Oral Tracey | Winning at Champs is overrated
The landscape of Jamaican track and field has changed exponentially since the advent of Usain Bolt. Indeed, the entire generation of stars that dominated world sprinting over the past decade, inclusive of Bolt, Asafa Powell, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and others, have elevated what was consistent but moderate track and field success to a clear period of dominance never seen before, despite Jamaica's rich history and long tradition in the sport.
The fact that most of these stars lived and trained here in Jamaica meant they were more visible and more accessible to the average Jamaican, and, importantly, from an inspirational and motivational perspective to the younger, emerging generation of athletes who would have witnessed up close, the global acclaim and the huge financial benefits accrued from their success at the top level of the sport.
It, therefore, follows that more of the talented young athletes churned out at the ISSA GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletic Championships (Champs) over these years, ought to by now realise, or should be led to realise, that there are real possibilities for successful professional careers that will reward their talents in a more tangible and meaningful way than they get from fleeting feel-good moments, and the bragging rights they earn from the school and community stardom they get from winning at Champs.
The data show that for the most part, early success at Champs has proven to be a curse on many outstandingly gifted youngsters over the years. For approximately two decades, only one Class 3 sprint champion transitioned successfully to senior Olympic or World Champion status and that is Michael Frater. Without going too far back, such names as Remaldo Rose, Jahzeel Murphy, Michael O'Hara, Ali Watson and even Daniel England, all fizzed and disappeared into nothingness after being imperious 14- and 15-year-olds. These are just the sprinters, but the theory applies to Class 3 champions across all events.
LITTLE ROOM FOR GROWTH
The debate continues as to whether it is the physical burnout by the volume of work done in competition and on the training ground, or a kind of psychological peak attained from being successful so early, thus leaving very little room for motivation and growth, or whether it is a combination of both. What is not debatable is that numerous talented youngsters have, over many years, failed to maximise their potential.
The notion that in the wider scheme of things, Champs success is overrated and is indeed a debilitating factor against senior success will, for sure, be a hard message to accept for the average Champs athlete for whom those five days in March seem like the be all and end all of their existence. This idea will be quickly rejected by the coaches who have become entrenched in the culture of winning Champs. The fact of the matter is that some of these outstanding young athletes need to be rescued from some of these coaches.
A quick glance at the superstar list of some of the elite senior performers such as Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell, Omar McLeod, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Elaine Thompson, shows that none of these stars were early winners at Champs. Indeed, Powell and Thompson never won at Champs, and for sure, none of the above mentioned were winners as 13- and 14-year-olds at Champs. There was, therefore, room for physical and technical improvements, as well as some mental and psychological space to be exploited.
In the context of the opportunities now available to our super athletics talents, as hard is it might be, we must realise and accept that Champs is great for what it is, but it is not everything. If, as it appears, early Champs success lessens the chance of senior success, then that Champs success is worth sacrificing. It is a travesty to continue unchecked down this path that has wrecked and effectively destroyed so many of our youngsters. Happily, there are some coaches and managers who are waking up and smelling the coffee. At least two known cases of enlightened guidance seem to be taking shape in the management of top young guns Sachin Dennis at St Elizabeth Technical High School and Antonio Watson at Petersfield High. Conversely, the carnage continues at some of the big Champs-chasing schools, with the sad thing being that these at-risk youngsters do not even know they are being destroyed, because they are so focused, almost programmed for winning Champs.