Sunday, 31 March 2013

made in Jamaica...

more fiya!

It’s September in Kingston, Jamaica.  

A group of 30 young sprinters, jumpers, and throwers begin their training session with sprints on the beach at Palisadoes.  Under the watchful eye of William Goldsmith, it continues with weight-training and body-weight exercises.  Later on, they will divide into smaller groups where older, mentor-athletes will share their wisdom. 

In January, the athletes separate into their event-groups, where they are overseen by 8 coaches, and begin the specific training that will lead them into the competitive period.  All gearing towards the Spring competitive season, culminating at Sabina Park, where thousands of spectators jam themselves into the packed-to-the-rafters Grandstand to watch their young heroes.

So what is this competition these young boys are preparing for?  

Jamaican National Championships, you say?  2012? 

Not even close.

This was 1962.  And the competition they were gearing up for was Champs.  The greatest high-school track and field competition in the world.  And a spectacle that has over 100 years of history.

Yes - in 1962, in a tiny island in the Caribbean, there was a group of high-school athletes who trained for 8 months under the watchful eye of a head coach, a strength coach, event coaches, and mentor coaches.  

And thus began the greatest dynasty in the history of Jamaican track and field.

For the next fifteen years, Kingston College dominated boys’ Champs.  An unprecedented 15 straight titles.  And it was all down to the vision of Sydney ‘Foggy’ Burrows, his coaching staff, and the work of his integrated team of former athletes - cum mentors.  

Jamaican 400-800 legend Trevor ‘TC’ Campbell remembers: 

“it wasn’t a big man/little boy thing, it was big brother/younger brother, and they took care of us, made sure that everybody was in school, they came and checked up on you.  If you had problems with books, they were there.  If you had problems with lunch money, problems with uniforms...they were just older members of our family and that in itself was part of what propelled the whole process”.
(from 'Champs 100' - Lawrence)

In last week’s post, Canadian sprint-legend Donovan Bailey spoke to me about this system.  How he thought Jamaican coaching was under-rated.  And how perhaps some of the so-called ‘first-world’ countries like Canada and the UK can learn from some of Jamaica’s practices.  

During this period, Kingston College would produce such international stars and Olympians as Lennox Miller, Rupert Hoillett and Trevor Campbell.

So maybe there is something we can learn after all...

The following is part II of my conversation with Donovan, where he reveals his thoughts on the Canadian program, what it takes to succeed in sport, Atlanta 1996, coming back from injury, and who his own sporting heroes are. 

Lennox Miller anchoring KC sprint relay at Penn Relays - 1964

SM: Getting back to Champs for a minute, we saw 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 year old kids running near-technically perfect.

DB: Again - like I said earlier - some of those that don’t get enough credit are the athletes that left Jamaica in the 80s and 90s, and have returned as teachers and coaches.  And these guys are doing a great job - because we see kids coming out now at 12 and 13 years old running more technically sound that I ever did!  I think fundamentally that these are the people that are behind this.  

...Stephen Francis and Glenn Mills are two guys that have incredible programs that can take talented juniors and convert them into International stars.  That was the major gap that Jamaica was missing for all those years.  Jamaica always had incredible juniors.  Incredible talent.  Just like Canada - we have incredible talent, but no one who can nurture it through to the international arena.  In the entire country, there’s maybe one-two coaches - maybe Desai and Anthony now are the only coaches in Canada who can take someone from a junior talent through to the international level.  Canada requires that.  Guys like yourself, Derek Eveley, Kevin Tyler - technical people, who actually understand.  

At the end of the day, anyone can coach a talented junior kid.  It’s just about organization, patience, and understanding the simple technical aspects of putting one foot in front of the other.  It requires these guys to come back to the country to take these juniors in to big-man time.  We are definitely lacking that massively in Canada, where Kevin at the highest level could bring in people - bring people together - and move these talented kids along...get kids all training together, coaches working together...

