A moment to savour
The Jamaican track and field scene wasn't so bleak in June. Trouble was on the horizon as the first of six positive drug tests had been announced, but today's overpowering gloom hadn't arrived yet. Everything, it seemed, was going to be all right. In the midst of this came a moment to savour at the National Championships.
Usain Bolt had eased to a win in the men's 100m, his third, and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce had done a delightful sprint double. Hearts were warmed by the 400-metre victory for cancer survivor Novlene Williams-Mills, and by a big win by Warren Weir in the 200m. Yet, the best moment came at the very end.
That's when Javere Bell set a personal best time of 45.05 seconds to take the men's 400 metres. Coached by 1983 World Champion Bert Cameron, Bell had to fight off Calabar schoolboy Jevaughan Francis, who clocked 45.24 to miss Davian Clarke's national junior record by just 0.03 seconds.
Bell and Francis had edged away from a pack in the last 50 metres and fans had the changing of the guard they'd hoped for. No one said it at the time, but it was redemption for Cameron. After being hailed as an expert for his fine work with Jermaine Gonzales in 2010 and 2011, he'd got some flak for the national record holder's lacklustre Olympic performance.
'Gunz' had struggled in his first- round 400m heat and had stopped, baton in hand, in Jamaica's 4x400m qualifying race.
Twenty-one-year-old Bell restored Bert with a polished run. The former St Jago and University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) star was grateful. "You know, the last thing I said to Javere," he recalled, "'I am not going to tell you how to run this race because you know exactly how to run it. All I'm begging you is just run the third 100 metres for me.'
"And he did that. I can't even use words to describe how I feel right now at this time," said the happy coach.
His joy wasn't confined to Bell's success. "I think that Jamaica's quarter-milers are up-and-coming," he smiled. "Look at the age group. Look at 1-2-3-4-5 and you'll see what I'm saying."
He was right. Bell, Francis, 18, Akheem Gauntlett, 22, and Omar Johnson were all newcomers with great promise.
Now a coach at UTEP, Clarke was watching the race at trackside. In 1995, inside the same National Stadium venue, he had run 45.21 seconds to set the Jamaican junior record.
In the lead-up to the 2013 Nationals, the 1996 and 2004 Olympic 400-metre finalist had got wind that his mark would be under threat via Facebook. His assessment matched Cameron's. "The guys - the 400 men's team - they look really strong," he observed.
"Going to the world championships," he predicted. "I expect all 44 splits and at least a 2.58, and it definitely will be in the medals."
He was right. Francis and Edino Steele, fifth at Nationals, did turn in relay split times in the 44-second record, 44.2 for Steele on the second leg, and 44 flat for Francis on anchor, and Jamaica won the silver medal at the World Championships in Moscow. Had Gauntlett not had to withdraw from the team, maybe Davian's prediction of a time in the 2 minutes and 58 seconds range might have come true.
Moscow was marvellous but the magic really started at the Nationals. No one really even wanted to leave the Stadium on that evening in June. The young men in the 400m had ushered in the dawn of a new day.
The times weren't blinking quick. By comparison, the Americans saw three men break 45 seconds. Still, there was satisfaction. The top two were trained in Kingston by Jamaican coaches, Cameron, and Calabar expert Michael Clarke. Subsequent seasons could be even better with talents like Riker Hylton, Ramone McKenzie, and 2013 National Collegiate Athletic Association indoor winner Errol Nolan in the picture as the 2016 Olympics come closer.
The 2013 season has had sunshine and gloom in equal parts. Six gold medals in Moscow and a table-topping performance by Jamaica at the World Youth Championships is the sunshine. Yet, when we review the campaign, the national 400-metre final will be among the highlights. It was truly a moment to savour.
Hubert Lawrence has been making notes at trackside since 1980.