A quick look at the team selected for the Tokyo Olympics is quite revealing. More than half of the athletes selected are locally trained, but even more fascinating, these athletes represent FOURTEEN different local clubs. As we have come to expect, MVP dominates the roster with 11 athletes on the team, but there are another 24 locally trained athletes not affiliated with MVP.
THE WAY IT USED TO BE
The evolution of senior local track and field coaching in Jamaica is quite strange. Prior to 1999, all Olympians and other global athletes were trained outside of Jamaica, usually in the US college system. The system was quite straightforward. Athletes who did well at the ISSA/y Boys’ and Girls’ Championships were awarded track scholarships to US colleges and the best of those athletes went on to represent Jamaica at the Olympics and other international games. The only two locally trained athletes who ever won global medals for Jamaica were Glen Mills trained schoolboy Raymond Stewart (1984 sprint relay silver) and Jamalco trained Michael McDonald (1990’s silver and bronze medals in the mile relay).
There were always rumors about Jamaican coaches wanting to train senior athletes locally, but this was considered a pipe dream and not taken seriously. In the 1990’s there was an isolated case, where Coach Oliver Heywood at Jamalco did have some success with Michael McDonald who actually won Olympic and world championship medals in the mile relay. But it was not until 1999, that things changed dramatically as far as the coaching and development of senior athletes was concerned.
MAKING THE PIPE DREAM A REALITY
Paul and Stephen Francis, Bruce James and David Noel decided to make their dream of developing senior athletes a reality and formed the Maximizing Velocity and Power Track & Field Club popularly dubbed as MVP Track Club. At the time, this move was not popular with the Jamaican track and field administration, corporate Jamaica or even with track and field fans. The assumption was that Jamaica had been doing very well at the global meets and would average winning four or five medals per meet, and in some meets, even win a gold medal. This was considered great for a small island, and the popular view was that Jamaica could not do better, so why change or modify a system that worked? After all, most track and field indicators showed that the quality of coaches and resources in Jamaica were inferior to those in the USA.
So in 1999 when MVP started coaching sprint hurdler Bridgette Foster, this move was met with quite a bit of skepticism. But at the 2000 Olympics, Foster became the first locally trained athlete to make an Olympic or global track and field final and in 2003, Foster again created history by becoming the first locally trained athlete to win a global medal when she won the silver medal at the 2003 world championships. This relative success was an eye opener and track fans, coaches and even administrators had finally come to the realization that coaching seniors locally was a viable alternative and in fact had some obvious benefits. As a result, fans were now advocating for top athletes like Usain Bolt and Jermaine Gonzales to train in Jamaica and not get lost in the US collegiate system. Within this period, Glen Mills had revived his Racers Track Club and was coaching ST.Kitts and Nevis
sprinter Kim Collins who won the 100m sprint at the 2003 world championships.
In 2005, history was again made when MVP athletes Michael Frater (silver) and Bridgette Foster (bronze) won individual medals at the 2005 world championships, the first time local athletes won multiple medals. But the big historical event was Asafa Powell breaking the world record in the men’s 100m event. The spotlight was now fully on the local development of senior athletes, and coaches and athletes locally and abroad took notice.
In 2007, Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt both won individual medals at the world championship event. Usain’s silver medal was the first Jamaican medal won by the Racers Track Club, and now Jamaica had a second club that proved it could also successfully develop local athletes.
THE GLORY YEARS AND THE CREATION OF A LEGEND
The 2008 Beijing Olympics changed everything, not only on the local track and field landscape, but on the world track and field map in general. The locally trained Racers Track Club star Usain Bolt not only won Jamaica’s first global gold medal in the 100m, but also broke the world record in the 100m, 200m and played a dominant role in the all local sprint relay team that also broke the world record. In addition to those gold medals, MVP athletes Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and Melaine Walker also won gold medals. Of the six gold medals won, locally trained athletes won five, with Veronica Campbell being the only foreign trained athlete to win a gold medal.
