Jamaica's 'next' great sprinter? No rush for Jazeel Murphy
Published: Saturday | May 2, 2009
Murphy in action
PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, USA:
The tail end of a cold followed him to the northeast United States. And when Jazeel Murphy recoiled after the nippy spring breeze kissed his face, it was a gentle reminder that the emerging Jamaican sprinter is still only a boy finding his way in a big world.
"I wanted to cry because it was cold," said Murphy about arriving for his first Penn Relays here last weekend. "Jamaica is not so cold."
His reputation, however, is heating up as his times in the high profile sprint double continue to fall. So it's sometimes easy to forget that the teenager competes simply because he likes to.
"I'm enjoying the competition," he said. "It's hard, but I just run for fun."
Still, overeager track and field fans are predicting Murphy will be "the next" great Jamaican sprinter. That view shot out of the blocks after the 15-year-old clocked 10.44 seconds to win the Class Two 100 metres for Bridgeport High at Boys' and Girls' Champs in early April. He lowered that to 10.41 in the Under-17 final at the Carifta Games in St Lucia a week later and closed the double with a new Games record of 20.97 in the 200 metres. Some were ready to throw him in with the "big boys".
Not so fast. That's what his coach Carl Page is telling everyone who will listen. Murphy, Page said, doesn't know how to start a race correctly and is still learning how to run. Neither has the teen figured out what his budding talent means. Despite hoping to make a career in track "to help my family, my mother and father because when they were little they never got this far," Murphy hasn't really pondered how far the sport could take him beyond his St. Catherine home.
"Not really," said Page. "He just loves to run. It's just like playing. I try to explain to him, but he's always jovial. He thinks running is not serious."
The coach learned of Murphy's talent even before he set eyes on him. Sometime late 2007 the boy's mother Jacqueline Robinson approached Page, who was in his first year at Bridgeport, and asked for the school's former coach Rahnssman Edwards, now at Vere Technical. She wanted Murphy, then a student at Bridgeport Primary, to train at the high school. Robinson was a sprinter at Penwood Secondary. She sensed her son's potential early.
"When (Jazeel) was much smaller, about five or six, and we were going to the shop, he would want to race me," Robinson said. "He never wanted any lif' up. He wanted to run."
His father, Wayne Murphy, also ran track at Gregory Park All-Age. So Page listened. According to Robinson, Edwards had given Jazeel a pair of running shoes because he thought the boy showed promise after watching him compete at primary school. The coach was sold.
"I didn't even know (Jazeel) but I said if Edwards thought enough of him to give him sneakers, there must be good potential in this young man," Page explained. "So I said, 'I'll take him'."
But the coach wasn't immediately impressed when Murphy showed up.
"When I saw him I was 'hmmm, he is chubby. I wonder if he's serious'," he recalled. "Can he run?"
The answer came as soon as Page allowed him to try.
"He was running with Class Three guys," the coach said. "At the start he was like five metres behind and by the time 60 metres he was five metres in front.
No formal training
Munro College's Adam Cummings assisting an injured Jazeel Murphy of Bridgeport High after the Class Three 200m final at last year's Boys' and Girls' Championships. Murphy won the event in 22.62 seconds before dropping to the track. Cummings was third in 23.28.
"Jazeel was running against 14 and 14-plus. He was 13. He was beating all of them. He had no formal training. He was running all over the place. No form, nothing. I was like 'wow, he's good'."
Murphy did not compete in his final year of primary school, probably causing him to slip under the recruiting radar of Jamaica's high school track powerhouses.
"We were lucky to get him," Page admitted.
But he didn't mind staying near home either - as long as he could do what he loved. Anywhere is fine.
"When he's at school," Page said, "he'll just walk and start to run."
The coach called Murphy one of the best he has seen in terms of natural talent. The race to beat his age group is usually against Jazeel Murphy.
"Practically he's running by himself because he has no one to push him," Page said.
Yet the coach knows it won't be nearly as easy down the line. But first he had to correct a nagging problem. According to the coach, last September a doctor discovered that growth spurts resulted in one of Murphy's legs being shorter. The stress of physical exertion for the teenager, now about 5' 9" and close to 160 pounds, was identified as the cause of consistent pain in his knee. That, according to Page, may have cost him in 2008. Adam Cummings of Munro College beat Murphy in the 100 metres final at Champs. The pair became the first two in Class Three to run under 11 seconds in the same race. Cummings clocked 10.91, Murphy 10.97.