Why doesn’t this happen right now?  We see here in Jamaica, for instance, pretty much every international star trains with one of two coaches - either Mills or Francis.  You want to do some damage outside of Jamaica, first you need to beat your teammates...with the internal competition within these groups (not to mention the group to group rivalry), these guys can’t help but get better.  In the UK and in Canada, it’s us vs them.  In the UK, you have everyone trying to steal everyone else’s athletes.  There was a coach at our Olympic Holding camp in Portugal last year, for example - a sprint coach - who was recruiting all the other sprinters.  This was at the Olympic Games Holding Camp!  instead of everyone working together, you have 15 athletes working with 10 coaches.  All guarding their space, their time, their programs, etc...

In your mind, can the Federation step in and mandate that these guys work together...train together?

...yes.  Definitely.  Especially if they’re getting paid.  But it’s not really so much the Federation, though.  It really isn’t.  I think there has to be a unilateral agreement about success of the program.  It’s the dumbest thing in the world for coaches to fight, because in the end it will benefit no one.  If I succeed, we all succeed.  If I succeed as an athlete, it benefits of all the other athletes.  If the athlete is successful, then the coach will be successful.  If you succeed as a coach, it benefits all the others.  

What a lot of these coaches need to understand is no one in history has ever gone to a competition to watch a coach.  It’s the dumbest thing in the world that in Canada, and the UK to have coaches fight each other.  At the end of the day, the feeder system that we have in Jamaica is very good.  In this small island, we probably have about 20 clubs, with a structured set-up - sponsorship, money, shoe companies, development coaches, all feeding into two big clubs - two successful elite coaches that take these juniors to the international level.  Everyone gets to eat.  The coach that works with fifty 12 year-olds, and feeding them up the line, all the way to Francis and Mills.  Kids and coaches move up the ranks, each of them surrounded by increasing quality of athletes and coaches, so they either compete, or get left behind.  Survival of the fittest for both...

Until eventually, they get to try out for National teams - athletes and coaches - and now at the highest level, there must be success, as they have competed their way up the ladder.

It’s incredible that in Canada, where we have some incredible talent, and we have 100 coaches coaching 100’s the dumbest thing in the world.  We see now with what Desai and Anthony are doing - bringing kids together, working together, and the success that the entire group is enjoying.  

I’ll give you an example of how dumb these guys were.  Dan (Pfaff - Donovan’s coach) and I used to joke, because I would insist that other National Team members would come down to train in Austin.  One of things we were very curious about was that these guys would come down and train at odd times - times when we were not at the track, or just finishing up.  Or - if it was at the same time, set themselves up at a different corner of the track!  Like it was some sort of secret thing they were doing - as opposed to coming in, talking to Dan - who’s more open with coaches than anyone - he’s an abundance of knowledge, with access to experts in every field imaginable, and willing to sit down and talk to any of these guys.  Instead, they hide away on the other side of the track!

These idiots in Canada instead would teach these kids how to run really pretty...and really slow.  So their uniforms would be nice and white - not a drop of sweat. Finishing beautifully.  In 8th place.  And then wondering what was going on.  

Before I got to the team, there was a lot of people in Canada who’s only goal - only reason to be on the team - was for the uniform.  Unfortunately, I feel we are getting back to that way right now.  It’s why I’m hoping that someone like Kevin Tyler is involved in the program.  Because if someone like him is involved, the first phone call will be from me.  I want to sit down with him.  Sit down with the kids, and say “listen, these are the expectations.  This is what is necessary to reach them.  And second-best is not going to cut it.  We will fund you, support you, do every single thing necessary...but here is the expectation.  And if you’re not reaching it, you’re out”.  

I want to talk to Athletics Canada, OTP, the COC, whomever - just because that is what the expectation should be.  We see it in our winter sport.  But summer sport is a million times bigger.  Bigger audiences.  More sponsorship.  It’s incredible that we are not doing so much more...

So how do coaches begin working together then, if Federations don’t mandate it?  In my mind, this has to be a top-down process, as at the bottom no one is willing to give away their little piece...

...I agree with you.  that is why I want to be involved in the program.  I am not competing with anybody.  I have no competition.  Essentially, what I would like to do is come back in - speak to these guys - let them know what I want to contribute, and that I only want to contribute to success.  The biggest problem in Canada - and I see it all the time - is someone gets a job, and they spend all their time guarding against their job, and doing stupid things and making dumb decisions, because they’re guarding against their job.  Not for the good of the athletes, not for the sport, and not for the good of the country, and those are the three things I want to contribute to.  