In previous years, Jamaica had never managed to win more than a single individual gold medal at any global championship, and they had now won 5 individual gold medals as well as the men’s sprint relay gold. Jamaica should have easily won the women’s sprint relay, but a dropped baton killed the dream for a seventh gold medal. In the final medal count, Jamaica placed third behind USA and Kenya, winning 6 gold medals and a total of12 medals.
At the 2009 world championship, expectations were high and Jamaica did not disappoint. The athletes won 7 gold medals and 13 total medals. Usain Bolt again broke both the 100m and 200m world records, while Melaine Walker and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce again won gold medals. Bridgette Foster finally won a global gold medal while Shericka “Wire” Williams won a silver medal to match the one she had won the previous year. As expected, both sprint relay teams with predominantly local trained athletes won both relays. Of the five individual gold medals won, all were won by locally trained athletes. The medal count showed Jamaica placing second behind USA, proving once again that Jamaica was a de facto track and field super power.
Between 2011 and 2016, locally trained athletes continued to dominate global sprinting. On the male side, Racers Track Club continued its dominance with superstar legend Usain Bolt and other athletes like Yohan Blake and Warren Weir. The highlight of racers dominance, was the 2012 Olympics, when Racers won gold and silver in the men’s 100m, and then went on to win gold, silver and bronze medals in the 200m. On the female side, MVP also continued their dominance of female sprinting with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah winning multiple gold medals. In fact, the Jamaican teams that won the women’s world championship sprint relays in 2013, 2015 and 2019 were mainly composed of MVP athletes.
But other local track clubs had started to have some success with developing local athletes, with the Maurice Wilson managed Sprint Tech leading the way. Sprint tech athletes Demish Gaye, Rasheed Dwyer, Anastasia Leroy, Aneisha McLaughlin, Rhonda Whyte and Ristananna Tracey (2017 bronze) were now staples on Jamaican track teams. In 2012, the Fitz Coleman coached Hansle Parchment (UWI) won a bronze medal in the sprint hurdles, becoming the first local athlete outside of the Racers and MVP camps to win a global medal. And finally in 2015, Jamaican coach Lennox Graham broke the domination of Racers and MVP when his athlete Danielle Williams won gold in the 100m hurdles.
LOCAL COACHES FIND SUCCESS IN THE FIELD EVENTS.
The dominance of local Jamaican athletes in the sprints and hurdles is well documented, but local coaches have started to diversify and show that they can develop local athletes in the field events. MVP had led the way when high jumper Germaine Mason won a bronze medal at the world indoors in 2004. But his silver medal for Britain at the 2008 Olympics was MVP’s first significant field event medal. MVP also made history when O’Dayne Richards won a bronze medal in the shot put event in 2015, the first senior global medal won by a Jamaican thrower. But MVP’s the crowning achievement in the field events, is Tajay Gayle’s gold medal win at the 2019 world championship, Gayle becoming the first Jamaican male to win a field event gold medal.
The 2019 world championship was also a good year for other local coaches in the field events. Coach Kerry-Lee Ricketts had major success in the triple jump with Shanieka Ricketts, who won a silver medal, while throws guru Julian Robinson won his first senior global medal when Frederick Dacres won silver in the discus event.
EFFECT OF LOCAL COACHES ON THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE
The local coaching landscape has significantly changed since the total dominance of Racers and MVP in the period from 2008 to 2016, a period which is aptly described as the “Bolt Era”. In this “Post Bolt Era”, MVP has continued to produce world class athletes, but Racers track club is no longer as dominant as it used to be. But Track Clubs like Sprint Tech, Swept, Titans, Elite, Ricketts Performance Center, UWI and quite a few others have now begun to produce athletes good enough to make the Jamaican national teams to the prestigious global events.
