By Hubert Lawrence
Think Kenya and brilliant middle- and long-distance running come to mind. From Kip Keino to David Rudisha, Kenyans have dazzled the world of distance running. The Kenyans have something completely different. It's Julius Yego, world-class javelin thrower.
You heard me. Kenya, home of a million steeplechasers, has a top javelin thrower. In the 2012 London Olympics, Yego threw a personal best to reach the final, won by Keyshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago. The best was yet to come.
The stocky Kenyan was battling for a medal in Moscow at the World Championships. Buoyed by his London breakthrough, Yego zoomed his spear 85.40 metres, a national record. That put him in third and gave Kenya a real hope of its first World Championships medal in the throws. In the end, he was edged out of the medals in the last round.
That must have been disappointing, but the point had been made. Kenya is now in the medal mix in the javelin. As I watched him in London and Moscow, I couldn't help thinking that there must be Jamaicans who could do that.
Kenya isn't the only track and field nation on the move. In the last three years, Cuba has risen as a force in the pole vault. In 2011, little Lazaro Borges vaulted fearlessly to second place at the Daegu World Championships. After an upset win over then World champion Fabiana Murer at the 2011 Pan-Am Games, Yarisley Silva has jumped into the spotlight in the women's event.
The solidly built Cuban lass was second in London and third in Moscow. Her best clearance is 4.90 metres, a height only Elena Isinbayeva and Jenn Suhr have ever surpassed.
I've only ever seen one Jamaican female vaulter. That was back in the days of the National Hurdles and Field Events Championships.
In Jamaica, we fear that, one day we'll lose our sprint supremacy. That might make us reluctant to put real effort in developing what we call 'non-traditional events'. We worry about stretching ourselves too thin.
While we worry, countries like Kenya forge ahead. Yego, who trains in javelin-loving Finland, has given his country a hope of medals outside its traditional distance running stronghold. The Cubans are doing the same in the vault.
To be fair, Jamaica is advancing in the throws. Federick Dacres is the latest and potentially the best in a growing production line of throwers and has World youth and junior gold medals to prove his work. He is, however, far more a product of the Calabar High throws programme than any systemmatic change or expansion.
Centre of Excellence
There is some optimism that the two-year-old Jamaica College (JC) 5 Runway facility will become literally a jumps centre of excellence. The results are already good. Jumpers from JC dominated the Class Two leaps at Boys' Championships this year, with one-two finishes in the high, long and triple jumps.
However, once again, these fine results were born in the fervent ambitions of the JC track and field team.
In Jamaica's track and field, sprint coaches have always poached speedy jumpers away from the sandpit. Now, with male sprinters aplenty, some jumpers with a turn of speed might be persuaded to stay in the sand.
It would probably help if there was a jumper of the year award named after 2005 Yorld triple-jump champion Trecia Smith or 1996 Olympic runner-up James Beckford. Maybe Trecia, thrice an Olympic finalist and a two-time Commonwealth champion, should be on the inside track to national honours this October for her contributions to sport.
Things like that would reward excellence and encourage endeavour. More than that, it could help to stimulate a new medal stream.
As I understand it, there is much work in train to buttress the success we now enjoy. But for now, I'm stuck with one vision on my invisible track and field screen. It's a stocky Kenyan throwing the javelin 85 metres and challenging for a medal in Moscow.
So, as we salute Yego, who watched videos of javelin legend Jan Zelenzy as a boy, we must set out to copy his success.
HUBERT LAWRENCE has made notes from track side since 1980.