OK - so you talk a lot about success.   What does success mean to you?

Success doesn’t mean you necessarily have to break a world record.  Success means that you do everything in your power to maximize every ability in your body.  Now - for some of us, it may mean that we become the best in history at what we do.  For others, it might mean second place.  Others, it may be tenth place.  For others, it will be something else.  The final outcome is not that important - as long as you can look yourself in the eye and know that you have willed every ounce of effort out of yourself.  

Success is ultimately defined by results - but is limited by your God-blessed ability and talent, and what it is you are blessed with.  It’s a combination of hard work, environment, attitude, ego, confidence - it’s all of those things. 

I’m number four of five boys.  Winning matters.  But it’s not winning, if you’re going to destroy yourself if you don’t win.  It’s winning with the understanding that if you get knocked down today, you will tell your opponent that you will be coming back tomorrow.  And if you get knocked down again, it’s telling him you’re going to come back the next day.  It doesn’t matter what you do.  It’s the same attitude you need if you’re a salesman.  It’s the same attitude you need if you’re a CEO.  It’s the exact same - nothing is different.  I sit on a variety of boards - including some charities - and it’s the same thing.  It’s still a competition.  There is only a finite amount of business or dollars to go around.  It’s all a competition.  

In your mind, what are the three most important factors essential to an athlete’s success?

Ok - I think the number one thing is the athlete has to make a commitment to be a student.  That is number one.  

Number two - he needs to surround himself with extremely smart people.  What he needs to do is absorb as much of the very best information as he can from all of those people.  For example, I think you need to have an incredible coach, therapist, and nutritionist.  Those are key.

And number three - you have to have focus and discipline.  If you don’t, then you can just throw out the previous two...

For example, the Olympic Final: three false starts later...

My reaction time out of the blocks was horrendous.  I ran the worst 30m I had ever ran.  I mean - according to Dan, I was capable of running between 9.71 and 9.74.  I wasn’t even close.  

So how were you able to maintain focus and discipline while all this was going on - the false starts, I mean...

One - it’s a race - there are still things I needed to do.  I had to remember that the simple things that I was taught in practice are the simple things that I needed to utilize in the race.  And it’s just that.  If you go into a race, and you are over-thinking things, then guys are going to be blowing your doors off. My focus was always - take a deep breath - re-set the clock, almost...

Yes - I have this image of you sitting on the lane marker stand, seemingly oblivious to everything that was going on...what was going through your head at this point?

Well, you know I was actually just thinking about staying calm.  The easiest thing to do is to think about what I don’t need to do.  It definitely seemed that there was a couple of guys that were getting frustrated, but I really didn’t care.  I saw this frustration, and I just thought to myself “yep - got’re done”...every false start, I got more calm, while others got more frustrated.  I recognized that I was running hellified fast in practice, and if I got out behind anyone, then I just needed to calmly go through my transition - to not panic - and my top-speed would win me the race.  If I did that, it was impossible that I would lose.  It didn’t matter who was out there, I knew I could go snatch them.  So yes - my entire thought process was ‘stay relaxed, take a breath, do a decent drive-phase, and then rely on my top-end’.  

So basically, you’re sitting there, just focussing on the basics...

...yes - again - focus and discipline.  My middle 40 I knew was going to be good - it’s like Usain right now - he’s not going to snatch anyone in the first 40, but he knows that no one can touch him in the middle 40.  I knew I had the fastest top-end speed, and it’s something I had to keep in my mind.  I fed off this...

Who’s success do you admire the most?

Muhammad Ali, definitely.  I love the swagger.  Pele - he was the best.  But if I had to pick one, it’s got to be Ali!

Ali was a one-man show - just like track and field.  He had to stand in front of a crowd.  

There’s a lot of similarities between boxing and sprinting.  

There’s huge similarities between boxing and sprinting.  

You’re good friends with Lennox Lewis who lives down here just around the guys ever talk about that? The similarities...

