Fri | Feb 28, 2020

Hubert Lawrence | Lack of MoBay track hindering athletics growth in western Ja

Published:Thursday | January 23, 2020 | 12:18 AM

The plea last week from Milo Western Relays meet director Ray Harvey struck a chord.

For the sake of nationwide track and field development, Montego Bay needs its track back. When the surface at the Montego Bay Sports Complex is intact, the meets held there are an encouragement to athletes, coaches, administrators, and sponsors.

Laid almost 20 years ago, the track is worn and torn now, but has hosted the relays, Western Championships, and a local preparatory/primary school championship. The relays moved to the G.C. Foster College for Physical Education and Sport. Athletically, that’s fine, but it robs Montego Bay of its annual athletics showcase.

Remarkably, there is no synthetic track in-between Catherine Hall and Spanish Town, home of the sports college.

Many have fallen in love with the sport after watching the likes of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Asafa Powell, and Elaine Thompson-Herah speeding at the relays. The rapturous support they, and the athletes contesting Western Champs receive, is a sight and sound to behold. They’ve missed that opportunity for three years now.

A far more serious gap will appear if the track stays in its current state of disrepair. The ongoing absence of these meets in Montego Bay will drain interest and support for track and field in the west.

That would be sad for an area that has furnished the nation with the likes of Usain Bolt, Merlene Ottey, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, and Winthrop Graham.

Expensive trips

In addition, the closure forces western high school track programmes to spend their pennies on expensive trips to Kingston and Spanish Town week after week, year after year, to compete on the type of track they will be on at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships at the end of March.

It’s a disadvantage Corporate Area schools don’t have to face. Fortunately, they have tracks at Jamaica College, G.C. Foster, the National Stadium complex, and The University of the West Indies within easy reach and they seldom venture past Mandela Highway.

It isn’t fair.

The relays started at Cornwall College and that school’s spacious playing field would certainly accommodate a 400-metre synthetic track in the basin below its famous pavilion.

That’s grist for another mill.

For now, the resurfacing of the track at Catherine Hall is high priority. Its continued closure hinders the national effort in athletics and, though there are competing financial needs, it is a closure that needs to end as soon as is feasible.

The old track saw memorable action at the 2011 Carifta Games. Lest we forget, Jamaica staged a brilliant renewal of the regional youth track and field spectacle on short notice. Montego Bay was at its hospitable best and the great performance of the Jamaican team probably sparked interest in the sport at every level.

Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Omar McLeod, Shericka Jackson, Machel Cedenio, and Jonielle Smith all have either Olympic or World Championship gold medals now. They were all at the Montego Bay Sports Complex nine years ago along with cheerful supporters and officials from all over the West Indies.

Perfect host

With its capacious hotel sector, the Second City is a perfect host for international events. It’s easy to see Carifta back in Montego Bay again. In addition, meets like the NACAC Under 23 Championships and the Pan-American Junior Games would bring sport and visitors to the west side of the Rock. For all I know, the future might even see a Montego Bay Invitational at the Catherine Hall-based venue.

For now, the Western Relays return to G.C. Foster on February 8. Spanish Town is a great place but for the relays and Western Champs, there’s no place like home.

Hubert Lawrence is a noted track and field analyst and commentator. He has scrutinised local and international track and field since 1980.