Sun | Jun 16, 2019

Male sprinting crisis worse than we thought

Published:Monday | May 20, 2019 | 12:24 AM
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (left) of Great Britain crosses the finish line ahead of Jamaica’s Nigel Ellis (centre), and Ramil Guliyev, of Turkey, in the men’s 4x100m relay final at the IAAF World Relay Games in Yokohama, Japan on Sunday, May 12. File
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (left) of Great Britain crosses the finish line ahead of Jamaica’s Nigel Ellis (centre), and Ramil Guliyev, of Turkey, in the men’s 4x100m relay final at the IAAF World Relay Games in Yokohama, Japan on Sunday, May 12. File

In the middle of watching the multiple disappointing Jamaican performances unfold at the recently concluded IAAF World Relay Games in Yokohama, Japan, I took up my phone in bewilderment and called one of the nation’s top track and field analysts. I told him that the crisis in our sprinting, especially on the males’ side, is much worse than we think.

My colleague stuttered somewhat before presenting his unconvincing retort, stating that this was not our strongest team, that the collegiate sprinters are in the wings waiting, and our fastest man this season was not there, and thing are not as bad as they look. In that moment, I took his word for it, but as the Jamaican failures continued to pile up, I became more and more convinced that my eyes and my mind were not deceiving me, and that the two silver and one bronze medal Jamaica ended with was a fair reflection of the mediocre quality we presented on the track.

The straw that my colleague and other local track and field purists continue to cling to, is that the women have no such issues, with the presence of reigning double Olympic sprint champion Elaine Thompson, backed up by young guns Briana Williams, Kevona Davis, the young Clayton twins waiting in the wings, and that our hurdlers, throwers, and jumpers are creating great waves, therefore all is well and good. Those convenient facts, however, are mere disguises for the deep crisis in the glamour department of male sprinting.

The theory is that the diversity is welcome and an Olympic or World Championship medal is exactly that, whether it’s in the shot put or the discus, or the 100m. Not quite true. A gold medal in the men’s discus might well have the identical weight, colour and configuration, but it is hardly the same in terms of prestige and intrinsic value as the gold medal in the blue-riband 100m event.

No one can credibly deny the cyclical nature of sport; however, when the inevitable slump arrives, the buffers must be proper planning systems and structures. Another huge elephant in the room as it relates to the poor rate of transition of our young male sprinters, might ironically be the enormous and unprecedented success of the greatest sprinter of them all, Usain Bolt. So many barriers were broken, and dizzy heights reached by the legendary sprinter, that the incessant search for the next Bolt might have inadvertently led to the demise of an entire generation of young Jamaican sprinters.

WASTED POTENTIAL

Central to that revolving search for the next Bolt was the routine targeting of almost every promising young Jamaican sprinter who emerged through the school system. There is also the aggressive attempts to lure them with lucrative contracts offers and favours, which systematically landed these emerging youngsters prematurely in a false space of having arrived, before they even began the journey. With their focus discombobulated by their new-found comfort, their hunger, desire, and work ethic are commensurately disrupted, with the net result invariably being disoriented clusters of wasted potential.

A way must to be found to either get back to where we were attitudinally 15 to 20 years ago. The reality must be accepted that it is unlikely that there will ever be another Usain Bolt; therefore, the search must be abandoned. The strategy must be to allow the athletes to develop naturally. Restore the value system that allows the young male sprinters to emerge with the requisite passion, desire and hunger needed to drive their quest for success. As soon as that developmental norm is restored, then the performances, and eventually the medals, will return for Jamaica, in the prestigious and glamorous sprint events.