Leighton Levy, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Yohan Blake surprised many when he ended his 2011 season with an astonishing 19.26 seconds run over the 200 metres in Brussels on September 16.
The 100-metre World champion put on a startling display of sprinting down the stretch to uncork the second-fastest time in history. Only Usain Bolt's 19.19 is faster. But Blake's coach, Glen Mills, wasn't as shocked. In fact, he saw it coming from as early as last December.
"We saw that in the background; December/January, that period when we started to do intervals and (noticed) his recovery rate," Mills said of his young charge, whom he says is blessed with extremely good work ethic and discipline.
"We saw that he had got a lot stronger from the work we had been doing. We do a lot of core work, we did a lot of resistance work and we saw that he was doing much better than bigger figures on the test sheets."
According to Mills, Blake continued to impress when he began to compete. Coming off his spectacular 19.78-run for second behind Tyson Gay in Monaco last season, some observers believed that Blake's first outing in the 200 metres
at the University of Technology (UTech) Classic, held at the National Stadium on April 16, was a sign that he was not in the same form as the previous season. Mills, however, had a different take on that seemingly ordinary time.
"When he started competing in his first 200, he ran 20.33. I was thinking that he was not in that ballpark yet, so if he could dish that out on his own then ... you know; and then when he ran in May and ran the 9.80s (at the Jamaica Invitational), I didn't think much of the 2.2 metre-per-second wind. I said well, with three more months of training (he was going to do something special)."
Blake, then 18, arrived at the Racers' camp in September 2008 from St Jago High where he had shown much promise. Two years before, he was the CAC Junior champion, running 10.33 in Trinidad. The following season, he set the national junior record of 10.11 at the Carifta Games held in Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Hampered by injury, his season best in 2008 was 10.27. His best over the 200m that year was 21.06. So when he arrived at Racers, he first had to heal his mind and body before he could be fixed.
"The first thing when we got him, he had a back and a hamstring problem that we had to attend to in his first year," Mills said. "The year 2007 was a big one for him, in that he broke the national junior record, and then he went to the trials and I don't think, mentally, he was ready, and he got roughed up in the semis (at the national trials) and he had a hamstring strain and things didn't go very well. He lost the 200m at Champs, didn't make the World Junior team, so I think, coming out of that year, his confidence was a mess because in 2009, when he started in his first meet, he froze, the gun fired and he didn't run, then the next time he picked out. So we had to be patient with him and work on him both mentally and physically. We corrected his back, strengthened his hamstrings and then once that was in place, we started to work on him biomechanically."
Mills said that he then set about correcting his posture and technique.
"His body was sitting down and arm movement wasn't going far back enough, which is where acceleration takes place," he said. "Over the years, we worked incrementally on those things."
a student of the sport
They also started to make Blake a student of the sport by teaching him in great detail why he needed to do the things he was being taught. Mills explained that once he bought into why he needed to make adjustments, his times started to move again.
On May 17, 2009, Blake became the youngest man ever to break the 10-second barrier with a 9.93 run in Paris. Further improvements came in 2010 when Blake ran personal bests of 9.89 and 19.78 over the 100m and 200m, respectively.
But for all the remarkable success he has had this season, Mills believes there is still room for significant improvement.
"There is still one area of concern, and that's consistency in the starts, but most of the great 100-metre runners have come from behind," he said.
He added that Blake has some more biomechanical work to do, saying the young sprinter still runs slightly side on and he wants to correct that. Blake also tends to tighten when he is using his power. The veteran coach said he wants him to learn to relax when using that power.
Mills had ominous words for the rest of the world's sprinters. Blake's winning the 100-metre World title has transformed him from being a talented sprinter to being the 'beast'.
"Now he is thinking like a champion. It's one thing to aspire to, but it's another thing to achieve. Some say he's fortunate, but it doesn't matter how you achieve, once you do it legally. He got the opportunity and he made use of it, and he is running like he is a new person. He says he is a beast. Now he is not afraid to go out there and do his stuff. Now he is ready go."