Absolutely.  A lot...
I didn’t get to enjoy Lennox’ career as much as I could have, since I was competing at the same time.  But Ali - he professionalized boxing...made it possible for guys like Lennox to come through...

...and another guy I have a ton of respect for, that I have to mention: I completely respect Carl Lewis.  Again - someone who professionalized track and field.  He was going to make sure that sponsors and meet directors recognized the fact that he was a superstar!  And he was going to get paid like a superstar for his time, his God-given talent.  And that allowed guys like me, Linford, Usain Bolt today to command what they do because it is a professional sport...and that was down primarily to Carl.  

But Ali is the one for me.  When We Were Kings sits right next to my TV - right next to Scarface - the two movies that I love the most...

Did you meet him in Atlanta?

...absolutely.  I made sure of it.  The two greatest days in my life is 1) meeting Muhammed Ali in Atlanta, and him whispering to me “you’re the man!” - it’s funny, it was like I was a three-year old child.  And to this day, I’m pissed off with myself...the only thing I didn’t do is take a photo with him - terrible.  A legend...saying to me “you’re the man!”, and I’m saying to him “ha!  No - you’re the man!” - it was the greatest exchange ever, and I don’t have a photo of it!

And the second one was having dinner with Nelson Mandela in Toronto - two of the most incredible human beings on this planet.  Muhammed Ali for sport, Nelson Mandela as a man.  A big man amongst boys.  He’s a man against every other man in the world...

What are you most proud of?

Generally, I’m proud that I have been successful.  I’m happy that my mother - before she got Alzheimer's - got to see me be successful.  Am proud now that my father is my best friend, and he gets to share in that success.  

From a sporting perspective, I am proud that I had some incredible people around me - some great training - some great coaching - and it gave me the ability to be successful financially.  And I guess, in the modern world, this becomes the true meaning of success - when you have the ability to retire, and to do what it is you want to do.

There is a huge pendulum for me when we talk about ‘success’ - I’m a very teachable student - and I remain that way.  I was taught by very good people - my parents - to listen, to try to understand, and to learn from people who know more than I do.   

So that’s generally.  Is there anything specific that makes you proud when you look back at your career?  I mean - the obvious one is Atlanta, but do you look at it that way, or do you look at it more from a career perspective? 

Yes - for me - it’s the totality of it all.  If for instance, you ask me what my favorite race was it was one where I came fourth, in 1994 in Rome.  The Golden Gala.  Dan had always told me that I belonged - he saw my work ethic - he saw that I was focussed and disciplined, and I was very blessed in character...

What happened in Rome? was my first year on the circuit.  First time on a big stage - 80,000 people in the stands, and the most incredible sprinters of all-time in the field: Carl Lewis, Frankie Fredericks, Leroy Burrel, Mike Marsh..and I was leading the race.  At 80m!  So I knew I belonged, but I decided I should look around - see where they were.  I shouldn’t be leading this race at 80m against these guys!  Well - I came fourth.  So clearly, I belonged, but I wasn’t ready for the big stage yet, because I was concerned with what everyone else was doing.  Yes - I was respectful of them - and I’m still respectful of these guys today - but at the end of that race, I realized “yes - I respect you, but I’m about to kick your ass next time I see you....that is not going to happen again!”

And that was due to my coaching, the environment that I was training in - LSU had the best team in the NCAAs - I was training with some incredible guys - and every single day in practice was competition.  The place exuded success.  And it wasn’t cockiness or arrogance.  It was just about expectation.  Whether it was jumping into the pit, or driving out of the blocks - everything was a competition.  I’m trying to beat you.  And you’re trying to beat me.  We gave it every single thing that our body would allow.  And these are all of the things that we need in today in Canada, because the Jamaicans are leaving us in the dust.  

In 1998, you completely ruptured your Achilles.  Fairly early into your track career - at least fairly early into the success you were beginning to enjoy - no one had ever come back from such an injury.  What made you attempt to come back?

I could have easily retired - I was the number one sprinter in the world, I held every single title up until that time.  But, I remember there was this doctor I was watching on TV - Mark Lindsay and I were watching it together.  And he said “Donovan Bailey will never sprint again”, and that was it...I’m like, ‘who the Hell is this guy?  He doesn’t know me!  He can’t say stuff like that!’  I said ‘Mark, let’s do it!’

