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Who’s Ready to Take up the Mantle of Men’s Sprinting in Jamaica
- Updated: 03/02/2014
NEW YORK— It is a given that Jamaicans are blessed with great sprint speed. Therefore international success should not necessarily be surprising. Our track regimen is Jamaica-specific. It is perhaps not unlike what is found in parts of the Motherland. Africa is known for impressing in middle and long distance races. I am not entirely au fait with what goes on there, but in Jamaica, track and field is a year-round effort; it is a pride of place.
A synopsis of the Jamaica track calendar illustrates the competitive nature the sport encapsulates. The Gibson Relays, Camperdown Classics, GC Foster meet, Queens / Grace Jackson meet, Western Championships, Western Relays, Boys and Girls Championships, to name a few, are the genesis of superstardom. But that is not the be all and end all. This is simply a peek into the Jamaican sprinting psyche, which, not incidentally, places very little emphasis on middle and long distances or field events. Not surprisingly, Jamaica has produced very few distance runners of international repute over the last 30 to 35 years.
Seymour Newman was the last Jamaican, male to have gained some success in any distance above the 400m. Newman was an 800m specialist who dabbled in the 400m. He had his moment in the sun in the late 1970s. First, he defeated Cuban superstar Alberto Juantorena in 1977 at the World Cup Trials, in the 400m, in a Jamaican record of 45.66secs. He went on to capture the double, taking the 800m in a still-standing Jamaican record of 1min. 45.21secs. Juantorena had, a year earlier, won that Olympic double in Montreal on a canter. He had, until Newman defeated him, been unbeaten in either distance for about a year.
Newman went on to win a silver medal in the 800m at the 1978 Commonwealth Games, beaten by Kenyan Mike Boit. He sat out the Commonwealth 400m, which was won in a pedestrian run of 46.34secs, by Trinidad’s Joseph Coombs. Newman thereafter lost his ‘marbles’ and would never again be a factor.
Back to the sprints, however. In Jamaica, three men currently stand at the top of the sprint pedestal. Three-time Olympian Asafa Powell has, since 2003, led a cadre of Jamaican male sprint stars to the international limelight. At this point, however, Powell’s campaign is at a standstill because of an under-review performance-enhancing drug accusation. The former world record holder is the third fastest Jamaican in the 100m at 9.72secs behind Yohan Blake’s 9.69secs and Usain Bolt’s world record of 9.58secs. Bolt has proven time and again that he is The Man.
Aside from the aforementioned trio, who is ready to take up the mantle and command the attention and imagination of the Jamaican public? Let’s take a brief look.
No Lightning Rod
This is poignant when viewed in the context that the 2013 Jamaica Invitational had its lowest attendance because the Big Three was missing. The ‘young veteran’ and ever-present Nesta Carter was raced but Nesta is low-key by nature. I interviewed him in New York about two years ago. He is a great athlete but not nearly a lightning rod. Nickel Ashmeade won the Invitational 200m in a respectable 20.00secs ahead of Warren Weir but they barely raised a whisper. What gives?
Track and Field News Magazine, The Bible of the Sport, ranked five Jamaican in its annual Top Ten review in 2012, in the 100m. The 200m shows the top five positions occupied by a Jamaican contingent. Both sprints are top-ranked by Bolt followed by Blake. That is not surprising. What is surprising is that none of the other ranked Jamaicans, save for Powell, seriously matters to the casual track fan.
There is enough ‘second-tier’ male sprinters to help take the sport to the next level. It is time for Kemar Bailey-Cole (PB 9.97secs), Jason Young (PB 10.06 and 19.86secs), Mario Forsythe (PB 9.95secs) Oshane Bailey (PB 10.11secs), 200m specialists Warren Weir and Nickel Ashmeade to step in and fill the void. We wait patiently.
The question remains, however, are these contenders to the sprint throne or mere pretenders? Only time will tell. And time is of the essence and it waits on no man.