Calabar’s Kevroy Venson 'silences' the crowd after upstaging KC's Ari Rodgers in the 1500m at last year's high school athletic championships.
With Karyl Walker
It is undoubtedly the Olympics of school athletics championships. The ISSA GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Championships, popularly called ‘Champs’, is now underway and the eyes of the athletics world are upon Jamaica.
By the time the championships are over, records will fall, new heroes will emerge and true champions will have defended their titles from last year. More importantly, scouts from all over Europe, the United States and other regions have descended on Kingston, Jamaica.
Their intent? To poach our youngsters into signing up for their clubs and offer them attractive contracts or scholarships to tertiary institutions so they can get a piece of the Jamaican talent.
In my days as a high school student, the championships were divided along the lines of sex. Girls Champs was held separately from Boys Champs and held less prestige, but smartly, in 1999, ISSA merged the two, and now 20 years afterwards we have a great spectacle that the world has been forced to stretch their necks and examine closely.
Many are still wondering how Jamaica can produce so many great athletes. What is our secret?
Some jokingly say we are used to running from the police and know how to scamper away when the guns bark. Some put it down to the yam from Trelawny while others grudgingly spout nonsense that we have mastered the art of masking the use of pharmaceuticals.
My take is that it has been embedded in our psyche from the toddler stage.
On a recent trip to the island, I was staying at an apartment complex that was just across the road from a basic school. One morning, about 9 am, the loud toots of horns and frantic cheers could be heard.
It was sports day.
The three and four-year-old kids were participating in their basic school Olympics and it was a sight to behold. It seemed the children were running for their parents as mothers and fathers were frenetic as they urged on their offspring to run.
There was one little girl in particular who was a cut above the rest. She beat everything in sight. I smiled broadly as the pint-sized child blazed away akin to our own Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. The future of athletics seemed secure for the land of my birth.
As Jamaicans, we place great importance on our children performing well on the track from an early age. It can be likened to the basketball or NFL culture in the USA. These sports are second nature for most American children. We have inculcated in our culture that running fast is a Jamaican thing. It goes without saying.
But back to Champs.
In the days leading up to the event, alot of controversyswirled around two of the major stars that are representing defending champions Calabar. One can only hope that the boys rise above the effluent and are able to perform at their utmost. After all, they are Jamaican youth who seem to be focused on taking up athletics as their chosen career.
The controversy may be a good thing for those athletes. In the real world, they will be faced with many other challenges that were unplanned for and this may be the mock exam for the life they will have to face. At least they will learn early enough that nothing in life comes easy. It should be used as a learning curve for them to realize that, if they achieve stardom, there will be people waiting in the wings to bring them down off the podium of glory in one fell swoop.
As has been the case for many years, there is a battle shaping up between Calabar and many time winners Kingston College for the boys crown, while Edwin Allen is being touted as a shoe in for the girls title.
One can only hope that whoever wins does so with grace and the loser is able to lick their wounds and get on with life.
As much as some Jamaicans like to think that our national sport is football, the island has since pre-independence been a more potent force to be reckoned with in track and field.
From the days of Arthur Wint, Herb McKenley, George Rhoden, Les Laing, Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, Jacqueline Pusey, Usain Bolt, Veronica Campbell Brown, Deon Hemmings, Everod Samuels and many other greats too many to mention, Champs has been the feeding tree for athletics clubs and has produced many world beaters.
I am sure more future stars will emerge this year.