2017 World Championships medal winner in 400-metre hurdler Ristananna Tracey and a 2014 Commonwealth champion in Rasheed Dwyer. His work, both as teacher and coach, will continue to bear fruit.
Before Francis arrived with his MVP Track Club family in 1999, 99.9 per cent of our champions were nurtured abroad. Patrick Robinson made the 1964 Olympic team while a student at the University of the West Indies. Generations later, the Jamalco Track Club guided Michael McDonald to world class in the 400 metres.
However, it wasn't until Francis, his brother, Paul, the late David Noel and Bruce James formed the MVP and with the consent of the professor of speed, Dennis Johnson, formed an alliance with the University of Technology that has changed the face and the fortunes of Jamaican track and field.
Athletes trained by Stephen have set world records and won 56 World Championships and 28 Olympic medals but his contribution is to be measured in more than just medals. On one hand, world records by Asafa Powell and gold medals won by Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Melaine Walker and Brigitte Foster-Hylton have made all Jamaicans proud. On the other, the MVP/UTech model has been copied as well as admired by other ambitious local clubs and institutions.
Now, thanks in large part to the example provided by the MVP and UTech, there is a productive Jamaican alternative for those who want to combine athletics with academics.
Stephen Francis can be blunt, but those close to him speak as much about his genius as his compassion and his playful sense of humour. At one memorable training session at the National Stadium East field, the coach had the entire training group rolling in laughter.
On another, he cracked jokes like a stand-up comic as the group did exercises on the all purpose court in front of the Alfred Sangster Auditorium at the University of Technology.
Few will see that side of him but thanks to the National Awards event earlier this week, they can look admiringly at his body of work and say, well done Stephen Francis.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.