Oral Tracey | Worrying signs for local male sprinting
For the first time in Jamaica's illustrious track and field history, at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, we have come away from a major international meet with more individual medals in the field and non-traditional events than in our traditionally strong areas of 100 and 200m sprinting.
Jamaica won a first-ever gold medal in the women's 3000m steeplechase event through Aisha Praught-Leer, gold in the women's shot put through Danniel Thomas-Dodd, gold and silver in the men's discus thanks to Fedrick Dacres and Traves Smikle, and Natoya Goule's bronze in the women's 800m. That is five non-traditional medals - three gold, one silver, and one bronze.
Compare those returns to the two silver and two bronze medals won across the men's and women's 100m and 200m events, and you will see a definite change of dynamics in Jamaica's recent medal-winning trend at major championships.
While we celebrate the new-found diversity of our success, there is evidence of a real crisis looming in Jamaica's sprinting, especially on the male side. The fallout from the retirement of the legendary Usain Bolt is on in earnest. There is obviously a huge void to be filled, and there are clearly no credible and qualified candidates ready to fill even a portion of that void.
Yohan Blake, who has been the unofficial heir apparent to Bolt, before his bronze-medal effort at the Gold Coast Games had failed to hit the medal podium for an individual medal at a major championships since the London Olympics in 2012. That barren stretch includes the over two-year absence from competition between 2013 and 2016 due to a serious hamstring injury. After this, Blake traversed the 2016 Rio Olympics, the 2017 IAAF World Championship in London, and now, the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, failing to get back to the glory levels of 2011 and 2012. This aroused fears that the injury might well have changed the trajectory of Blake's legacy as a top sprinter.
Beyond Blake, the other generation's next contenders missing from these Commonwealth Games would be Kemar Bailey-Cole, Jevaughn Minzie, Julian Forte, and Nickel Ashmeade, none of whom it could be argued would be bona fide medal prospects, even at the Commonwealth level, and all of whom still have unanswered questions hovering over their progression to genuine senior success.
The notion of this looming crisis in male sprinting being cushioned by this new-found success in the non-traditional disciplines should be of little or no comfort.
It is undeniable that the success of the Usain Bolt era has spoilt Jamaicans into taking that special generation of super talented athletes and their brilliance for granted. However, it could also be argued that we must continue to set for ourselves high standards. It cannot be that genuine downtime in our pet events becomes acceptable due to success in other areas.
The fact of the matter is that Jamaica's long history and rich tradition in athletics have hinged on its sprinting success. Fast-twitch muscles and explosive athleticism remain indigenous features of our very being. Sprinting remains in Jamaican's blood, and it will not disappear anytime soon.
Despite glimpses of the success in the steeplechase, the shot put, the discus, and now the 800m, in the sport of athletics, the sprints, and especially the 100m, remain the glamour events. Success in the sprint events generally comes with a higher profile and opens more lucrative financial opportunities to the athletes who dominate these events.
The concerns for Jamaica's male sprinting are genuine and urgent. On the women's side, there are bright sparks at the end of the tunnel. There is the current double Olympic sprint champion Elaine Thompson, who is still relatively young at 25 years old. The now newly minted Commonwealth silver medallists Christania Williams and Shericka Jackson have already shown real quality, with the next generation looking secure with the emergence of teen sensations Kevona Davis and Briana Williams. On the men's side of the valley, it is looking rather dark and murky with little evidence of light, even from a distance.