Thu | Jan 17, 2019

Wint, Kerr, Newman forgotten heroes

Published:Thursday | December 1, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Arthur Wint (left) reminisces with fellow track greats G.B. 'Flying Farmer' Grant (second left), Keith Gardner and Herb McKenley (right) in this March 1964 Gleaner photograph. - File

Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer

The new book on Olympic champion Arthur Wint couldn't have arrived at a better time. Written by his daughter Valerie and entitled A Longer Run; A Daughter's Story, the book comes at a time when Jamaica has forgotten how good it once was in the 800 metres.

A read will give Jamaicans new insight into Arthur Wint the man, his life and times, and his achievements on the track and off it. When I read it, I was forced to reflect on my own first meeting with the great man. That was three decades ago at Linstead Hospital where he was the doctor in charge. I'd broken my ankle in a car accident and, some time after I awoke, he came to see me.

He was tall and stately, bespectacled with an aquiline nose. Though his days on the track were far past, he moved with an athlete's ease. I was star-struck. Even before I sought his advice on my ankle, I asked, "Are you Arthur Wint, the Olympic champion?".

His answer was kind. "So they tell me," he said quietly, and then moved on to managing my recovery.

Most Jamaicans correctly remember him as our first Olympic champion. In 1948, his friend Herb McKenley arrived in London for the Olympic Games as the heavy favourite for the 400, but it was Wint, a 6-5 giant, who won the gold medal. He was in the final four years later when McKenley lost to another Jamaican, the cerebral George Rhoden.

Add his role in the world-record run in the gold-medal-winning 4x400 and you have the sum total of the common memory of his athletic career. He was, perhaps, even better at 800 metres. In both the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, he finished second in the two-lap event.

In addition, his gold-silver achievement in 1948 was the best Olympic performance in those events until 1976 when the Cuban hero Alberto Juantorena did the double.

George Kerr followed Wint as an 800-metre medal winner in 1960, and just missed a repeat bronze medal in 1964 in the Tokyo Olympics.

No Jamaican man has reached the Olympic final since Wint and Kerr did it, but Seymour Newman might have in 1976, but for terrible ill luck. He was bundled out of the running in his semi-final when he had a strong chance. The following year, he set the national record of one minute, 45.21 seconds.

Not only has that record stood since midsummer's night in Helsinki in 1977, but there has been no world-class Jamaican 800-metre men since then. Clive Terrelonge did win the 1993 World Indoor title. Three years later, Alex Morgan and Mario Vernon-Watson both ran 1.45.58.

No real success

No one has ventured into the 800 with real success since Newman. The world record was then two seconds away. Now it is one minute, 41.01 seconds. Moreover, no Jamaican has broken one minute and 46 seconds since 1996.

There was a flicker of hope when Terrelonge had his big win, when Morgan placed third in the 1994 NCAA, and when former St Jago star Mike Williams won the 1995 NCAA indoor title for Manhattan University.

Kerr had won the NCAA outdoor title twice for the University of Illinois in 1959 and 1960. Two more Jamaican NCAA wins came in 1968 and 1969, courtesy of Byron Dyce of NYU.

I'm no coach, but it makes sense for Jamaica to delve into the 800, which is just outside its traditional sprint province. Who knows what Kaliese Spencer and Jermaine Gonzales might do in it when they've reached their potential in the 400 hurdles and the flat 400, respectively?

When the London Olympics and the 2013 World Championships are over, someone should tell him that world 800 champion and current world-record holder, David Rudisha, has run the 400 in 45.50 seconds. Gonz is much faster at 44.40. Perhaps, in the same way that Danny McFarlane turned successfully to the hurdles, Gonz might do the same at 800.

Alternately, with his long legs, he could follow Danny's footsteps. Winthrop Graham's national record of 47.60, set in 1992, is gathering dust too.

Hubert Lawrence has covered athletics since 1987.