Jamaica is best known as the ‘sprint factory’ of world track and field, but local officials hope that someday the country may be more recognised for producing super athletes over distance events as well.
With this in mind, athletes’ liaison Donald Quarrie – the 1976 Montreal Olympics 200 metres gold medallist – said the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association wants to focus on its middle distance programme with the goal of creating avenues for athletes to excel in other areas.
‘The plan for the JAAA when president Howard Aris took over was ‘we’re doing well in sprints but we can do well in other events’,’ Quarrie said.
Aris was elected for the first time to the head of athletics local governing body in 2004 and was recently re-elected.
‘We want to venture into assisting athletes to excel in other events because we do have athletes competing in other events than the 100m, 200m and 400m… we need to encourage and convince some of them that they can make it in other events,’ Quarrie said.
Jamaica has a history of producing some of the world’s finest sprinters including the legendary Herb McKenley as well as Quarrie himself.
They also boasts Olympic Games 100m and 200m gold medallist Usain Bolt – who won both in world record times and was a member of the Olympic 4x100m relay gold medal team which included former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell.
Of the females, Jamaica boasts two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, Beijing 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser, the 2004 Athens Olympics 4x100m gold medal-winning team, Seoul Olympics 200m silver medallist Grace Jackson, Barcelona Olympics silver medallist Juliet Cuthbert, and sprint queen Merlene Ottey.
Quarrie added: ‘It’s not of a matter of neglect, it’s a matter of we can excel in other events as well and it shows because we have great hurdlers… our jumpers are coming along but we’re going to start encouraging more people in other events and hope that as the years go by we start doing excellently elsewhere.’
Quarrie defined excellence as having at least three outstanding athletes in an event to deepen medal contention.
There have been cases of jumpers who switched to the sprint hurdles (Lacena Golding-Clarke), hurdlers who went into sprints (Dwight Thomas), and jumpers who switched to sprints (Rosemarie Whyte).
Sprinters, especially those participating in the 100m in what is considered the marquee event of track and field meets, get most of the spotlight and that often nudges local athletes in that direction.
Quarrie, who until a year and a half ago was the national 200m record holder, said that while that may be the case, it is the job of the JAAA to make athletes see that they can reach the pinnacle in any event they might tackle.
‘Our job is not just to convince, but to motivate and encourage them to be aware that they can still be successful in other events.
‘It may not be an easy job but we at the JAAA are willing to take it on because we are the driving force behind the development of track and field in Jamaica.
‘We won’t just sit around and allow things to happen, we’re going to make things happen and do everything in a positive manner to uplift our athletes in various events.