Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

An athlete competes in the boy's long jump at the Jamaica's Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Athletics Championships in Kingston March 28, 2012. The Boys and Girls Athletics Championships, also known as Champs, is one of the oldest athletic championships in the world, with a history of 100 years. About 30,000 people gather to support their schools annually during Champs. Sporting events such as Champs have produced Jamaican athletes such as Asafa Powell and current Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt, who is the fastest man in the world. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)
An athlete competes in the boy's long jump at the Jamaica's Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Athletics Championships in Kingston March 28, 2012. The Boys and Girls Athletics Championships, also known as Champs, is one of the oldest athletic championships in the world, with a history of 100 years. About 30,000 people gather to support their schools annually during Champs. Sporting events such as Champs have produced Jamaican athletes such as Asafa Powell and current Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt, who is the fastest man in the world. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado (Ivan Alvarado/Reuters)

London 2012

Jamaica: training ground for track and field's best Add to ...

Cubie Seegobin, an agent who represents Blake and several other sprinters, calls Skeene “the next big thing.” Not on this night he wasn’t. A wave of groans and cries, followed by a stony silence, greeted a false start by Skeene. Competitors in other events froze to look at the videoboards at each end of the stadium. Williams would go on to win the race and point at Murphy as they crossed the finish line just 0.02 seconds apart, then lament the lost opportunity to race against Skeene.

It is Saturday – the final day – when the school ties come out, when the relays are held and the team title decided, and when the entire inner courtyard is rimmed by truncheon-wielding members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, brown-uniformed inspectors strolling by and barking out instructions with whip-like sticks at the ready.

It is Saturday when the bleachers fill up and when the police in bullet-proof vests will emerge from their marshalling areas. Calabar High School celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012 by beating Kingston College in the boys team event, and students and supporters partied on the National Stadium field after the win to Bob Marley’s Rat Race, a song symbolic because the school suffered a rat infestation this year.

Days later, team manager Andrea Hardware told the Jamaica Gleaner that the 22nd championship in school history cost $8-million ( in Jamaican currency or just under $90,462 Cdn.), not including “coach’s salaries and that sort of thing,” and was based on money from “a lot of well-wishers, both corporate and individuals.” That would buy some serious pest control.

The Jamaican ‘sweet spot’

So why would the CEO of Puma, the German-based sportswear manufacturer, come to a high school track meet?

Franz Koch, bespectacled, shaven-headed and looking all of his 33 years, contemplated the question in a coffee shop at Kingston’s tony Spanish Court hotel. Just as Bolt “checks all the boxes,” in Koch’s words, as a corporate ambassador so too does Jamaica hit what he refers to as “the sweet spot.”

Its culture, as manifested in reggae music and icons such as Bob Marley, crosses all boundaries. It’s as home in the developed world as in the Third World. So Puma not only launches into relationships with Usain Bolt and, recently, Ristananna Tracey and Jermaine Gonzales to serve as what the company calls Ambassadors, Puma has also entered into an agreement with Marley’s daughter, Cedella, for the creation of Jamaica’s 2012 Olympic outfit.

Koch spent part of Saturday in the grandstand, but he moved to the raised concrete bank that separates the dark blue track from the fenced-in corner bleachers, sitting on his haunches. You dare not go into the student section, but if you must – what the hell? – you need no shame. Be prepared for a pat-down that will make you blush, and keep in mind that the student bleachers are no place for the faint-hearted, being a constantly moving dance of boy meets girl and, sometimes, fist meets face, as large school flags are unfurled and waffled along through sections of stands claimed by students from competing schools – green and black for Calabar, purple for Kingston College, navy blue for Jamaica College (just as it was when Norman Manley become the first triple winner in 1911, winning the 100-, 200- and 400-yard races) – and the aroma of ganja wafts through the air. Repeated public-service announcements on radio and television urging those attending the event to register and lock up their firearms with local constabulary and “refrain from carrying machetes into National Stadium,” were heeded this year. It was still raucous, but the lingering impression is of horns honking into the night, as teenaged voices hooted and cheered.

Single page

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Sports

In the know

Most popular video »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories