Mon | Aug 10, 2020

Paul Wright | Protecting our national treasures

Published:Tuesday | October 15, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Chanice Porter cuts the sand in the women’s long jump final at the IAAF World Championships, held at the Khalifa International Stadium on Sunday, October 6, 2019.

The euphoria associated with the Doha triumph of our national treasures has begun to fade. The victories of our national football teams against teams of obviously lesser ability is just not enough to bring a nation thirsty for good news as death on our roads, murder on our streets, and corruption of those we thought were on our side but were not, but also means it’s just another day in paradise.

So we look forward to the 2020 Olympics, 10 months away, 10 months to exhilaration and those elusive feel-good moments again.

What was obvious in Doha, is the fact that our one-time medal certainties are facing the inevitability of that nemesis of all athletes: age. Since the mid-forties, we have shown the world that once you have the genetic make up of a Jamaican, you are just training and a good coach away from athletic greatness.

In Doha, we were denied our usual bevy of medals from our male sprinters, but our field eventers stepped up to the plate in no uncertain manner and placed us once again in the top tier of athletic nations, outranking richer (with facilities and resources) and larger countries (with population) with relative ease. So we have to look to the young, the teenagers and young adults who perform mind-boggling feats at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships (Champs) only to fade away and disappear when the time comes for transition to adult competition. Dejour Russel, Michael O’Hara and Kevona Davis come to mind.

National icon and world great coach Stephen Francis, of the MVP Track Club, is quoted in The Gleaner as giving anyone who chooses to listen, a clue, as to what the reason is for the lack of transition to adult competition by the marquee stars of Champs. We are grateful and fascinated by the transformation of the also-rans and semi-finalists from no-name schools who are recognised and coached by Francis and Racers Track Club head coach Glen Mills, who become household names on the world stage. Asafa Powell and Tajay Gayle are the names we revere and know. But what about the many multiple winners and stars who literally disappear after Champs?

Francis says: “The male sprinters leaving high school are heading for disaster. The females, at the moment are not as stupid, I would say. But it is difficult for us to expect them to blossom, given the whole kind of scenario which exists in high school and among different people competing, who believe that they will become rich if they can get these kids to do what they want.

Over time, I guess it will change when people realise it’s not working. If you’re going to fail, may as well you fail abroad because at least you will become educated. There’s an issue with guidance.

Know-it-all factor

“Too many people believe that they know stuff, and they know absolutely nothing, and it is not their kids, so they send them down this pathway that leads people to regret and accomplish absolutely nothing. Hopefully the kids will wake up and understand the real options that they should consider”.

It cannot be any clearer than that. Our talented children who excel at Champs are taken over by mentors and coaches ‘who believe that they will become rich if they can get these kids to do what they want’. The Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) must, as a mandate, RESCUE these children and have a say in their education and athletics career. How long must we sit, wait, and murmur while our future national treasures are used and abused to the extent that injuries and burn-out take their inevitable toll?

At last, a national great has identified a problem that has been staring us in the face for years. Those of us who have tried to point this out have been sidelined and ignored.

Maybe now, those who are elected to lead and forge the future of athletics in this blessed island will awake and ACT! Thanks coach Stephen Francis. Over to you JAAA and the Ministry of Sports.