A mixture of shock, sadness and disappointment greeted Mickey Haughton-James’ announcement last week that he would close the Spartan Health Club indefinitely at the end of September because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The gym opened in 1976 and has largely been associated with the beautiful women of the Miss Jamaica World franchise but Spartan has also been home to some of Jamaica’s greatest athletes, among them some of the very best in the world.

Reggae legend Bob Marley also broke sweat there.

Members of the West Indies cricket team, Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz, World and Olympic medallists and Jamaica’s world-class netballers have all, at one time or another used the facilities to hone their bodies in the pursuit of athletic excellence.

Leeroy Gray was a physical trainer at the gym for many years. Before he migrated, he worked with some of the very best including eight-time Olympic gold medallist and world record holder Usain Bolt; 2011 100m World Champion Yohan Blake as well as Olympic bronze medallist Warren Weir.

Gray also trained St Kitts’ Kim Collins, the 2003 100m World Champion; British 100m champion Dwayne Chambers, Olympian Aleen Bailey, World Championship bronze medallist Ristanana Tracey and Commonwealth 100m champion Kemar Bailey-Cole during his time at what he described as Jamaica’s No. 1 gym.

“To hear that the gym is closing for good, it is not good,” he told Sportsmax.TV, clearly at a loss for words.

He was not the only one taken by surprise.

“I don’t even know where to start,” said Blake, the second-fastest man of all time. “Usually, when I get up in the morning I scan through the news while preparing for training. It was a shock to find out that Spartan was closing for good.

“I remember clearly this amazing facility that helped not only me, but so many of our world-class athletes reach where they are today. It was a wonderful place to do your workout and have a talk with everyone. I have many good memories of Spartan. I still can't believe it. I understand this facility has been around from 1976. It represents the end of an era. I am truly sad that it has to close.”

Blake alluded to the fact that Spartan was more than just a gym. It was a place where like-minded athletes shared conversations and inspiration with the many patrons.

Weir, who along with Bolt and Blake, finished 1-2-3 in the 200m at the 2012 London Olympics also had fond memories of the days when he trained there.

“Spartan was that place where you went and just felt motivated to work because there was so much inspiration around you. People were always encouraging you to just be your best,” Weir recalled.

“I remember when I just started at Spartan, there were always people there telling you ‘you’re gonna be good, you’re gonna be great, just continue training’

“Then seeing other sports people and artistes there putting the work in, also motivates you and lets you see that you on the TV is work that is being done on the back end.”

Former West Indies opener Wavell Hinds spent a lot of time at Spartan after his Test career ended in 2005. The work he put in there helped him prolong his playing days and for that, he expressed his gratitude to Haughton-James.

“The generosity of Mr James and the Spartan Gym contributed immensely to my career between 2007 and 2011,” he said.

“In fact, the entire Jamaica Cricket team benefited from the use of Spartan gym during the said period.  I want publicly thank Mr James and Spartan for their contribution to the development of Jamaica's cricket.”

Former Netball Jamaica President Marva Bernard said read the news of the impending closure made her very sad.

“Many, many years ago we used to get support from Mickey to use the gym to train the Sunshine Girls and I vividly remember Connie Francis, in particular. I can still see her running on that treadmill as if her life depended on it, that is how hard she trained,” Bernard said.

“And so, I want to say to Mickey, thank you so much for the years of support that you have given, not only to Netball Jamaica but several of the elite athletes in all sporting disciplines.

“Your generosity knows no bounds and I hope that one day you will rebound because you’re a good man and your gym has made a difference in many people’s lives.”

Elaine Thompson-Herah and Julian Forte were among the winners Saturday at the Velocity Fest 7 meeting at the National Stadium in Kingston.

His love for track and field was the driving force behind Michael Frater’s decision to start his own track club.

Yohan Blake’s YB Afraid Foundation has collaborated with The Sandals Foundation to deliver new living accommodations for wards of the Mt. Olivet Boy’s Home in Walderston in Manchester.

The new facilities scheduled to be completed in November 2020, will include multi-purpose play areas and an artificial turf football field. Once completed it will become a critical tool in a thrust to raise the standard of care for wards of the state in Jamaica to unprecedented levels.

Blake, the 2011 100m world champion, started the YB Afraid Foundation in 2011 with a mandate to support organizations and develop programs that address the educational, physical and mental health and social needs of underprivileged youth, enabling them to develop into outstanding citizens and role models in society.

He told Sportsmax.TV that the project takes him closer to achieving his vision of providing safe spaces for the island’s underprivileged youth.

“I am very proud to be able to do this. It is a life-long dream and I really believe it is only the beginning,” said the 2012 double Olympic silver medallist.

