How is it possible? I asked myself, that a tiny country like Jamaica …
Jamaica: Land of Sprint Runners.
… compete successfully in athletic sprint-races run against athletes from much bigger countries, both, in extension, and with a much larger population, like Russia, the U.K., France, and… the United States.
I was watching YouTube videos of previous Olympic Games and World Athletics Championships and noticed the frequent presence of athletes from Jamaica — of both genders — principally in-dash races of 100, 200, and 400 Meters, also over hurdles, in races of 100 yards and 400 Mts., in both, individual, and relay 4x100 and 4x400 Mts. dash races, although I also watched sporadic participation in other Track & Field events as well.
I immediately felt a lot of curiosity: how was it possible that a small country island, like Jamaica, with a total extension of a mere 10,991 kn2, and a population of fewer than 3 million people, was able to compete against, and even frequently defeat, athletes representative of much larger, well-developed nations?
At first, I looked at race as the main factor related to their athletic success. Through my investigation, I found that, although the island received black slaves from all over Africa to work on the British plantations, slaves of the Kana race (actual Ghana) were preferred by the plantation owners and were a majority “for they were better workers”
But race alone, in the end, is a trait that the Jamaicans share with the colored population of some other Caribbean nations, which don’t have the same level of success in athletics.
There must then be another reason(s) for the proficiency shown by Jamaicans participating in worldwide athletic competitions.
I then looked at trainers and coachers of athletics in Jamaica, assured that the level of proficiency shown by Jamaican athletes, surely had the strong technical support of skilled coaches.
There are multiple excellent Athletics trainers in Jamaica, organized in an association denominated JATAFCA (Jamaica Track and Field Coaches Association), and we soon learned that a full recount of all their work would escape the purpose of this article, which would be too short to include their contribution over the years to the success of Jamaica in Track & Field at international level.
Distinguished Jamaican trainers include Stephen Francis, who created the MVP (Maximum Velocity and Power) club in 2001 at the UTech, in Kingston, as he felt many Jamaican athletes were moving (and competing for the U.S) to America, in search of better training programs. Jamaica’s recent successes are, to a large extent, thanks to home-based coaches like Stephen Francis.
We decided to write more extensively about just one distinguished coach, Glen Mills, for his reputation, and because his trajectory includes both, an official job he held for more than 20 years in charge of Jamaica’s Olympic teams until mid-2009, training first-class athletes like the world-record man in 100 mt. Johan Blake, Aleen Baily, and Kim Collins, among many others; and later, beginning in 2010, for his work in a private club, The Razers Track Club, dedicated to offering first-class athletic training to individual top athletes, and managing their national and international athletic careers.
Glen Mills (born 14 August 1949) is a sprinting athletics coach from Jamaica. He was the head coach of the Jamaican Olympic athletics team between 1987 and 2009.
As we already said, he is currently the head coach of the Racers Track Club, which includes world and Olympic record holder Usain Bolt, as Mills was approached by Usain Bolt shortly after the Athens Olympics, and he became the sprinter’s coach in late 2004. He also coaches the 100 meter World Champion Yohan Blake.
In 2007 Mills wanted Bolt, then a runner of 200 Mt., to develop enough stamina to run 400 Mt. successfully, But pressed for time as the 2008 Olympics was fast approaching, he concluded he had no time to prepare Bolt adequately to run 400 Mt., opting instead to concentrate him on 200 Mt. dash races, and acceding to Usain’s desire to participate in 100 Mt.dash races.
“The program paid off, as Bolt set three new world records and took gold in both 100 m and 200 m events in Beijing. Bolt praised Mills, saying it was his coaching that made him improve, not only as an athlete but also as a person” Wikipedia.
But, I can’t avoid having this nagging feeling that the world was deprived of even higher achievements by Usain Bolt at races of 400 Mt.
Enough to look at his achievements when, as a very young athlete, he had not decided yet in what distance he was going to specialize:
But what impressed me more was the emphasis the Jamaican society gives to sports in general, and to speed athletic races, in particular.
Athletics is included in the curriculum of most Primary schools, in which students — at a very young age —are given the opportunity to participate in athletic events, and be exposed to, and recognized by good trainers and private schools, like St. Jago High, Kingston College, or Vere Technical High.
There they can participate in series of athletic meetings under 19, which ultimately flow into the VMBS Boys and Girls Athletics Championships, locally known as “the Champs”, which are run annually on the island since 1910, and are extremely popular, frequently attracting crowds of 20–25 thousand spectators, which is good preparation for future major championships. There, young athletes are given the opportunity to show off their talents to local and to international coaches, and to get answers to their doubts about developing an athletics career.
Dominant athletes are normally picked for the Penn Relays, a competition where the best Jamaican schools and Universities compete against their American counterparts, and in which Jamaica has participated since 1964, having won since then half of the races, according to Wikipedia.
Although genetics play, without a doubt, an important, yet undetermined role in the success of athletes from Jamaica participating in sprint Athletic races, I tend to consider more relevant, the anonymous work of the excellent Jamaican Athletic trainers, and even to a larger extent, the importance and support to sports provided by Jamaica's school system, and by Jamaican society. Support promoted by the Jamaican Olympic Association, to Sport and Athletics in general, and to sprint races in particular, being those, in my opinion, the main two reasons for the success of Jamaican athletes in Track & Field events worldwide.