Jamaica's Lacking International Presence in the Men's 400 meters
BY COLLIE BROWN, contributor
Sunday 19 June 2011
Recent results by Jamaica's young male sprinters should provide reassurance to legions of fans that Jamaica's dominance in the 100 and 200 meters will not fade anytime soon. The performance of Nickel Ashmeade, Yohan Blake, Dexter Lee, Ramone McKenzie and other notables serve notice that when "old men" like Asafa Powell, Michael Frater, Nesta Carter and even Usain Bolt (potential loss to Manchester United) decide to call it a day, these proven talents will be able to seamlessly assume the mantle.
The strong althletic development system that exists in Jamaica continues to showcase young sprint talent from primary to high schools. Jamaica's national track administrators can readily identify the next crop of Powells and Bolts. However, what has been less apparent is the whereabouts of the next crop of Camerons and Haughtons, to name a few "recent" successes in the 400 meters.
Jermaine GonzalesThis troubling scenario creates the risk of Jamaica becoming irrelevant in this event. In the past, it was expected that Jamaica's 1600 meter men's relay at major international track events would finish at least in the top two or three with the United States and sometimes Bahamas, ahead. However, this argument is no longer valid as the Black, Green and Gold place among greatness in the 400 meters and by extension the 1600 meters relay continues to dwindle.
Jermaine Gonzales is currently the reggae island's best prospect in international competitions. However, there is not a supporting cast to offer up credible competition in the long relay. This major deficiency has caused the United States to put some distance between the two countries in this event. At the same time, the footsteps of other Caribbean countries like Grenada (Kirani James), Bahamas (Chris Brown) and Trinidad & Tobago threaten to bring about Jamaica's further displacement as kings of the Caribbean in this event.
Who/What is responsible for the decline?
Coincidentally, since the '' lightning's'' emergence as the world's premier sprinter, the number of quality Jamaican high school quartermilers has declined. Seemingly every young track runner in Jamaica wants to run the sprints. In addition, it appears that there is a dearth of quality 400 meters coaches available to develop young talent into world class competitors.
Former quartermiler Bertland Cameron appears to be one of a limited number of 400 meters coaches with the capacity and credentials to do so. This issue must become a priority of the Jamaica Athletics Adminstrative Association (JAAA) if the trend is to be reversed.
Coaching exchanges, a system of identifying potential coaches and adequate support to enable their development are a few first steps. As for JAAA, a five year plan to culminate in 400 meter success at the Brazil Games must be developed. While on the subject of 400 meters, a similar plan should be developed for the women. Although not as irrelevant as the men, Jamaican women, the likes of past notables like Sandie Richards and Lorraine Graham, have been scarce. Novlene Williams-Miils and Shericka Williams have proven themselves capable of winning big championship medals but unless efforts are targeted to develop young talents such as Chris-Ann Gordon and others, we will lose the potential that they currently display.
Staying home versus going abroad for college
With the exception of Gonzales, Jamaica's past standouts in the 400 meters (from Herb Mckenley to Gregory Haughton) attended schools in the United States. Putting aside nationalistic fervor which encourages young athletes to remain in Jamaica after high school, one question should be asked. Does the capacity exist in Jamaica to develop world class quartermilers? Some may readily say yes, if viewed in the context of Gonzales. However, Gonzales cannot be the yardstick by which Jamaica's 400 meters success is measured. It should be remembered that his succcess began in high school.
Indeed, both he and Bolt were viewed as the next duo who would dominate the world stage. This was not to be, as Bolt strived while Gonzales struggled. His resurging success since high school is long overdue and might even be attributed to the lack of coaching capacity in this area. Therefore, if young high school quartermilers are being encouraged to stay "home", it is equally the responsibility of JAAA to ensure that the capacity also exists to further their development to be successful on the international athletic stage. Until this is assured, athletes should be encouraged to explore all options to be successful in the classroom and on the track - especially in the 400 meters arena.