Wed | Feb 26, 2020

Hubert Lawrence | We must preserve Carifta success and significance

Published:Thursday | April 25, 2019 | 12:18 AM
Several members of Jamaica’s team to the 2019 Carifta Games, which took place in The Cayman Islands over the Easter weekend, pose with their medals shortly after their return to the island at the Norman Manley International Airport on Tuesday.

While it wasn’t the strongest team possible, Jamaica’s 2019 Carifta Games contingent acquitted itself brilliantly. Competing at Grand Cayman on the Easter weekend, Jamaica won 36 gold medals from a total of 85. The medal haul squelched worries that Jamaica had selected a weak team.

In truth, with several eligible ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships winners unavailable, the Carifta team could have packed more punch. It wasn’t needed. With the biggest population, the widest spread of coaches and the best high-school Championship in the world, Jamaica lords it over the Carifta region.

Those absent would have bolstered the quality of the results. For example, had Ashanti Moore and Kevona Davis been available, they would likely have accompanied under-20 sprint double winner Briana Williams to the podium in the 100m and 200m. In addition, working together, that speedy trio might have boosted a real world record shot in the 4x100 metres.

45.65 400 metre man Jeremy Farr, injured 10.20 speed merchant Sachin Dennis, and the Calabar dream team trio of Tyreke Wilson, Dejour Russell and Michael Stephens were all absent, too.

Records were few in Cayman, but the opportunity for another group of youngsters to imbibe their first experience of competing for Jamaica internationally was important. Such trips build bonds beyond school borders by turning rivals into teammates. In one such instance, long jumpers, Wayne Pinnock and Jordan Turner, champions for Kingston College and Calabar High School, respectively, were the epitome of teamwork. The same goes for Calabar’s World Under-20 discus champion Kai Chang and the exciting Kingston College prospect Ralford Mullings.

Winning combination

It helps that Jamaica has 2.7 million people, GC Foster College trained and IAAF certified coaches aplenty, and great champions from the MVP and Racers track clubs walking down the street inspiring young aspirants. It’s a winning Carifta combination.

Unless Jamaica’s track and field programme collapses, the dominance should continue. A few years ago, the maximum Carifta team size grew from 70 to 80. That gave Jamaica an added advantage. It’s far harder for the 400,000 people of The Bahamas or the 300,000 citizens of Barbados to consistently build teams that big.

Notably, the Bahamians selected just 50 athletes this year. That left 30 team slots unoccupied. As you can well imagine, the Jamaican team was 80-strong.

That aside, the Games have brought benefits for all. Early championship experience has helped Jamaica, The Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, and St Kitts and Nevis to test-drive the skills of young athletes, their coaches and administrations.

Names like Usain Bolt, Keshorn Walcott, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Kirani James and Kim Collins should ring a bell.

Change lies ahead. With local high school recruitment slashed, Jamaican high schools could see an influx of arrivals from the rest of the Caribbean as Champs chasing schools seek to win. The Bahamians have a wonderful programme that extracts the best from their small numbers, but already, Jamaican high schools draw talent from St Lucia, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos.

Important mission

The anti-recruitment rules have an important mission. However, they need to evolve so they help Jamaica. At the same time, those who stay where they are planted will only grow if they have the facilities and support they need. If that doesn’t happen, Jamaica will end up helping others more than it helps itself.

That’s grist for another mill. For now, it’s enough to reflect on another boon of Jamaican sport. When Chris Gayle scores a triple century, when Alia Atkinson breaks a world record in the pool, when gymnast Danusia Francis dances her way into the hearts of new admirers of this land we love, and when Usain Bolt blows everybody’s mind with his speed and panache, it shows Jamaica at its inspiring best.

At Carifta, Jamaicans living in The Cayman Islands beamed with pride. As they exited the Truman Bodden Sports Complex in Georgetown, Grand Cayman, they left smiling and with a skip in their steps. When the Olympic team dazzles the world, Jamaicans everywhere get that same surge of national pride whether they play sport or not. It’s a source of inspiration the country must preserve.

Hubert Lawrence has been making notes at trackside since 1980.