Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Rewriting history

Published:Thursday | May 23, 2013 | 12:00 AM
The United States' Sanya Richards (right) celebrates winning the gold medal as Jamaica's silver medal winner, Shericka Williams, looks on after the women's 400m final at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin last August. - AP

By Hubert Lawrence

Things would have been very different if Sanya Richards-Ross had chosen to run for Jamaica in 2002. That's when she became a naturalised US citizen. She's so good that I, for one, would have loved to have her in black, green and gold.

In a distinguished career, Richards-Ross was Olympic 400-metre champion in London last year after taking the World Championships gold medal in 2009. Early in 2012, Richards-Ross had won the World Indoor title.

No matter what her individual performances are like, Richards-Ross has always been a super relay runner. Heartbroken in third in the flat 400 at the 2008 Olympics, she dramatically ran down Russia's Ana Kapachinskaya in a 48.93 second anchor.

After an out-of-character seventh place in the 2011 Worlds 400, she zipped to a 49.3 first leg that gave the US almost all the eventual winning margins for the USA, despite a national record run of three minutes, 18.71 seconds by Jamaica.

Her other relay gems include a 48.44 at the 2009 Worlds, a 49.07 at the 2007 Worlds and a 49.10 to close the show at the London Olympics.

Jamaica's women have won 4x400 medals in every major championship in the last decade, but with Richards-Ross the USA has almost always been out of reach. Just once, in 2005 at the World Championships when the USA was disqualified in the heats, was the trend broken.

She's still only 28.

It's far too late to entertain any wishful thinking about Richards-Ross running for Jamaica. However, there are signs that US-based Jamaicans are coming home athletically. Errol Nolan caught everyone's eye with a combative 44.2-second anchor leg at the Penn Relays. Just three years ago, he had won an individual bronze medal in the 400 at the 2010 World Junior Championships.

He was on track for Jamaica at last year's Olympics. Now he is the National Collegiate Athletics Association indoor 400 champion for the University of Houston.

The Jamaican Olympic team included three other US-bred Jamaicans - shot put finalist Dorian Scott, long jumper Damar Forbes and discus thrower Allison Randall.

In some cases, the choice follows the maintenance of ties to Jamaica in the athlete's home overseas. In other cases, that is combined with careful athletic decision-making.

Keep watch on others

In addition to all it must do, the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association probably should keep watch on others like Nolan. When Stephenie McPherson hit top gear for the University of Technology at the Penn Relays in the 4x400, it wasn't quite enough. Her attack was countered by Phyllis Francis, the anchor runner for the University of Oregon. Phyllis was timed in 49.9 seconds.

She and her sister, Claudia, have Jamaican ties through their father. The Francis sisters actually ran at the 2009 Gibson Relays for a Team Bickle squad that dominated the 4x400 and 4x800.

Phyllis hasn't run for the US senior team yet and with the American women so good at 400, she might be persuaded to make a pragmatic choice. At age 21, with a personal best of 51.22 seconds, she could be a real asset to Jamaica.

There are others. Akeem Gauntlet of the University of Arkansas almost made the Olympic 4x400 team last year. There's a 400-metre runner with Jamaica ties to watch at Mississippi State. He's New York-based Strymar Livingston, holder of US high school indoor records at 500 and 600 metres.

If Nolan, Gauntlet and Livingston all make progress, they could be bright lights for Jamaica in the 400 and the 4x400.

The key with rewriting history is that you can't go back. If you could, you'd probably be able to claim the gold medals won by Jamaican-born sprinters like Donovan Bailey and Linford Christie. Like Richards-Ross, they have made Jamaica proud.

The only thing to do is to plan ahead. In the last decade, locally-trained Jamaicans have been wonderfully successful. Even so, athletes like Scott, Nolan and Randall can help Jamaica rewrite history.

Hubert Lawrence has covered local and international track and field since 1987.