In 2019, the post Bolt era was expected to be quite challenging, as far as medal count was concerned. But at the 2019 world championships, Jamaica placed third behind USA and Kenya, winning an unexpected 3 gold medals and 12 total medals, comprising 8 individual medals and 4 relay medals. Of the 8 individual medals won, 7 were won by athletes trained by local coaches. MVP athletes Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Tajay Gayle both won gold medals, Shanieka Ricketts (Ricketts Performance) and Frederick Dacres (UWI) won silver medals, while Roshelle Clayton (Swept), Shericka Jackson (MVP) and Danielle Williams (L. Graham) won bronze medals. Only Thomas-Dodd’s silver in the ladies Shot Putt was won by an athlete with a non-local coach. The relays of course were also dominated by athletes from local clubs.
The 2021 season is a very eventful one and a number of clubs and coaches have shown that local coaching will continue to produce top class athletes. As expected, MVP continues to produce the athletes who are currently the cream of the crop, but there are other clubs that have performed beyond anyone’s expectations. Maurice Wilson’s work at Sprint tech seems to be bearing fruit, with 7 Sprint Tech athletes making the national team, while Coach Fitz Coleman’s revival of Hansle Parchment’s career and the development of quarter-miler Candice McLeod have been absolutely amazing.
The MVP effect on the coaching landscape apparently is not just about developing athletes. It is also noticeable that THREE of the upcoming clubs are led by coaches who were once affiliated with the MVP track club, and they have been quite successful so far.
Elite track club Coach Renaldo Walcott, formerly affiliated with MVP has had a ridiculous junior and senior seasons. His success at the high school level was remarkable, but his work with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at the senior level has been out of this world. Under his tutelage, Shelly has become the fastest woman alive and second fastest ever with her 10.63 run at the national stadium. Even more impressive was her 200m win at the national trials, defeating former teammates Elaine Thompson-Herah and Shericka Jackson and running a massive personal best of 21.79, the first time she has ever broken the 22 second barrier.
Former MVP massage therapist Okeile Stewart is the man in charge at Swept track club. Track fans started taking notice when Roshelle Clayton won a bronze medal in the 400m hurdles at the 2019 world championships, but this year he is gaining accolades for reviving the career of Jaheel Hyde who had failed to live up to expectations based on the incredible talent he had shown as a junior
Former MVP star Michael Frater recently formed the Titans track club and his success has been immediate. Jazeel Murphy and Jevaughn Minzie are former high school stars who just never made the grade at the senior level and seemed to be all washed up. But after one year at titans, they have shown massive improvement and they both look ready to make their mark in the senior ranks.
The Jamaican teams before 2000 usually had no local representatives. But the dream of developing athletes locally, and the success of MVP as well as Racers has certainly changed the coaching landscape. Since 2008, the majority of athletes that make up national teams are trained by local coaches, and the vast majority of medals won, are attained by locally trained athletes. Now Jamaica can boast of developing the fastest man ever, the fastest woman alive, world and championship records in the sprints, and the country is usually ranked as one of the top two or three teams in track and field.
Here is a breakdown of the clubs of local athletes that make up the 2021 Jamaican national team.
MVP – Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shericka Jackson, Janieve Russell, Junelle Bromfield, Stephanie McPherson, Natasha Morrison, Ronald Levy, Rusheen McDonald, Julian Forte, Nigel Ellis (11)
Sprint Tech – Ramona Burchell, Yanique Thompson, Rasheed Dwyer, Demish Gaye, Tovea Jenkins, Ronda Whyte, Tissana Hickling (7)
Elite – Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
Swept – Tyquendo Tracey, Jaheel Hyde
Racers – Oblique Seville, Keeno Burrell
Titan – Yohan Blake, Jevaughn Minzie
Blazers – Tiffany James
Ricketts Performance– Shaneika Ricketts
Julian Robinson – Frederick Dacres, Travis Smikle,
Throwers’r us – Chad Wright, (Samantha Hall)
Fitz Coleman – Hansle Parchment, Candice McLeod
Millard Dunbar – Roneisha McGregor
Lennox Graham – Danielle Williams
Jamaica College – Javier Brown
Written by Oliver Harris