The ‘1-2-3 Clean Sweep’ is a phrase that has become synonymous with Jamaica in international track and field events.
Jamaica’s athletes have dominated the sprint events, turning the eyes of the world to this small island state, which has the envious reputation of having produced the ‘Fastest Man’ and the ‘Fastest Woman’ in the world.
General Manager of the Sports Development Foundation (SDF), Denzin Wilks, tells JIS News that Jamaica’s outstanding performance has garnered the respect of the global sporting community.
He says the process of honing the country’s sporting talent over the years, predates Jamaica’s Independence.
Among those sporting greats he credits for paving the way are Gerald Claude (GC) Foster, Herb McKenley, George Rhoden, Arthur Wint, Leslie Laing, Una Morris, Merlene Ottey, Donald Quarrie, Lennox Miller, and Deon Hemmings.
“The organisation of track and field has benefited significantly from the work of those stalwarts, [and] those … who went beyond just performing and got into administration,” he explains.
Mr. Wilks says the legacy has been kept at a high standard by several sporting stalwarts, who have contributed to improving the performance of the next generation of athletes.
“At the coaching level, track and field has developed and as a result of that level of coaching, we have been able to take on literally the world in spite of our size. And if we may use a boxing analogy, we have been punching way above our weight limit for the longest while,” he adds.
Jamaica has performed well in other sporting disciplines such as football, netball, swimming, boxing, table tennis, cricket, volleyball, badminton, as well as in non- traditional sports such as rugby, lacrosse, gymnastics, diving, cycling, and bob sled.
The establishment of the G.C. Foster College in 1980, has resulted in Jamaica having an entity that has been able to produce quality coaches, which has enabled the island to have a strong coaching network across the country.
“Almost every high school now has a qualified, competent track and field coach and as a result, we have been turning out high-quality athletes,” he says.
Another critical component that has built upon the foundation of Jamaican sports, is the advent of the ‘Inter -Secondary Schools Boys and Girls Championships’ which Mr. Wilks says, begins the process of developing world class athletes at an early stage.
“There is just nothing that comes anywhere close to it anywhere across the globe and the world is just fascinated with this event where you are getting youngsters from the age of 11, 12 all the way up to 19 competing at a very high level. As a result, they are matriculating in an outstanding way and some of them are moving on to the professional levels through universities overseas and locally and are bringing the level of success that we are seeing,” he points out.
Mr. Wilks notes that the practice of competitive development begins at the preparatory and primary levels.
“Our youngsters are learning the craft of proper running, proper jumping, and that sort of thing from a pretty young stage. Some people think they are starting too young, but as we go along, we will need to invest in research to ensure that we are doing the best we can for them. But that competitive edge starts being honed from as early as the primary level and as a result of that, we have been able to literally take on the world,” he asserts.
The SDF General Manager says the influence of sports in promoting ‘Brand Jamaica’ is inestimable.
“When we do well on the international stage… all of that coming through the years has resulted in what we all now refer to as ‘Brand Jamaica’. That kind promotion that sports has provided requires that we reinvest as a country in a heavy way at the public and private sector levels because sport has been good to us from the perspective of the economy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr. Wilks says following the restrictions placed on events due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is now a re-emergence taking place.
“The pandemic brought us almost to a halt. I can tell you from where I sit there is now almost an explosion taking place with the opening of the economy and the sporting sector. Sports is bursting at the seams…the potential is tremendous and if we are able to harness the kind of back-room support that we require, we are going to be hitting the world stage in many other areas,” he says.