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TrackLife International

Those Jamaicans Who Sometimes Shun the Press in Defeat

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NEW YORK: Success is hard to manage if one is not strong enough to hold onto it. The Jamaican contingent to the June 14 Adidas track and field meet at Randall’s Island confirmed that statement.

Some magnificent performances stood out at this championship, highlighted by a sterling three-way high jump competition, LaShawn Merritt’s 400m fastest-of-the-season run, and Jamaica’s Warren Weir’s season best time of 19.82secs in the men’s 200m. He has become his own man, the Olympic and World medalist.

I feel though that the best performances were given by Britain’s charismatic 400m runner, Christine Ohuruogu, and the effervescent American Dawn Harper-Nelson is one of my favorite athletes because she is honest, extremely modest, and greets everyone as she might a friend. When I met her after her race, in which she finished a close-up second, she spoke candidly about her inspiration, her training and the direction that young athletes should take in order to succeed, or simply to find out whether they can be fully committed to track and field. Her best advice: ‘Keep your passion for the sport and work hard.’ That is great advice coming from a woman who recently became the American champion again and has won medals in very major competition, including being the 2008 Olympic sprint hurdles champion.

Totally Professional

No doubt that with her credentials, Harper-Nelson, coached by Bob Kersee, husband of the legendary Jackie Joyner-Kersee and former coach of the redoubtable Gail Devers, is among the greatest sprint hurdlers of any generation. Dawn Harper-Nelson has fully established herself as a bona fide world star, and part of her success is her charm and the ease with which she deals with the media – totally professional, with charisma to boot. Christine Ohuruogu is a relative carbon copy of Harper-Nelson’s. They are both masters in dealing with the press. Both are clearly looking at the long term, and are 30 years old.

Christine Ohuruogu met the media after her race, and although she finished down the track, she was able to find humor in her run. Asked how she thought she did in the race, with a smile and a laugh that would compete with the warmth of the Caribbean, she said: “I didn’t do well; that was not too good, but I’m in no shape to race at the moment; I’m letting the race come to me, which is my new approach.” She spoke about her love for running and her drive to always be the best no matter what it takes.

She reflected on her past training stints in Jamaica and how they helped to improve her outlook as an athlete. She said she was fully embraced by Jamaica and thought they cared for her better than they do in Nigeria, place of her ancestral roots. Ohuruogu has won a gold medal in every major championship: 2008 Olympic Games champion and 2012 runner-up; European Championship gold medalist, two-time World defending champion and Commonwealth Games titlist. It does not get much better than that.

Harper-Nelson and Ohuruogu are not only tops in their chosen discipline but they are stars in dealing with the press and consequently the public. They are aware of their role as limited public servants. They never disappoint during a press conference. They are equally bright, articulate and charismatic – traits which will help them develop into other chosen fields when their track careers end.

Some Jamaican track stars can learn a lot from these two great women of the sport. During this year’s edition of the aforementioned adidas New York meet, the Jamaican heir apparent to the sprint throne was less than cordial in brushing off the media after losing a race to his less-fancied country man. Said he during the brief media session: “You all saw what happened so I don’t need to add anything,” before storming off.

The athlete whose coach advertised him as ‘the next big thing,” after once again finishing down the track both literally and figuratively, did not bother to stop in the media tent. But he was kind enough to wave off the press.

Looked the Other Way

Then one of the country’s top female quarter milers, thrown a few questions by the media, looked the other way without responding. This athlete finished in the top three in her event, well ahead of the great Christine Ohuruogu, who, as mentioned before, was gracious in defeat.

I was told recently that one of the world’s greatest female sprinters, when asked for a few comments after a performance at the 2013 Penn Relays, countered with: “I am hungry and a hungry woman is an angry woman.” This was in response to a question from Jamaican press. But within a moment of turning the press agent down, she welcomed questions by an international media house, with open arms.

If that is how they deal with the press, they are not planning wisely. Great athletes are most successful because they have some relationship with the media. Think of Usain Bolt, for example. Love him or not, he knows how to make the press work for him. And there are other Jamaican athletes who understand the process and thrive in it. Anneisha McLaughlin, Nesta Carter and Natoya Goule are outstanding in responding to media. They are great ambassadors of Jamaica and of the sport, at least in that respect.

Sports men and women are reminded from time to time that it is not whether you win or lose; it is how you play the game. One should be gracious in defeat, as one should be in victory. If our top athletes cannot accept the truism of that, they lose even when they win.

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