Hubert Lawrence | Japan has not been kind to Jamaica
Japan has never been a happy hunting ground for Jamaican track and field teams, and the 2019 IAAF World Relays continued the unhappy trend. The return of just three medals, none of them golden, obscured the successes that did occur in Yokohama, the Japanese host city of the relays.
Even though it has been explained that our team’s arrival in Japan was planned to coincide with the opening of the Athletes Village, it was far too late. Travel across multiple time zones takes a toll on the body and it hit performances across the board. There were no times under 38 seconds in the men’s 4x100m, none under 43 by the women, and none under 3:00 and 3:26 in the 4x400m relays. With only two athletes – Jenna Prandini and Gabrielle Thomas – under 23 seconds in the 200m this year from the combined USA and Jamaican squads, the women’s 4x200m was slow as well.
Cool conditions late on day two, and the need to peak later in the season, didn’t help.
From a Jamaican perspective, four additional medals went a-begging. An absent-minded anchor leg shut the mixed 4x400 metre team out of the final. Injury to 2014 Commonwealth 110 metre hurdles champion Andrew Riley and reserve Norman Pittersgill stopped the Jamaican mixed shuttle hurdles team after they had set the second-best time in qualifying. Mournful baton passing tripped up the 4x200m ladies, and the focus on that race robbed Peta-Gay to pay Pauline in the ladies’ 4x400m.
Ironically, after the disqualification of the USA, that team came home with the bronze medals.
Still, it wasn’t a wasted trip. All five of the nation’s baton battalions qualified for the World Championships by reaching the top 10 in their respective events in Yokohama. CAC Games 100 winner Jonielle Smith zoomed Jamaica to the silver medal in the women’s 4x100m, and Demish Gaye, Akeem Bloomfield, Rusheen McDonald and Nathon Allen took second behind world champions Trinidad and Tobago in the men’s 4x400m.
For many, it could hardly have been worse. Those with long memories know better. Jamaica left the 1964 Olympic Games empty-handed as Tokyo saw Una Morris and George Kerr placing fourth in the 200m and 800m, respectively, before Pablo McNeil, Patrick Robinson, Lindy Headley and Dennis Johnson had the same luck in the 4x100m.
At the 1991 World Championship, peerless Merlene Ottey lost long unbeaten streaks in both the 100m and 200m. 4x100m gold for Michelle Freeman, Juliet Cuthbert, Bev McDonald and Ottey was kind consolation.
Finally, Jamaica left Maebashi, Japan, with no medals from the 1999 World Indoor Championships. Our prospects fell when long jump medal hope James Beckford arrived bleary-eyed on the night before the meet, knackered from a long trip from the United States. That was a bitter pill to swallow.
Things were better in 2007 when Veronica Campbell won the 100 metres, but that was Jamaica’s lone gold medal in a total of 10 at the World Championship in Osaka.
It’s cold comfort that things have in fact been worse on previous Jamaican track trips to Japan, but with the Olympics coming to Tokyo next year, plans need to be carefully laid to secure success. A chat with the elders might help. Johnson, Morris, Robinson, and Headley were around when the Olympics were in Tokyo for the late-season 1964 Olympics. They might well have words of wisdom that will help with preparations for a return to Japan next year. So, too, might 1999 World Indoor team members Deon Hemmings and Danny McFarlane. Judging from what often happens in Japan, it wouldn’t hurt to listen.
Hubert Lawrence is a noted track and field analyst and commentator.