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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 ...

“Jamaica has become part of our branding,” said Koch, speaking just two hours before meeting the Jamaican PM. “We describe ourselves as bringing life into sport and sport into life and fusing it with fashion. Jamaica is the perfect expression of it, and it has many more things to offer than track and field. It’s culture, people, music and creativity. Jamaica evokes colours. And Champs is a great expression of the energy and joy of youthful people. It’s one of the top-class sports events in the region – and that’s remarkable for high-school sports.”

Remember that the next time your parents don’t go to your high-school track meet.

Setting the bar higher

Xavier Boland says God has given him many talents, just not the one most people associate with Jamaicans. So on this Thursday night, he wins what is essentially a one-man event – the open pole vault – in a stiff breeze that almost knocks him sideways on his failed attempt to eclipse his own meet record. His title is won in the corner of National Stadium, in front of empty seats except for a gathering of fellow Kingston College students in the grandstand.

Boland isn’t only the best pole-vaulter in Jamaica. He’s on the national swim team.

“I tell people I like to do things that have never been done before,” he laughed. “Everybody sprints in Jamaica. That’s what you think, right? Usually, you think pole vault and you think Eastern Europe or Ukraine. In the Caribbean, we don’t have many pole-vaulters, right? But God really has blessed me with a lot of talents. I’m just trying to use them the best I can.”

Boland says he wants to do for field events what Bolt has done for track. He will clear 4.20 metres at Champs, short of his meet record of 4.60, and well short of the five metres he swears he’s jumped.

“Truthfully: I could probably go out there right now – right now – and clear it,” he said, touching a visitor on the arm.

Wind was certainly a mitigating factor on this night, as was an unfamiliar pole, which he used to try for a height of 4.60 only after securing the full nine points for his school using his regular pole. That is the remarkable aspect of Champs; the depth to which the success of the school supersedes the success of the individual athlete.

Sixteen records were set at Champs this year, including several in throwing and field events. Chanice Porter, the 17-year-old IAAF world youth champion, eclipsed the 14-year-old Class 1 long-jump record with a leap of 6.52 metres that was the fourth-longest in the world this year. She also broke the meet high-jump record, while the girls’ Class 1 discuss record was broken on six consecutive throws before the final measurement of 50.76 metres. The boys’ shot-put record? Obliterated, by almost a full metre.

Don’t look now, but Jamaicans have set their sights on both distance and field events, and there is discussion at the highest levels about hiring Kenyan coaches for distance events ahead of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. “They have some coaches, now, who are specializing in throws,” said Cubie Seegobin, the agent. “They are serious.”

Michael Carr, the Wolmer’s girls track coach, smiled when Seegobin’s comments were relayed. Ashina Miller, a shot-putter, is one of the athletes gracing this year’s Champs program cover and that’s no accident.

From running away with the hearts of the world to jumping them and throwing them seems a natural progression. And it won’t be accidental or organic. “It’s just a matter of time,” Carr said. “If you get one star, you will find many stars. That’s how it works in Jamaica.”

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