Oral Tracey | Track and field is still king
The dust is all but settled and the clouds are just about cleared on Jamaica’s 12-medal haul at the just-concluded IAAF World Championships in Doha, Qatar. Three gold, five silver, and four bronze propelled Jamaica to third on the medal table behind perennial powerhouses USA and long-distance kingpins Kenya. In terms of overall medals won relative to population size, Jamaica is pound for pound the top nation in the sport of athletics, but even more important, this overall performance in Doha and the subsequent reaction of the nation confirms that track and field is still the king of sports in Jamaica.
Football, no doubt, still enjoys wider grass-roots participation and support. Cricket still has some remnants of its umbilical connection to the people, while netball still holds a special place in the hearts of Jamaicans, but in terms of consistent international impact at the very highest level, no other sport comes close.
It was one thing to declare athletics king when the freak of nature named Usain Bolt was defying science with his superhuman performances. These performances provided the inspiration and motivational sparks that ignited what can be regarded as Jamaica’s golden era in the sport. But with the likes of Bolt, Veronica Campbell-Brown, and Asafa Powell all yielding to Father time, what has basically been a new generation of Jamaican athletes was able to march on to the biggest stage and churn out our second-highest medal haul at the World Championships. Even more profoundly, this serves as positive confirmation that athletics in Jamaica is bigger than any one, or two, or three individuals.
In a recent discussion with one track and field enthusiast, he expressed his fear of the worst as it relates to the next generation of Jamaican male sprinters, going on and on about the need for the nation, led by the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association, to put proper systems and structures in place to ensure that what happened to West Indies cricket does not happen to Jamaican athletics after that golden era. I assured him that based on the rapid and impactful response to the departure of Bolt and company, other stalwarts manifested in Doha, meaning that the rate and magnitude of decline that inflicted West Indies cricket will never happen to Jamaican athletics.
There are working structures and systems in place that ensure that no Jamaican boy or girl with reasonable athletic talent goes undiscovered. These systems kick into action as early as at the preparatory- and primary- school levels and escalates rapidly in the world-renowned ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships (Champs), to the extent where high-school scouts will be knocking on the door of every youngster with that defined potential to ensure every chance of further development. That network, attitude, and intent do not obtain in any other local sport.
Amidst the meticulousness and passion that permeate the track and field fraternity generally, there are still issues. One challenge plaguing the sport, which continues to top the agenda, is the apparent overexuberance and naivety in the preparing of athletes for Champs. The mind-boggling level of performances churned out year after year at Champs is not being reflected in the transition rate of these young athletes into the professional ranks. Unfortunately, that narrative is still stuck in the acknowledgement phase, where all stakeholders agree that there is genuine cause for concern.
Things are not perfect, and there is indeed some trouble in paradise, but all things considered, it is reasonable to conclude that every other sport and sporting body in Jamaica wishes they had the impact, international reach, and global respect that Jamaican athletics continues to enjoy as we all bask in the coronation of Jamaican track and field as the supreme king of Jamaican sports.