Hubert Lawrence | Time for the men to step up in the 800m
Now that Natoya Goule has put the 800 metres back on the Jamaican track and field map, it's time for the men to step forward.
There is some work going on to revive this long-neglected event in Jamaica, but the truth is that we don't give two hoots about the event in which Arthur Wint and George Kerr won Olympic medals so long ago. It's pitiful.
In a time where the world record is David Rudisha's fabulous 2012 Olympic gold medal-winning run of 1 minute 40.91 seconds, no Jamaican has come really close to breaking 1.45 since the national record, 1:45.21, was set in 1977!
There is, thankfully, notable work being done at the University of Technology, the GC Foster College for Physical Education and Sport, Calabar High, Jamaica College, and St Elizabeth Technical (STETHS), but this journey is a long one.
Remarkably, the last time a Jamaican even dipped below 1:47 was nine years ago, when Aldwyn Sappleton clocked 1 minute 46.82 seconds in Kingston. As a result, the only Jamaican men to run the event in the Olympics since the turn of the century are Marvin Watts and Sappleton. That's a wretched record for a country with such a high profile in world athletics.
To add pain to the mix, the hope that the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) would enlist the help of the middle-distance kings of Kenya has hit the curb. The local federation is blameless as its Kenyan counterpart crashed into problems of its own making when discussions about coaching help were far advanced. Even so, a Jamaica solution is needed.
As offered in this space in the past, it might be time to empower veteran coaches Eldemire Smith and Eddie Hector to lead the drive forward. Both have lots to offer, as shown by the results of their athletes at STETHS and Holmwood, respectively, in the 800m and 1500m. It's still worth a try.
Help from diaspora
Perhaps help lies in the diaspora. When the national 1500m record was set at the 1994 Commonwealth Games, it was logged at 3 minutes 39.19 seconds by Steve Green, a UK-bred Jamaican. When Jamaica topped the world in the 800m at the 1995 World Indoor Championships, the winner was Clive Terrelonge, who was born in Jamaica, but grew up in the USA. As it has done in the past, Jamaica must continue to welcome those who wish to compete for Jamaica, no matter where they are planted.
A search mission for those in the diaspora who run the middle distances might be on the cards, given the slow progress in those events here.
This year has raised hopes a little. No Jamaican schoolboy had broken 1 minute 50 seconds since Holmwood star Jermaine Myers in 2003, and two did it this year in the persons of Calabar's Kamoy Farquharson and Javauney James of STETHS. Calabar and STETHS destroyed the Penn Relays 4x800m record in April. Finally, just last week, Intercollegiate champion Eric McKenzie of UTECH red-lined his way to the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games final.
Still, the depression lingers. There's good reason. No Jamaican man has qualified to run the 800m at the World Championships or the Olympics since Sappleton did in 2008. Lest you miscount, two Olympics and five World Championships have passed since then.
According to CAC Games women's 800m finalist Fellan Ferguson, Goule's achievements are important.
"This is a great thing for Jamaica's 800m running because there are not a lot of us, so Goule doing well will inspire others to want to take up 800m running", Ferguson told The Gleaner recently.
Hopefully, she will inspire our men as well.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.