What have we learned from the Commonwealth Games or was it just a joy ride for some officials who stayed united during the elections. Yet, in sports, there is something more. For some in sport; it is you come, you fight and you conquer. In athletics, countries like the United States, Britain, China and Russia [...]


The Jamaican dream and the Commonwealth Games lessons for Lanka


What have we learned from the Commonwealth Games or was it just a joy ride for some officials who stayed united during the elections. Yet, in sports, there is something more.

For some in sport; it is you come, you fight and you conquer. In athletics, countries like the United States, Britain, China and Russia hold the whip-hand in medals. Especially the US has been in the forefront since its independence.

In countries like the USA and China, sport is regarded a vital tool to keep the nation’s image up in the pedestal. It is mighty important to them and thus they keep working for it.

Then come the other tiers where the athletes excel at European and Asian levels. Within the universal Olympic system there are so many events that test and hone the skills of athletes at various levels.

Yet, there are certain countries which have remained stagnant in their standards, though a rare individual comes out on his or her own and makes it to the top. Yet, the given country as a whole has done little or nothing to sustain the standards, leave alone the elevation part of it.

At the same time, little countries, like Caribbean nations, especially Jamaica, have come to understand that sport is one way to stardom and riches. In the past fifteen years or so, they have come from zeroes to heroes. Just tell me — the names Merlene Ottey, Verronica Campell-Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Asafa Powell or just Usian Blot — do they ring a bell. Branded and factory made — Made in Jamaica.

According National Public Radio of the Unites States, the secret of Jamaican athletics is the change that allowed world-class Jamaican sprinters to actually stay in Jamaica. It came about, in large part, thanks to Dennis Johnson, the philosopher king of Jamaican sprinting.

Johnson, however, makes no claim to originality for his ideas. He was a world-class sprinter at San Jose State University in California in the 1960s and came home to Jamaica with the wisdom of the school’s fabled track coach, Bud Winter. Winter had previously taught Navy fighter pilots to relax, and that was also his message to sprinters.

He felt you could compete a lot better if you relaxed and, in the process, he developed a methodology and some drills, and it actually revolutionised the whole thing. According to Johnson, people have the wrong idea about speed. He says a relaxed sprinter maintains speed, while the sprinter who’s tight, who’s concentrating too much, can tire fast or lose it at the end.

The story goes on to say that Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce came from poor single mother background and did not know about running till she was 21 years-old. But, she was picked up at the right time and thought to run technically fast and out came the world champion.

Yet, they say that from the turn of the millennium Jamaicans took running fast seriously and they started to train the young ones from a very tender age and the coaches made sure they did scientifically right. Thus the results are amazing.

The Sunday Musings took Jamaica as an example because Sri Lanka and Jamaica have many things in common. Both are tiny island nations and even economically we both could be slotted into the same developing nation category. Besides when you take the stories of Fraser-Pryce story and Susanthika Jayasinghe, both sound similar. They both came from squalor and ran themselves to glory.

Some may argue that the most Jamaicans are of Negroid background while we possess the Asian genetics. But, remember the Jamaicans do run faster than the most South Africans or that whole African continent put together. As far I am concerned I feel the Jamaicans are doing something pretty solid to put out factory loads of sprinters regularly.

So why can’t we take a cue from a situation of that nature? Why cannot we think of a programme that is conducive to us and chalk up something similar to what Dennis Johnson did.

At a certain juncture, we came up with Asian and European level athletes when Susanthika Jayasingha (an Olympic Silver medalist) and Sugath Tillakerathna burned our tracks. But, seemingly we doused that fire on our own accord.

Yet, at the Commonwealth Games we opened a tiny window of hope, with our performance in weightlifting, and, to some extent, boxing. We proved that we do have something ahead of being just locally good and we do take part in, international athletic meet for the sake of taking part.

Yes, a Commonwealth ‘Silver’ or ‘Bronze’ cannot be considered Asian or any other top calibre level, but, that is the standard that we must strive for. The best examples are the Indian athletes who are moving up the ladder. I am sure that Satish Kumar Sivalingam from India who won the 77kgs Gold when Chinthana Vidanage faltered, would be a feature at top level International meets soon.

Being a man with an ear to the ground, the newly elected NOC president, Suresh Subramanium, understands the situation and is willing to get together with the respective authorities and help them elevate our standards.

First and foremost, the authorities must be serious and understand that there is a given sport that is good at a certain International level. They bring in medals at that level. The authorities’ next step should be taking the athletes to the next plain. With regard to coaching, the NOCSL could help them in tracking down the right candidates or may be the Sports Ministry could step in with necessary financial support. May be that the authorities could want more international exposure — then give them that.

This may be just not weightlifting, but, right now, we know it is only they who are doing something right. Before the Commonwealth Games began, Vidanage said he was confident of four medals at the game and they came back with three. So it was not just hollow talk.

Just because it is athletics there is no-point backing them faithfully if they are not going to translate that support into medals.

We must learn to put more eggs into the baskets that yield ‘Gold’. If someone can walk the talk he or she should be rewarded. It is not rewarding the individual that won a medal. What we should do is to back the whole sport so that it becomes a nation that famous for a certain sport.

The Jamaicans discovered that they can run fast, so they produced the Pryces and the Bolts. Do we have a window opened here? Believe in what you are good at!

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