Then the doctor fitted the Bridgeport High athlete with special insoles. The pain
Jamaica's 'next' subsided. At Champs '09 Murphy won the Class Two 100 metres. Cummings finished fourth. Page was not surprised.
"I always knew (Jazeel) was growing and that he was going to get better than Cummings," the coach said. "Every time he ran, if he didn't run with the knee band, he had a lot of pain. But this year, because he's balanced, with insoles, he doesn't feel much pain."
Murphy is starting to realise what he can do.
"When I heard the time (for the 200) at Carifta, I couldn't believe it," said Murphy, whose previous best in the event was 21.38.
His effort in St Lucia shattered the previous Games mark of 21.09 set by St Jago High's Nickel Ashmeade two years ago. The 20.97 run by Murphy, who turns 16 next year, also loomed into the ballpark of another sprint prodigy - Usain Bolt - who at 15 years and 333 days ran a stunning 20.61 to win the World Junior Championships in 2002.
Experts wary A newspaper here recently tipped Ashmeade to join world record holder Bolt, Asafa Powell, Donald Quarrie and others, as the "next great" Jamaican sprinter. The jury is still out on Murphy. Knowledgeable track and field experts are wary.
"I am always hesitant to call anyone the 'next' anyone else," Ato Boldon, a former sprint star from Trinidad and Tobago who watched Murphy race at Champs, said while at 'Penns'. "That is usually a recipe for failure. It's too much pressure on a young person. But I am very excited. As a track fan, somebody who knows the sport, I am encouraged and very excited to see what the young man can do."
Page has seen many promising Jamaican sprinters fall away. Overwork and excessive ambition, in some cases pure greed by those charged to guide the young athletes, creep in. The fun disappears. The athlete bombs. So Murphy's family has a close eye on the boy.
"I talk to him about it," said Robinson. "His dad talks to him. So does his (25-year-old) brother (Marvin). I'm just praying that he doesn't change."
The coach is cautious too. Murphy's improved health is not the green light to add pressure. He's still too young to be in the gym pumping weights, said Page, who took him and a few other Bridgeport athletes to 'Penns' to enjoy the prestigious meet's atmosphere, but not to compete. There are no special diets either, so Murphy can chomp down on his favourite foods, especially home cooked meals like rice and peas.
"I eat anything my mother gives me," he said.
Murphy's start needs work, so Page plans to stress that leading into next season. But the young sprinter will not be rushed.
A step at a time
Bridgeport Primary's Jazeel Murphy (right) beats St Catherine's Twaine Gordon to land the boys 200m final during the final day of the INSPORTS/Swizzzle Athletic Championships at the National Stadium on Saturday May 27, 2006. Murphy won in 25.86 secs. - File photos
"We're just taking it a step at a time," the coach said, "allowing him to enjoy himself."
The list of Jamaicans who starred as youngsters but did not meet expectations as seniors is long. Nikole Mitchell. Daniel England. Rudolph Mighty. It goes on. Even with 'kid's glove' handling, there are no guarantees.
"I have a theory that most of the prodigies in track and field do not end up being the best professionals," said Boldon. "And I think that's just part of it. The reason that some of these kids are such good juniors (is) because they're ahead of the curve and the curve catches up and that's it.
"So it's not that all of them are being left as road kill on the side of the highway, but certainly with some I think it is. Some of them do get over raced, hyped, overworked and that's just a recipe for failure."
Doesn't like the hype
Murphy's handlers claim he's avoiding that.
"We don't see him acting that way," said Robinson. "He doesn't like the hype."
Meanwhile, Murphy continues to revel in teen life, even mischievous friends and fellow athletes.
"They always trouble him and say 'how can you be so fat and be so fast?!'," the coach said.
But the kid is looking at the positive.
"It's O.K.," said Murphy. "They just treat me like a friend."
So he's busy being a teenager who loves to run. No worry about being "the next".
"He doesn't even think of himself as a star," said Page.