So the challenge....I saw it as a dare.  

So I came back - in 1999, I competed sparingly.  I wasn’t really ready to run fast.  I ran at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg - I wanted to run in front of the home crowd.  

And then I definitely got my swagger back in 2000.

So, would you say that you lost your swagger a little bit?  You lost a little confidence?  How did the injury affect you that way?

Yes - absolutely - in 1999 - it definitely effected me mentally.  I’m used to my body feeling and reacting a certain way.  I’m used to a rhythm that I feel when I’m going down the track.  And when you’re not firing the way they ought to - and I knew my body so well - it was essentially I had one side of my body in full acceleration mode, and another side of my body that was accelerating and stepping on the brakes at the same time.  I was a Ferrari where on one side I had two extremely good tires, and on the other side, I had two tires from a pick-up truck!  So that was very tough mentally to deal with.

But in 2000, I got it back.  I got my swagger back heading into the Olympics in Sydney.  I knew - by running 9.98 in Lucerne - that I was ready for the Olympics.  Now - having bronchial pneumonia is not something I expected!  It’s not something you can think about.  It’s not something I had ever had before.  And I was very unsatisfied.  Because Sydney was a place where I really should have medalled.  Definitely.  

But it was becoming very mentally draining for me.  My body wasn’t reacting the way my mind was, and I thought that it would best to finish my career in front of my home fans in Edmonton.  To celebrate in front of the crowd in Edmonton was the very best way that I could say farewell, and to hopefully inspire the next generation of Canadian sprinting.

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Donovan Bailey is best known for setting a World Record in winning Olympic Gold at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.  Voted by Track and Field News as the sprinter of the decade in the 1990s, Donovan also won 4x100m relay gold, is a three-time World Champion, eight-time Canadian Champion, Pan American Games Champion, Goodwill Games Champion, Commonwealth Games Champion, and still holds the world record for the 50m. In 1997, he solidified his standing as the Fastest Man in the World by beating Michael Johnson in a 150m race in Toronto.  He was the first sprinter to reach in excess of 12m/s. He is also the only person to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame as both an individual and as part of a team.  

Give him a follow at @DonovanBailey

and check out the awesome '96 final here...

watching that again, I really feel for think it was a FS?  I'm not so sure...will need to talk to him about it...
All Donovan would say, with a slight smile, was "...that last one was VERY close..."

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

'get stuck in'/the power of the network...a guest-post from Marcin Goszczynski

Let me ask you a question:

“Do you want a surgeon who knows how the heart works or a 
surgeon who knows how to work on the heart?

Easy answer, right?

I'm about to save you hundreds of dollars and countless hours.  

  • Never again, shall you visit the self-improvement section in Borders or Chapters...

  • Never again, will you spend your evenings listening to the preaching of Tony Robbins, Dale Carnegie, Stephen Covey, or Dr Phil...

  • Never again, will you need to search the 'inspiration' section of TEDTalks...

Because I'm about to sum up the entirety of this multi-billion dollar 'self-help' industry in three words. 

Almost a decade before Nike developed their famous slogan, my soccer-coach father repeatedly bellowed a different three words to my teammates and I: 

"get stuck in!"

Thinking about it is not enough.  Philosophizing on it won’t get you anywhere. Sleeping on it doesn’t work.  You see, you don’t know what you know until you’ve tested it in the real world.

And the only way to test it is to 'get stuck in'. 

Early in my coaching career, I understood that there were two ways to influence mechanics: 1) what you say to the athlete; and 2) what you do with the athlete.  I learned the benefits of performance therapy, while not necessarily knowing how to apply it.  I did not, though, spend the next six months taking courses and reading books on therapy (at least not exclusively).  I started doing it.  

I got stuck in. 

I figured out why it was working while I was doing it. This is a simultaneous process. It has to be...

And that's the key...balancing the empirical with the theoretical.  

Understanding why something works is essential to our growth.  But waiting will get us nowhere....we’ll become paralyzed.  

By ignorance...




