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Jamaica’s winning edge
Again and again over the past few days, Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic athletes have brought the population to the edges of their seats as they just missed out on medals in finals at the London Olympics. Finally yesterday Lalonde Gordon gave the country its first medal—a bronze in the 400m. But while the country waits and hopes for more members of Team T&T to mount a winner’s podium at the games, our neighbour to the North, Jamaica, has been enjoying a golden season in London. Topping that country’s athletic feats to date is Usain Bolt’s 9.63-second sprint on Sunday night—the second-fastest 100 in history and an Olympic record. T&T’s Richard Thompson finished in an impressive time of 9.98, which was good only for seventh place in that scorcher of a race. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100m gold medal for Jamaica, retaining her Olympic title. That race also featured a T&T finalist, Kelly-Ann Baptiste, who did not finish among the medals.
Once again the question is being asked: what gives the Jamaican athletes that winning edge? It’s not just raw talent, or a special diet of yam, as some might believe. The truth is that T&T lags far behind Jamaica in developing and supporting its sportsmen and women. This country does not have anything even remotely resembling Jamaica’s intense, consistent and organised annual track-and-field programme. They already have decades of athletic instruction, management and administration to their credit, while T&T is barely out of the starting blocks. Jamaica’s track and field programmes are driven by the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) and the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA). The ISSA’s annual track-and-field meets include the immensely popular Boys and Girls’ Inter-Secondary Championships, as well as a series of track-and-field meets from primary to the tertiary level, held throughout the island. All are under the jurisdiction of the JAAA.
These meets give Jamaica’s young athletes early exposure to all aspects of competition and the world is seeing the results now at the London Games—as it has done for decades. Bolt, the world’s fastest man, was a beneficiary of that system. Another important element of Jamaica’s success is the country’s impressive cadre of coaches. This is possible through the training provided by the GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, which opened in 1980, and coaching programmes offered in other tertiary-level institutions. In addition, Jamaica’s track and field stars can stay in Jamaica to train. That is the system that has given the world Bolt, Johan Blake, Fraser-Pryce and others. T&T’s Olympians, on the other hand, are not really home grown. Their best chances of success are through the United States collegiate system, training and competing where they can access better facilities and coaching.
Although T&T is in a stronger economic position than Jamaica, that country has put more funding into sport development, including track and field, over the past two decades. Their Sport Development Foundation (SDF) has funded numerous athletes, national sporting organisations, including the JAAA, and has helped establish and improve sporting facilities throughout the country. Compare that to what happens where athletes and sporting organisations always have to be begging for funding and the state of a long-promised stadium in south Trinidad is sad testimony to this country’s lack of consistency in developing and sustaining sports. Waiting and hoping for more than one medal before these games are over and commending T&T’s athletes for their valiant performances so far is all well and good. But the country must invest more and offer more support all around to achieve its gold-medal dreams.
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