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TrackLife International

An Olympic Crossroads for Jamaica?

Javon Francis on anchor in Moscow.

NEW YORK – Jamaicans have excelled in everything globally, from the academia to business to entertainment to sports.

Although it is next to impossible to comfortably select a discipline in which the country has been most singularly dominant, fans of track and field will point out that although the modern Games had their inaugural beginnings in 1896 and that Jamaica first participated in the 1948 London renewal, the nation has won medals in every edition except the 1964 Tokyo Games, having only won four fourth places. That is proof positive, in their view, that track and field is king.

In any event, prior to the end of the Cold War, which resulted in the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow, Russian Olympics, and the subsequent Soviet Union boycott of the US Games, held in Los Angeles, California, in 1984, the Caribbean nation managed to distinguish itself as a world superpower in the sport. With that distinction comes a plethora of greats, including Herb McKenley, George Rhoden, Les Laing, Arthur Wint, Lennox Miller, Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, Grace Jackson, Juliet Cuthbert, Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Yohan Blake and Kerron Stewart et anon. Still, the pressure is always on to produce bigger, better and faster, which, so far, has not been an issue for the ‘Sprint Factory.’

The height of expectation reached its crescendo at the 2008 Beijing, China Olympics, when Jamaican athletes won a record number of gold medals. It was a riotous celebration in Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, and every nook and cranny countrywide. It was magnificence at its best. For those moments, compatriots became comrades and, as they say, the rest is history.

The question now is, did Jamaica peak at those Games? London was spectacular in its own right, from a Jamaican perspective, but 2008, I thought, was different, because more medals were won than anyone might have expected. Four years later, 2012 would have been a disappointment if a similar performance had not followed.

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, in Brazil, will be the swan song of track icon Usain Bolt, who will retire in 2017. But Bolt is not the only Jamaican star who could retire around then. He will be 30 by Rio. The multi-decorated Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will be on the verge of 30 at age 29, but Asafa Powell, Novlene Williams-Mills, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Michael Frater, Nesta Carter, and Kerron Stewart will have passed into their early 30s. What happens then? Will they turn the sprints into a marathon like the legendary Ottey has done, never retiring? Or will they ride off quietly into the sunset? Only time will tell.

Foundation laid

Whatever circumstance occurs, the footprints have been made in the sand and the local stock will be replenished. The barrel is hardly empty. There are great local stars on the rise including the ‘would be king,’ Yohan Blake; hurdler Hansle Parchment; 200m star Warren Weir; his stable mate, Kemar Bailey-Cole, the Commonwealth Games 100m winner; and Javon Francis. This 400m prodigy (in photo above) is something special; a personal best of 44.96secs does not come without talent and guts. He has already singlehandedly helped Jamaica to win a silver medal at the last World Championships. He is one for the future; expect him to become the next big superstar. The foundation has been laid out and he is well-groomed for the big time.

As young Francis distinguishes himself on the track, expect him to lead a galaxy of young 400m talent to the forefront much like Asafa Powell did, and later Bolt, in the short sprints. But this is not new for the quarter-mile from a Jamaican perspective. Remember the aforementioned McKenley, Laing, Wint and Rhoden in the 1940s and ’50s? Watch out.

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