Thinking out of the blocks. Is this what USAID wants?

Several days ago, I read a report about a call by the Mission Director for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Jamaica, Denise Herbol. She wanted more research into local traditional and new industries, to help spur Jamaica’s development. She was also reported as saying “Jamaica must develop new models … develop new partnerships either internally or at the international level to maximise impact.”

Not for the first time, ‘Champs’ (Boys and Girls High School Championships) shows what we have already as a Jamaican brand that may need to be developed to fuller international potential.

Yesterday, we saw the latest in the line of ‘products’ that are rolling off the ‘assembly line’ of Jamaica’s ‘sprint factory’. The product was not Jamaican-made, but is being ‘finished’ in Jamaica–we’re ‘adding value’. Zharnel Hughes, an Anguillan, who’s a student at Kingston College, won the Class 1 boys 100 meters in a new record time of 10.12 seconds.

Jamaica has one of the IAAF’s eight Regional High Performance Training Centres (HPTC), based at UTech. Hughes received a scholarship to the HPTC, and trains with Racers Track Club, the home of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir.

Previously, we were amazed by the sprinting of Delano Williams, who is from the Turks and Caicos Islands and studied at Munro College, St. Elizabeth, and won the 100 and 200 metres at the 2012 Jamaican National High School Track and Field Championships, becoming the first non-national to do so; he successfully defended his titles in 2013. Last year, he completed the IAAF transfer allegiance and is now eligible to compete for the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team in international competition; the Turks and Caicos Islands are not affiliated to the IOC.

Delano Williams, running for Munro College
Delano Williams, from Turks and Caicos, running for Munro College; now he runs for Great Britain and Northern Island.

From what I understand, Jamaica has not embarked on making the production of world-class sprinters an industry. Its help given to other Caribbean athletes is not new, but it’s notable, not just at school level. Admittedly, top-level athletes are likely to thrive in many situations, but Jamaican should exploit and promote its clear superiority in this field. The IAAF centres help. But, should it be only through that route?

The world has been fascinated by Jamaica’s sprint factory for years, and more so since the stunning successes of Usain Bolt, and a cohort of true world beaters. So, how can we monetize that comparative advantage that we have? How can we build a lasting legacy that helps Jamaica and world track and field? My simple mind says it cannot be hard to market the idea to countries wishing to challenge on the world’s track and field stages, rather than ‘importing’ and ‘buying’ athletes as do Qatar and Bahrain, with say Kenyan runners.

I’m not going to be the one to spell out all the steps. But, I can see or sense some of the problems. Apart from any sense of national superiority in their own systems, Americans may balk because living in Jamaica would be a challenge that many think they would not want to handle just for the chance to be a world beater. For them, the ‘executive’ program may need to be developed, eg, sprint summer camps. Over time, resistance may dwindle.

Runners from other developing countries may be the easiest natural targets, especially those on the cusp of producing world-class athletes already, eg, Nigeria. Like teams needing that extra something to get over the edge, maybe being finished in Jamaica will work wonders. National pride may get in the way, there, too, however. But, as all good athletes know, challenges are there to be overcome.

A smattering of international athletes come to Jamaica to train, but it needs to be a flood. Will it hurt us? I think not. We can improve them, but if they don’t have some basic ingredients that we do, not many of them will beat us. But, what if they do? We move up the value chain and keep coaching them.

I don’t know how much R&D is needed, but we’d better soon get on the wagon we are pulling. Who knows, the Chinese (to whom we’ve given some scholarships to attend our coaching college, G.C. Foster) may quickly learn to copy what we do and run with it, literally.