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Another amazing award

Published:Thursday | December 6, 2012 | 12:00 AM
From left: Blake, Mills and Bolt.
Hubert Lawrence

Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer

It's like a magician's trick. They get you to watch one thing while the real action is going on elsewhere.

As we watched the build-up to the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) election, awards season did its first trick.

As Dr Warren Blake, Lincoln Eatmon and Grace Jackson sought the presidency of the JAAA, an important athletics body chose its coach of the year. NACAC - the IAAF affiliate for North America, Central America and the Caribbean - chose Ismael Lopez as the top coach for the region in 2012.

Coach Lopez has brought Cuban expertise to throwing in Trinidad and Tobago, and his prize pupil, Keshorn Walcott, won javelin gold in the Olympics and the World Junior Championships. That tremendous achievement is unique in the non-Cuban Caribbean.

Maria Colon, Maritza Marten and Yumeldi Cumba - Cubans all - have won Olympic gold in throwing events, but the rest of the region hadn't come even close until Walcott's big upset in London.

Coach Lopez and Walcott deserve high commendation. There's no doubt about that.

However, as we've often seen, awards can go astray.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce missed the IAAF Athlete of the Year top three despite a better overall 2012 season than the super American Allyson Felix, who has since been named IAAF Athlete of the Year.

Similarly, the NACAC coach's award should have gone elsewhere, to Jamaica's Glen Mills.

Lopez did great work with Walcott, but Mills was far better.

Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake went 1-2 in the Olympic 100 final. Bolt, Blake and Warren Weir took all the medals in the 200 metres.

That wasn't all. The first two delivered the year's fastest six times in the 100. In the 200, students of the guru, including UWI's Intercollegiate champion Jason Young, sped to eighth of the fastest times of the Olympic year in the 200.

Walcott did throw two national records in the Olympic javelin final, ending with 84.58 metres, but that can't overturn the Mills portfolio. The 84.58 is the 24th best throw of the season.

Spread awards around

There may be a tendency to spread awards around. Instead of rewarding merit, it seems that awards are used to 'encourage' hard workers, or people forging new ground like Lopez. There's a place for that, but this isn't it.

United States coach Alberto Salazar coached Briton Mohamed Farah to double Olympic gold. Another of his students, Galen Rupp of the United States, was second in the 10,000m. Rupp's silver medal is the first for the USA since 1964.

Unless you disregard Salazar because Farah is a non-NACAC athlete, he, too, would be ahead of Lopez for Coach of the Year.

In 2008, athletes coached by Stephen Francis did brilliant work at the Olympics. Fraser-Pryce and Melaine Walker won their events with Jermaine Mason, Sherone Simpson and Shericka Williams winning silver.

In 2009, at the Berlin World Championships, Brigitte Foster-Hylton joined Fraser-Pryce and Walker as winners, with Williams and Asafa Powell getting silver and bronze, respectively.

Francis didn't get the NACAC award in either 2008 or 2009.

On the strength of ground-breaking world-record work with Usain Bolt, Mills won in 2008.

In 2009, Hector Cano got the award for his work with Javier Culson of Puerto Rico, the runner-up in the 400-metre hurdles at the World Championships.

You may recall that Bolt did another world-record double in Berlin, but Cano took the 2009 NACAC award anyway.

When awards are contested between several with equal claims, the decision is tough. The top three candidates for IAAF Male Athlete of 2012 were all wonderful. Moreover, four-time winner Bolt, David Rudisha and Aries Merritt were lucky not to lose a place in the top three to decathlon world record breaker and fellow Olympic winner, Ashton Eaton.

In the Olympics, Rudisha did what all athletes dream of by setting a historic world record - one minute, 40.91 seconds, the first sub-1:41, to win the gold medal to crown a dominant 2012 season.

From this distance, the 2012 NACAC Coach of the Year shouldn't have been as hard to pick.

As good as Ismael Lopez has been with Keshorn Walcott, Glen Mills should have won hands down.

Hubert Lawrence is co-author of 'The Power and the Glory - An Illustrated History of Jamaica in World Athletics'.