Doors close, doors open: loving Alia Atkinson, and O’Dayne Richards.

I am almost in tears, after watching Jamaican Alia Atkinson coming in 3rd in the 100 meters breaststroke. She had the race. She has the time. But, in finals, you have to have the event under control. She swam as she always does, fast first 50, but near record pace. She looked great till 20 meters from home, then “felt the elephants on her back”, as the British commentator said. I know the feeling as limbs tighten with lactic acid buildup. But, no second guessing. How proud to be there looking at a potential champion in one of our less-favoured events.

The medals were presented by our own IOC representative, Mike Fennel. A nice twist. The Scottish crowd gave a rousing cheer. Go, Alia! Stay strong. The swimming family is loving what you do for the event.

But, as that door closed, open came the door with O’Dayne Richards winning the shot putt with a games record of 21.61 meters.20140728-144629-53189148.jpg Promise comes true.

Jamaica to the world. More action comes on the track later today, as our sprinters are all looking at finals this evening. Which doors will open?

Bouncing on a springboard

I’m always fascinated what happens when I travel. Do the problems in my home country follow me, or do I become immersed in the issues of the place to where I’ve travelled? My home is on my back. Dr. Peter Phillips and his proposed bank tax is being discussed at the poolside while my daughter has early morning swim practice. The virtues of patois and its richness are giving myself and the other fathers and brothers plenty to chew on. We hope to chew on more when we see our kids finish in the pool, and enjoy what some of the mothers are preparing.

One of the coaches took to his room last night some cinnamon buns from the restaurant where we had a pizza buffet dinner; he had study to do and needed his extra food. This morning, I asked if he’d eaten the buns for breakfast. He looked at me as if I was mad. I understood. “You wan’ hol’ a plate o’ salt mackerel an’ bwoil banana,” He nodded. We travel and need our place holders in life to keep us together. Food is one of those. People who have not travelled may not understand how important ‘home cooking’ is. That’s why international teams travel with their kitchen staff; that also avoids some of the nasty tricks that unscrupulous hosts can try. Been there, suffered that.

Why am I in Orlando? It’s for a school swim meet. Some of our club’s swimmers are in Aruba, for the Carifta 2014 games, and doing very well. Their team mates who did not make the national team either because their performances are not yet up to standard, or are too young, still have to ‘work on their game’. I’ve written before about the value of sport for youth development. When you see a group of children working hard to better themselves, with good guidance and care from adults and each other, you have to wonder how social problems persist. But, some children do not get that guidance and care–simple.

So far, America’s problems have not featured in my thoughts. I have not watched any TV and not seen a local paper. I am still following the Budget discussions in Jamaica. Although, I did not hear Andrew Holness give his presentation yesterday, I followed it on Twitter and through his postings there and on Facebook. Social media are getting a good work out this week as a place for Jamaicans to have their big discussions. I have a view that better governance will come from this, once we get over the challenge of some public servants resisting demands for better information and more open discourse on subjects. We also see that the country has many voices that want to be heard and also people with heads that can think their way through issues, without immediately reverting to the tired and tiring jabs that come from partisan politics.

image
Really?

One of our group had problems with US Immigration at the airport: he’d lost his passport years ago and since that keeps featuring in the US’s security screening processes. He had to go through a four-hour wait in ‘secondary inspection’ yesterday afternoon–sounds like the meat packing business, and he says they made people feel like livestock. So our on-time arrival turned into a very late departure from the airport. By the time we got to our lodgings it was night, and by the time we checked in and ate a wonderful (I’m being ironic here, because we had eaten really wonderful food from Island Grill before we left) pizza buffet, it was very late. A quick trip to a dollar store for essentials like water, eggs, toothpaste, body wash, sunglasses that were marked ‘Made in China’, waffles and syrup, had all the kids excited

. We then played ‘chicken’ crossing the busy six-lane highway. “Dis is not Jumayka. Dem will run you down!” one boy said as he traipsed across the road and car headlights closed in. The children got to bed around 11pm, and some in my room did not get to sleep till way after midnight. Now, they are getting a refreshing work out, with a 7.30am start. Not ideal. But, the meet starts at 5pm today, and they need to be prepared. The team’s head coach told the children last night that when they returned to Jamaica and were met at the airport by reporters that they ought to be able to say proudly what they had done, rather than come with a string of excuses about a poor performance.

