Exploring the J'can athletics system

Published: Sunday | May 24, 2009

Elton Tucker, Assistant Editor - Sport

Shelly-Ann Fraser

As Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Melaine Walker, Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart and Shericka Williams won medal after medal in the sprint events at last year's Beijing Olympics, one of the most frequently asked questions in China was, 'what is the secret of Jamaica's sudden success?'

Of course, for those in the know, there was no 'suddenness' about Jamaica's Olympic achievements. Beijing was, no doubt, the country's greatest ever performance at a single Olympics, but since 1948 the island has been outstanding on the world's biggest stage, winning an overall 13 gold, 27 silver and 21 bronze medals.

Clear and concise

In his book, Jamaica Athletics - A model for 2012 and the world, Justice Patrick Robinson sets out in very clear and concise terms, the system which has been the foundation of Jamaica's success at both the senior and junior levels.

Robinson takes us back to the start of the annual inter-secondary championships in 1910 describing it as the 'heart of the system'. The system which produced Norman Manley, National Hero and one of the founding fathers of Jamaica's Independence, but then an outstanding schoolboy sprinter who broke high school 100 yards record in 1911 with a run of 10 seconds at a time when the world record was 9.7.

According to Robinson, 'The real significance of Norman Manley's achievements is that he established a standard of athletic excellence in schools, that was followed in the late 1930s and 1940s by others, notably Arthur Wint, Douglas Manley (who equalled the 100 yards record of his father, Norman) Leroy 'Coco' Brown and Herb McKenley."

In highlighting the island's achievements at the Games, the author lists a virtual who's who of Jamaican athletics, from the pioneers of 1948 and 1952 - when Jamaica won three gold and five silver medals in two Games - to the stars of 2008 who took home six gold, three silver and two bronze medals.

Jamaican system

The two chapters on the features of the Jamaican system - secondary level and senior level - are particularly instructive. The first highlights the closeness of the bond between the coach and the athlete at the high school level and the important role the G.C. Foster College has played and is still playing in the training of coaches.

Robinson writes that "the G.C. Foster College and its graduates have had a transformational effect on Jamaican athletics.

"Many of these coaches at times had to fund some of their young charges from their own pockets, as the basic needs of the sport - gear, special nutrition and transportation - were beyond the needs of their parents."

At the senior level the author has accurately traced the important role of the College of Arts, Science and Technology (now University of Technology) in the development of home-grown athletes. He points to the former world 100 yards record-holder Dennis Johnson who, as director of sports at the institution, produced several athletes of international calibre. Two of these, Anthony Davis and Evan Clarke, went to the Moscow Games (1980) and the Stuttgart World Championships (1993) respectively.

The success of Johnson laid the foundation for the Stephen Francis-coached MVP Track Club which has been churning out quality athletes for almost 10 years and produced Beijing individual gold medallists Shelly-Ann Fraser and Melaine Walker and three members of the men's team - Asafa Powell, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter who along with Bolt set a world record 37.10 seconds in the men's 4x100m final.

Outstanding photographs

In highlighting the achievements of Beijing 2008 the author has been able to illustrate his points with a number of outstanding photographs of the men's 100m final, women's 100m final, women's 200m final, women's 400m final, women's 400m hurdles finals, men's 4x100m final and many more.

The real students of the sport will find the statistics at the end very interesting and informative. They cover athletes with strong Jamaican connections who have represented other countries, the great Trelawny athletes, including Bolt and Campbell-Brown and records from Boys' and Girls' Champs to those at the junior and senior levels.