“I have to thank my Richard Mille family and my Sandals family and everyone who has been so generous and has helped. Those people inspire me to be better and to do more. I can’t wait for it to be finished so I can go and spend some time with the boys.”

Executive Director of the Sandals Foundation Heidi Clarke said they were excited to be on board with the project that Jamaica so desperately needs. The foundation, she said, has been managing the execution of the project and helping the YB Afraid Foundation realize its vision.

She revealed that the project contained components that were important to the Sandals Foundation. These included the rehabilitation of the existing structures transforming them into a HEART-certified woodwork-training centre on the property and a halfway house that can accommodate wards that age out when they turn 17.

“We saw the need to create spaces that are inspirational, to uplift these young men coming from difficult situations. We feel strongly that if we provide them with an environment to develop holistically they can reach for the stars. The sky is the limit for them,” Clarke said.

 

 

It is no secret that Yohan Blake’s work ethic is the stuff of legend.

That ethic helped the 2011 World 100m champion become the fastest man in the world, not named Usain Bolt. His 9.69/19.26 over the 100 and 200m is testament to that fact. In fact, had it not been for the presence of Bolt, Blake might well have been a double Olympic champion in 2012 when his 9.75 and 19.44 saw him win double silver.

However, the past few years have been unkind to the man formerly known as The Beast. Hamstring injuries have slowed Blake to the point where he missed out on winning medals in 2016 in Rio and 2017 at the World Championships in London.

The Tokyo 2020 Games would have been another opportunity for the 30-year-old Blake to re-establish himself as one of the world’s best sprinters. However, with the Games being postponed to the summer of 2021, Blake is leaning once again on that work ethic. While the pandemic rages across the globe, Blake is putting the work he deems essential to get back to being at his best.

“My career in athletics has been a dream come true.  For that, I give thanks every day.  But with injuries things get difficult. Yet, I don't stop, I keep pushing to come back,” Blake said on Instagram on Wednesday under a 90-second video of him executing some excruciating leg exercises under the supervision of his coach Gregory Little.

“With Coronavirus everything is postponed right now I am making the most of it.  I am using this time to talk with my body and unlock the power of my mind to conquer and overcome what has been holding me back on the track. I am working hard to get back to that dangerous form.”

 

Yohan Blake, the 2012 double Olympic silver medallist, has been making the most of the downtime brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic. The 30-year-old sprinter has been spending a lot of his time in training and playing a bit of back-yard cricket.

It had been on the cards for some time, but Tuesday's announcement confirming the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics still hit hard.

With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, it appeared the International Olympic Committee had hoped the Games would somehow still go ahead.

However, within 48 hours of declaring a four-week window in which to make a final decision, the declaration came – the 2020 Olympics would be delayed by a year.

In an instant, dreams were put on hold, and some perhaps altogether dashed. Competitors with their hearts set on taking part in Japan later this year suddenly had to revise their plans entirely.

For some, it may prove to be a very manageable inconvenience, but what about those who had marked this down as their final Games?

Here we take a look at the stars who were planning to wave farewell to the Olympic stage in Tokyo, and whether the intervention of COVID-19 might have deprived them of that opportunity.

SIMONE BILES (GYMNASTICS)

This was set to be Biles' final outing at the greatest show on earth, having cleaned up with four gold medals in Rio four years ago.

Though only 23, gymnastics is a sport where time very quickly catches up with its stars and Biles would have been a relative veteran of the field.

A delay of one year does not necessarily rule Biles out, but it will give the American – who topped the podium five times at the 2019 World Championships – plenty to ponder.

ALLYSON FELIX (ATHLETICS)

With six golds and three silvers in a decorated Olympic career, Felix will have been hoping to return for a fifth time.

Having debuted on the biggest stage back in 2004, Felix has gone on to cement her position as a track legend.

Felix turns 35 this year and had spoken of her desire to sign off with a bang, telling NBC Sports of her plans to run both the 100 and 200 metres.

"Everything's on the table this year," she said. "This year, I'm going to be getting back to sprinting. I think that's really key for me to be myself, and that's something that I didn't even get to touch last year."

ROGER FEDERER (TENNIS)

The Swiss maestro is the most prolific collector of grand slam titles in the history of men's tennis, but one honour has eluded him.

While Federer does possess an Olympic gold, it came when he shared the top step of the podium with doubles partner Stan Wawrinka in Beijing.

Glory in the singles event has proven beyond the 38-year-old, who lost the 2012 London final to home favourite Andy Murray.

Having missed the last Games with a knee injury, Federer will sorely hope that defeat to Murray at Wimbledon's All England Club will not prove to have been an unwitting Olympics farewell.