The day will have some good downtime for us all after breakfast. I suspect that many will to hit the malls; one is just across a busy highway from our hotel. I would like to play a little golf, and I understand that a course is just 10 minutes walk away.

How ironic. We’re listening to piped music at the pool side…and it’s reggae, and mento. Gwendolyn, pass the smelling salts! But, why should surprised when on our way from the airport I saw a bill board advertising Red Stripe.

Red Stripe billboard in Orlando, FL
Red Stripe billboard in Orlando, FL

Jamaica to the world!

Still shackled

A random set of events today illustrate starkly something very wrong with Jamaica. We are more accustomed than other Caribbean countries, except Cuba, to the glare of sporting success. Admittedly, that has come more through track and field, and somewhat through football, than other sports.

But, over the past two days we went on another of those fairy-tale rides, as a team of bobsledders trundled down an icy slide, holding the slimmest of hopes of a medal. Not surprisingly, knowing the recent history of this team and how they got to Sochi, Russia, the two-man team came in 29th out of 30 (aided by one team not completing their final run). But, that was about what we should have expected. Underdogs, and holding up the stack. However, Jamaica got maybe more of the crowd’s love than any team other than the home-country boys, who came in with the gold. But, love and smiles won’t get us to the podium and wont build us at the lowest level. Our apples are not really piled into the bobsledding basket, even though it’s surprisingly open to many of our athletes or ordinary people. Note, one of the Russian team was a taxi driver and arm wrestler. We can find a few people who could fit that profile.

Our sledders were fantastic in qualifying alone. Consider that at least 4 countries put in three teams in the field of 30 teams. So, for us to be able to get into this small fraternity was truly a feat well done.

Where I gagged was in the process of trying to nurture one of the future athletes–my daughter. She had swimming practice this afternoon, at St Andrew High School. The school has a 25 metre pool and before my daughter’s practice, children from the prep school have a swimming lesson and practice. I often see a girls’ water polo team working out ahead of our practice. Then my daughter and other kids under 11 have their hour. After them, come some 11-14 year olds for a 90 minute session. My kid, sometimes does this session, too. She can hold her own and is often good and tired but well exercised at the end of 2 1/2 hours in the water.

We noted, as usual, the high school girls doing their practices, in preparation for Champs. Hurdles were out today. A girl was working the javelin. Another girl was throwing a shot. Most girls were striding and sprinting on the grass track.
image

On the dusty, barely grassed track. On the track that is perhaps par for the course for the best track athletes in the country. I thought back to the high school my older daughter attended in northern Virginia. They had a stadium akin to Catherine Hall, in Montego Bay. This was an ordinary state school. That marked the difference between developed countries and countries like Jamaica–so-called ‘middle income’, but really among the poor.

Catherine Hall Sports Complex, Montego Bay
Catherine Hall Sports Complex, Montego Bay

This is how we have to prepare some of the better future stars. I looked forward to seeing what performances would be produced in a few weeks.

On the way home, I heard a news report that the swimmers training for Carifta (regional elite performers) were going to have no training facilities at the National Aquatic Centre, because the pool needed to be closed–again–while new filters are installed. Options are few in Kingston, but at least some exist. All with a good intent, but hampering in the process.

