Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
ENCOURAGED BY Jamaica's track and field prowess, New Zealand has become the latest country to send a representative to the world's sprint factory with the aim of wooing local coaches to the Pacific region.
Murray McCully, New Zealand's foreign affairs and sports minister, arrived in the island last week to conduct bilateral discussions with the Jamaican Government. High on the agenda was the issue of sports.
"When I visit most countries around the world after the Olympics I am able to talk about our medal performance and then translate our medal performance into a per capita translation ... . This is one of the few places in the world where when we do that calculation we look worse," McCully told The Sunday Gleaner.
New Zealand, a country of 4.4 million people, sent 184 athletes to the London Olympics to compete in 16 events. The country won 13 medals - six gold, two silver and five bronze. The medals were won in six disciplines: equestrian, rowing, cycling, sailing, canoeing and athletics.
The athletics medal was won by Valerie Adams in the women's shot put.
Contrastingly, Jamaica, with 2.5 million people sent a team of 50 athletes to the Games and won 12 medals - four of each quality. All the medals were won by track athletes.
Sprinter Usain Bolt claimed legendary status after three dazzling gold medal performances, while Yohan Blake staked his claim as track and field's rising star.
McCully said his country looks up to Jamaica for its performance at the Olympics and said he hopes New Zealand will following suit someday.
"We are here to try and establish some links. I don't imagine that New Zealand is overnight going to produce world-class sprinters. Where we do have a history in middle distance ... . I am looking for any of the institutional ways in which we can learn to bring talented youngsters through," McCully said.
"In return, New Zealand has some expertise in rugby," he added.
The proposal for the exchange of technical expertise is one which Lori Roach, secretary of Jamaica Rugby Association thinks is a good one.
"It is something that is worth exploring. I don't think we would be losing, we would be benefitting," Roach told The Sunday Gleaner.
New Zealand has an enviable record in rugby. Its All Blacks Sevens team has won 10 of the 13 Sevens World Series events.
Since 2000 when the series first started, the only times they have not won were in 2006 when Fiji were crowned champions, 2009 won by South Africa and 2010 when they came second to Samoa.
Jamaica's rugby is yet to make any meaningful mark on the world.
New national training centre
In the meantime, McCully said his government has set up a new national training centre with the aim of making New Zealanders some of the best sports people in the world.
"We are looking to get the world's best practice and I would like to open the door to us getting the world's best practice on the track. We hope to learn what we can about how you look after your young people," McCully said.
During his brief visit to the island, McCully met with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and discussed among other things, sports development. He also visited the Usain Bolt Track at the University of the West Indies, Mona campus.
As he heads back to New Zealand, McCully is hopeful that he will be able to convince Jamaicans to assist his country in developing track and field talent.
"The most beneficial thing is visits by coaches and technical people who can come along and spend some time wth our people, rubbing shoulders and sharing ideas. I don't think it needs to be long term. Short-term secondments are the sort of thing we might try first," McCully said.
Asked whether he has identified any potential coach he would want to see visit New Zealand to assist, McCully was coy.
"I have got one or two names that are very well known in mind. I would want to ask your people to think who they might lend us for a few weeks," McCully said.