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ORGANISE TO RE-KINDLE THE FLAME by Rae Samuel

posted 8 Apr 2014, 22:38 by Gerry Kangalee
As we prepare to send our team to 2014 Carifta Games, as we prepare to mark the 2nd year of Keshorn Walcott's remarkable and historic achievement, as Jehue Gordon's dramatic win will be re-run over and over on television, all eyes will be on our junior athletes.

They dream and we hope to see another Jehue, Keshorn or Kelly Ann Baptiste emerge. Yes I did say Kelly Ann Baptiste. The doping issue is not the sum total of her athletic career. What makes it more interesting is that Mr. Glen Mills, legendary track coach BEFORE the coming of Usain Bolt e.g. the grand old young man of sprinting Kim Collins of St. Kitts; Mr. Mills has been speaking out about the literal fast tracking of athletes in Jamaica and the effects of 'burn-out'.

His statements come in the wake of record breaking performances in the just concluded Jamaica high schools track and field championships. We read of athletes breaking the records set by the current superstars, Yohan Blake, Sheronne Simpson and Usain Bolt, which suggests...repeat... suggests that these youngsters are ahead of where the seniors were at that time. Alas it does not work like that. It is not linear; it is ebb and flow. There are transitions to make from age set to age set. At the senior level there is much more physical, mental and psychological stress.

The higher one goes the harder one has to climb or fall. A case in point if we look at Darryl Brown and Mark Burns. Brown is/was an inherently more gifted athlete but something seems always to go wrong on the big stage. This is a youngster who was rated alongside Usain Bolt as juniors. Marc, on the other hand, simply seemed to have more savvy and would always turn up in the big final.

But I want to talk about something that I have been pointing out to colleagues involved in track and field development, where I have another life and where Maoist thought serves me very well. Oh you thought Maoist thought was for trade unionism and revolutionary politics? Then it would be 'dogma', which Comrade Mao himself said is worse than cow dung. As in politics, one listens to people, learns from them, makes investigations and arrives at collective goals. Okay, I have been pointing out to the fraternity that we in the Caribbean are now producing ELITE 19 year old athletes: Keshorn Walcott and Kirani James were 19 year old Olympic GOLD medallists.

It means that an Under 17 athlete has to be ready for the big league. Which means he or she has to 'get out there' a little earlier and spend the necessary time. The key to all of this, I am suggesting, is a research oriented revisit to our 'developmental programmes'. Not, as Coach Mills is saying by, overloading the young athlete by simply increasing the dosage, but by “knowing/learning the athlete/student, so one can 'know' a programme suitable for development.” No conclusion without investigation, says the Chairman, who along with his colleagues organised serious sports in the liberated areas during the Japanese invasion. Go read Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow and look at the photographs.

The irony is that we have all the resource, motivation and history to pick up where we left off. Along with the Jamaican model there was the Trinidad/Tobago model which gave us world records and Olympic medals up to late '70's. The Edwin Roberts/Wendell Mottleys/Ian Morrises laid their foundations right here in Trinidad /Tobago. For the record the infrastructure began to crumble because track and field development relied heavily on foreign capital.

The big meets and major clubs were funded by Texaco/Shell/B.P, except that in the wake of the insurrections of the '70's the pirates left. This writer was involved in and was able to witness the power struggle within the administration which led to the collapse of track and field. The major competitions gradually ceased or became shadows of themselves. PNM, in its usual unimaginative way, never saw the need for the state to step in and help to re-organise and assist and the decline has continued.

If mega-projects were the answer we would be the powerhouse in Central American and Caribbean track and field..We have six stadia.. Dwight Yorke/.Larry Gomes/Ato Boldon/Mannie Ramjohn/Hasely Crawford and the original Arima Velodrome. Another mega sports facility is being built next door to the Ato Boldon stadium, even as the Eddie Hart ground and Aranguez Savannah are due for similar transformation. Jamaica, I am told, has one national stadium. Thank Jah they do not have natural gas and oil money and an unnecessarily garrulous Minister of Sport who gets lost in the crowd.

How do we re-kindle the interest, re-ignite the patriotic flame which burns so bright at the Olympic moment and then seems to sputter as rapidly. Success is never an accident and sustainability does not come through 'vaps'. I am suggesting, based on the certainty of knowing of their presence, that the modern generation of coaches, physical education teachers, sports managers, psychologists, therapists, counsellors, trainers, so many of whom are 25-35 start forming collectives within and without your special areas, organise sessions, use the venues and facilities available and ask yourselves: How best can we organise ourselves to re-kindle the flame?
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