Now, I’m settled in front of the television, watching ‘Monday night football’ from the Red Stripe Premier League. Top two teams are duking it out: Waterhouse away to Harbour View (at the ‘mini stadium’). But, what is that surface on which they are playing? It’s a mixture of bare ground and sparse grass; the overall colour is red. A player goes through, clear on goal, swings and the ball loops high as if he were trying to kick it out of the stadium. It took a wicked bounce. I remember a game earlier in the season when it seemed that a ghost had spirited the ball away from the goalkeeper, but it had hit a stone and put the ball in the path of a striker for a goal. I did not expect a surface like those played on by English Premier League team, but a cow pasture is what I’d expect for ‘Molasses Vale’ in St. Thomas, with sticks and stones marking the field boundaries. What a disgrace!

I wrote yesterday about perpetual underdogs. I saw today without searching what squalid facilities we have to offer our best and those who want to be the best and represent the country at the highest levels. We do much DESPITE, not because of. What could we be if we were not constantly weighed down by the heavy blocks of our poor basic infrastructure?

The good, the bad, and the ugly (November 10)

Good

Alia Atkinson’s continued her great form in swimming World Cup into Tokyo leg, with another fine win in 100 metres breaststroke. She keeps swimming close to the world record in that event. She finished the leg with two gold medals and a bronze.

Bad

Jamaica’s under 17 women failed to advance beyond the semis in CONCACAF tournament, losing 5-0 to Canada, then losing 8-0 to USA in 3rd place match. The ladies looked to have run out of legs, after excellent group play. So, no place in 2014 FIFA World Cup in Costa Rica, but plenty of promise. Mexico and Canada have booked their spots toCosta Rica next March.

Ugly

Jamaican Police beating of allegedly mentally ill, Kamoza Clarke, to a near vegetative state and remains in hospital. Incident was caught on closed circuit television, thus contradicting claims that ‘he fell’ down stairs. The policemen accused of beating an inmate at the Falmouth Police Station in Trelwany last month have been placed on interdiction following a probe including the viewing of video footage. Police High Command has concluded that the matter should now be dealt with by the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM).

Going all unconventional: not just a nation of sprinters, cricketers and male footballers

The past few weeks has seen something unique: a Jamaican swimmer, Alia Atkinson,Alia-Atkinson2_w304_w304 has been tearing up international waters, winning and placing high in the touring series of swim meets, called the World Cup. World Cup legs this year have already taken place in Eindhoven, Berlin, Moscow, Dubai, Doha and now Singapore.The series will end with two legs in Tokyo, Japan (November 9-10) and Beijing, China (November 13-14). Having just brought my child back from her swimming practice, I wondered if Jamaican children are beginning to focus on what Alia is doing and in some little way starting to turn their eyes toward less popular sports in which we should be able to excel, but tend to fall short. Here’s to hoping.

At this moment, Jamaica’s under-17 women’s team is playing a semi-final in the CONCACAF Championships. The winner will advance to the 2014 World Cup in Costa Rica. The matches are being played in Jamaica, at Montego Bay Sports Complex’ Catherine Hall Stadium. This is historic: the team has done better than ever before. Close behind them will be their under 20 compatriots. Screen Shot 2013-11-07 at 6.18.08 PMThe 2014 CONCACAF Women’s  under 20 Championship is scheduled to kick off on January 9, 2014 in the Cayman Islands. The men’s team may get the public attention, but success is a very good basis on which to build, so I hope that the young women will be more than an afterthought.

More openings are coming along for girls to play soccer in Jamaica. For my part, I just had the pleasure of being nominated to coach elementary girls at my daughter’s school. I’ve been there before, in the US, and I have the coaching qualifications 🙂

Many doors could be open for talented youths in areas that have been less in the public eye, and as Americans have found, educational opportunities may come with the sports, too, in the form of scholarships. The fact that women are coming to the fore is not so surprising, but it’s not my view that we have special advantages there, but we do have good female athletes and a long tradition of having women in sports, at least through high school, and after that for track and field. Let’s see how this moves. Too early to talk of groundswell, but make noise.