Are the 'hungry horses' being fed too soon?

By April 20, 2020

Last week I looked at the trends linking timespans between the great eras of Jamaican male sprinting.

Meanwhile, the island’s women were more consistent but, alas, to the Jamaican public, sprinting success only seems to matter when the men do well.

When Jamaica’s men have struggled to win medals, their women – Merlene Ottey, Juliet Cuthbert, Sandie Richards, Merlene Fraser, Juliet Campbell, Beverley McDonald, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart, Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, kept the country’s flag flying by winning medals.

However, these days I worry about what I believe is happening with a lot of Jamaica’s emerging male and female sprinters who seem unable to navigate the gap between their amateur status and the professional ranks.

There are several reasons why I believe this is happening, injury being one of the major factors, but today I will focus on what I believe to be another.

It was the 18thcentury American political activist Thomas Paine who said:

“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble that can gather strength from distress and grow.”

It is a lesson many Jamaican youngsters would do well to learn.

After Usain Bolt blew up in 2008 with three gold medals and three world records in Beijing, many aspiring young athletes were inspired to be like him. They were coming out of the woodwork by the dozens. High-school track and field coaches experienced a boon in talent as they had never experienced before.

Along with the emergence of new talent came global sponsors seeking to snap up the next star early and cheaply.

After all, Bolt was signed early and cheaply by his sponsors who benefitted greatly as he rocketed to stardom. This came on the heels of a period of uncertainty when it seemed as if he was going to be yet another casualty of a system that many argue asks too much too soon of our high-school athletes.

However, when Bolt and company stunned the Commonwealth in 2006 in Melbourne and then the world two years later, there seemed to be a mad rush on to sign any child in the Jamaican high school system that displayed a modicum of talent.

Kids were signing contracts left, right and centre and 12 years later, it is almost embarrassing to see how few have successfully transitioned to the senior ranks.

Mind you, there are good and bad sides to what was happening.

On the good side, a few Jamaican kids from humble backgrounds were able to secure small contracts that allowed them to ‘eat’ and maintain a fairly decent lifestyle as they prepared to launch into professional track and field.

When you have nothing and someone offers you something more, it is easy to lose perspective. A few kids and their families were able to secure homes, a nice car, and a little money in the bank.

However, in too many instances all this seemed to do was take away the hunger that is oftentimes necessary to keep athletes focused on what the real goal is. Yes, a few thousand US dollars can make life better but imagine what could be, if you actually won something or became the best in the world.

Alas, for too many kids, the morsel seemed to be enough.

I remember attending the signing ceremony of a particular youngster who had promised so much during his years in high school. I believe the value of the contract was somewhere in the six figures, a life-changing amount of money for someone who before had relatively very little.

I was truly happy for the youngster. However, months later all I saw from the athlete was the purchase of a shiny new car and a frequency on the club circuit in New Kingston. Meanwhile, performances on the track progressively got worse.

Unfortunately, this has become the norm for too many.

Putting the carrot before the horse can be a good thing. However, giving the horse the carrot before the journey has even begun can have disastrous consequences.

As Paine suggests, working hard and making sacrifices tend to make any reward a lot more meaningful. You are less likely to take that reward for granted. However, when fortune literally falls into your lap when you have accomplished nothing, it can make you feel a bit entitled.

I think Michael Frater, the 2005 World 100m silver medallist, a man who has run the 100m dash in 9.88 seconds, was onto something when he spoke to the media recently about why some of Jamaica’s youngsters are failing to make the grade.

“They feel like it's a sense of entitlement where they feel they are just going out there and other athletes are going to roll over and let them win, and that's not the case,” Frater said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

“They weren't hungry enough to go out there and get it. You have to go out and fight for what you want.”

It is hard to fight for what you want when things come too easy. Too many of these kids now believe all they have to do is run fast in high school and things will come easy after. That only happens for a few.

People see Bolt and his success, the flashy cars and the lavish lifestyle and forget how he got there. It took four years of blood, sweat and tears, disappointment and getting his butt handed to him on the track before he finally realised what was required to be the best in the world.

The lesson seems to have fallen onto deaf ears.

Many would do well to learn that lesson… or to borrow a Jamaican phrase, “If yuh waah good, yuh nose haffi run.”

 

 

Leighton Levy

Leighton Levy is a journalist with 28 years’ experience covering crime, entertainment, and sports. He joined the staff at SportsMax.TV as a content editor two years ago and is enjoying the experience of developing sports content and new ideas. At SportsMax.tv he is pursuing his true passion - sports.

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