KERRI WALSH JENNINGS (BEACH VOLLEYBALL)

With a medal haul that makes her the most successful beach volleyball player in history, Jennings had Japan locked in as her sixth Games.

However, she turns 42 in August and having the event pushed back by a year may diminish her chances of taking part.

Time will tell if the American can add to her three gold medals and one bronze.

YOHAN BLAKE (ATHLETICS)

His career having largely overlapped with superstar compatriot Usain Bolt, Blake's quest for gold was always going to prove tough.

Indeed, the two in his collection came after winning the 4x100m in a team including the peerless Bolt.

However, even with the world-record holder now gone from the scene, Blake would have been well down the pecking order in Japan.

Whether he returns in 2021 or not, his double-silver exploits in the 100m and 200m at London 2012 are not to be sniffed at.

ALISTAIR BROWNLEE (TRIATHLON)

Briton Brownlee sealed gold on home soil in 2012 and defended his crown in Rio.

His brother Jonathan took third and second respectively and both were expected to line up in Tokyo.

At 31, Alistair is the senior sibling by two years and had mulled the decision for a long while, meaning the 12-month delay could prove decisive.

A world-class cast of athletes including double-Olympic champion Elaine Thompson Herah, world-champion Anderson Peters and fast-rising teen star Briana Williams, have been confirmed for the 2020 edition of the Grenada Invitational that was launched on Wednesday at the Radisson Beach Resort, St. George’s.

Yohan Blake believes he could have had a better career had it not been for Usain Bolt. Do you believe the statements surrounding the issue smack of envy?

Yohan Blake, the second-fastest man in history, could be set to play T20 cricket for the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), once he hangs up his spikes.

 Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake believes he has suffered from competing in the same era as compatriot and athletics great Usain Bolt.

The 29-year-old Blake has recorded some stunning achievements of his own on the track, in a career that has also been hampered by injury.  His best times over the 100m (9.69) and 200m (19.26) are the second-fastest ever recorded over the distances.  Bolt still holds both world records.

In addition, Blake claimed the gold medal at the 2011 Daegu World Championship and silver medals in both the 100m and 200m at the 2012 London Olympic Games.  On both occasions, the sprinter finished behind his illustrious teammate Bolt.  Once thought as the natural successor to the athletics sprint throne, Blake then suffered major hamstring injuries in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons.  While insisting that he is satisfied with what he has achieved in the sport to date,  Blake believes things could have been different had he been born in another era.

"I would be the fastest man in everything. I feel like I was born in a wrong time. But nevertheless, I am happy with what I have achieved,” Blake told reporters recently.

“It would be hard to top Usain because it was his time and it was hard to compete against him. The first time I beat him in Kingston, I had to work day and night to do it."

Heading into the 2012 Olympics Blake defeated Bolt over both the 100m and 200m at the Jamaica National trials but never managed to repeat the feat.

Yohan Blake believes IAAF president Sebastian Coe is "killing" athletics by cutting back on Diamond League disciplines.

Sweeping changes announced in November saw the 200 metres, 3,000m steeplechase, discus and triple jump removed from the schedule for the upcoming season in a bid to accommodate a 90-minute broadcast window.

Former 100m world champion and 200m Olympic silver medallist Blake thinks the decision will do more harm than good to the sport.

"It has changed a lot, I am not going to lie. The times we are running have slowed down, track and field is dying a little," said Blake.

"If [Coe] can take away the 200 and triple jump, I don't know if he is trying to build or trying to kill athletics.

"But that's a stupid move he is making. He must enhance the sport, but he is killing it. It is just madness.

"This is people's careers and where they make money… You cannot do that. Everybody is hating him. We have to take a stand."

Jamaica representative Andre Ewers was one of three athletes disqualified in the men’s 200m heats on Sunday.
Having looked to initially progress from Heat 7, Ewers was later disqualified for a lane violation on the curve.

Ewers finished in fourth position behind Brendon Rodney of Canada, favourite Noah Lyles of the United States and race winner Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago.
Jamaica national champion Rasheed Dwyer had no such issues as he finished in third position in Heat 5. The race was won by Aaron Brown of Canada who clocked 20.10, ahead of Miguel Francis of Great Britain who was second in 20.11.
Yohan Blake showed very little ill effects of the 100m final after booking his spot from Heat 3. A relaxed-looking Blake crossed the line in 20.23, behind race winner Alex Qinuonez of Equador who finished first in 20.08. Alex Wilson of Switzerland was third in 20.40.
Trinidad and Tobago’s Kyle Geaux also looked in impressive as he eased away from the field to claim Heat 4 in 20.19. Yancarlos Martinez of the Dominica Republic was second in 20.47, with Cuba’s Reynier Mena third in 20.52.

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