Sun | Jan 24, 2021

Football for Bolt, cricket for Blake?

Published:Thursday | September 27, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Olympic silver medallist Yohan Blake bats for Bartley's XI Kitson Town against Correctional Services in the Sherwin Williams-sponsored Social Development Commission (SDC) St Catherine Twenty20 Cricket competition match at the Spanish Town Prison Oval on September 15. - Anthony Minott/Freelance Photographer
Sprinter Usain Bolt poses for pictures with a shirt showing the world record time for the 100-metre sprint at Old Trafford on August 25. - AP

Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer

If I'm Glen Mills, there's no way Usain Bolt would risk his million-dollar legs in a game of football. Charity game or not, I wouldn't take the chance that one mistimed tackle could derail the tall man. There's just no way.

To a lesser extent, the same goes for Yohan Blake and cricket. Let me declare interest. As a youngster, I was hit by a cricket ball in a delicate place. It was in an age before protective gear was made for those areas and it wasn't pretty.

Unless ball hits man, cricket isn't a contact sport. It is, nevertheless, an activity where injuries occur. Those are worries coach Mills can do without.

Despite all that, you can't help but wonder what our top athletes could do in other sports. Two-time Olympic 100 winner, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, might be a great netball centre or wing attack. Her speed and explosiveness would be an asset. Alternatively, for the same reasons, she might be an all-star libero in volleyball.

Maurice Smith, the 2007 World decathlon runner-up, might have succeeded in the game our American friends call football. Perhaps, he could have been a quarterback who could throw and rush.

The NFL has been a place where both dreams and nightmares come true for men from athletics. Bob Hayes, Willie Gault and Michael Carter were all great successes. All three won Super Bowl rings; 1964 100m winner Hayes with the Dallas Cowboys, world-class hurdler Gault with the Chicago Bears and 1984 Olympic shot put runner-up Carter with the San Francisco 49ers.

On the flip side, Jim Hines crashed and burned. Hines succeeded Hayes as Olympic 100 champion and followed Hayes into the NFL. He dropped so many catches, some called him 'Oops'.

Football is a steady supplier of talent to track and field. Adam Gemili came from Chelsea and Reading to win the World Junior 100 title for Great Britain this July. World 400 hurdles champion Dai Greene was once with Swansea. Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford and European and Commonwealth 110 hurdles winner Andy Turner have similar stories.

There was a time when Jamaican schoolboy sportsmen often doubled up. Memories of Lindy Delapenha, Seymour Newman, Bally Reid, Peter Hibbert, Rohan Walker, Tex Innerarity and Jermaine 'Milo' Ricketts spring to mind. Lindy was a super track and field athlete for Munro College, but football took him all the way to the English First Division.

Like Lindy, Munro's Paul 'Paul T' Thompson played football, but was also a record-breaking long jumper at Boys' Championships and won a World Junior 4x100m relay gold medal in 1998.

Wavell Hinds, the retired West Indies batsman, was a fine defender in football for Camperdown. Ricardo 'Bibi' Gardner was a sprinter at Wolmer's Boys' before he focused on football.

Netball injury

Typically, girls love netball just as much. 2008 Olympic 400 champion Christine Ohuruogu was a netballer before she turned to the track. Ace netballer Althea Byfield was once a high jumper for The Queen's School. Edwin Allen's 2010 Carifta discus winner Sasha-Gaye Marston twisted her ankle playing netball. The injury held her back during 2012.

That's a word for the wise.

In the best of all worlds, Bolt would command the middle for Sir Alex, the Scot who directs United. Bolt's 958 shirts would probably be a sell-off. In the meantime, Blake would fulfill his dream and become a world-class cricketer.

However, it's almost impossible to double up at the professional level. Athletes like Bolt, Blake and Fraser-Pryce rest from training and competing for just over a month each year. That leaves very little time to prepare thoroughly for another sport.

Recently, Yohan spoke of early retirement from athletics so he could give cricket a go. That statement contains an acceptance of the incompatibility of his two sports. It also prompts a question: How soon would he leave track for cricket - at 26 after the Rio Olympics in 2016 - or at 30 after the 2020 Games?

It's a guess, but he isn't likely to sacrifice his track career for cricket. In fact, I'd be surprised if coach Mills would approve either Bolt or Blake going too far off the beaten path. I wouldn't.

Hubert Lawrence has covered athletics since 1987.