As an illustration, consider the thought experiment ‘Buridan’s Donkey’, named after medieval philosopher and priest Jean Buridan. An equally thirsty and hungry donkey is faced with a dilemma: standing exactly midway between a pail of water and a stack of hay, the rational donkey becomes paralyzed with indecision.  He needs a reason to choose one over the other, but in his indecision, he dies of both starvation and thirst.  

The message is an obvious one...

...the donkey encourages and challenges young coaches to just get to work.  You have a theory?  Try it out!  Where’s the harm?  

Of course, experimenting willy-nilly will get you nowhere.  

You need a starting point.  A springboard.  

And that’s where building an effective network comes in.  

Years ago - along with Matt Jordan, Scott Maw, and Jason Poole - I helped develop and teach a Strength and Conditioning practicum at the University of Calgary.  One of the first students to come through the program was Marcin Goszczynski.  A talented speedskater, Marcin was nearing the end of his career, and was interested in getting into coaching.  Within three months of joining our practicum, Marcin was getting his hands dirty.  Working with University athletes and teams, he quickly began to build the experience that sees him now in the early stages of a successful career as a coach and therapist, working with Canadian National Teams, and traveling the globe. The practicum provided Marcin with the beginnings of a network.  It gave him the confidence to go out and explore...

With our encouragement, Marcin got stuck in.  With our supervision, we gave him the freedom to experiment.  To hypothesize.  And to find his own solutions.  

This week’s guest-post discusses the importance of empirical learning.  Of developing a strong support network.  And of getting stuck in!

Evolution: Athlete > Student > Coach > Therapist...
a guest-post from Marcin Goszczynski

You know that awkward and uncomfortable feeling of being in a position of importance, expected to know all the right answers and/or actions and simultaneously feeling completely under prepared?

Some people thrive in those situations and are able to fake it til' they make it, but this is one skill I am not very good at. 

I began working as a Strength and Conditioning coach and Performance therapist five years ago. I thought - naively in hindsight - that an eighteen-year speed skating career, eight years of post secondary education and a dozen-continuing education courses would suffice to mitigate that feeling of under-preparedness. 

Cumulatively, twenty-seven years of experience sounds pretty good to begin one’s profession with confidence right? Somewhere down the line, though, there was a disconnect from my knowledge base to the actual daily requirements of coaching and therapy in high performance sport.

And it became apparent that I wasn’t going to figure this out on my own. There was no book called, ‘The Complete Step by Step Guide To Developing A World Class Athlete’ - at least not that I could find...

I knew three things: 
  • I wanted and needed to continue learning 
  • I was going to need some help 
  • It wasn’t going to be easy

So what to do?

I was fortunate.  Fortunate to have been surrounded by a network of professionals who took the time to help me through my journey. Fortunate for having the ability to ask and bounce ideas off experts with real life experience. And most importantly, fortunate that this network, and the guidance it provided, accelerated my development ten-fold - to the point where I now make my living in high-performance sport.

Whether it was Matt Jordan, Scott Maw, Shayne Hutchins, Dr Bryan Myles, Stu McMillan, Dan Pfaff, or countless others, they all opened their doors to me and were happy to teach me everything they knew that I wanted to know. 

Evolution - defined as a product of development - requires a stimulus to elicit an adaptation. Ensuring that the stimulus is appropriate is critical. By establishing relationships with these guys - by building a network - I have found that my knowledge base has improved exponentially.  Empirical learning is the key to figuring out how it is actually done in the real world of high-performance sport.  

It has been the key to my evolution.  

If I could offer one piece of advice for upcoming - or even established - coaches and therapists, it would be to build a support network with as many quality professionals as possible. 

Diversify the network in terms of areas of expertise - for seldom will you meet one person with all the answers. 

Keep your mind open to the possibility of allowing new ideas to formulate upon existing ones. 

thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed it, 
please share on Facebook or tweet it out!

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Marcin’s Polish-born parents emigrated to Canada when he was young.  Encouraged to take up speedskating, Marcin quickly excelled, and spent time on both the Canadian and Polish National Teams, and raced professionally for a Dutch marathon team. Marcin competed at a number of World Cups, and placed 22nd at the 2005 World Marathon Championships.  

Marcin has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Kinesiology from the University of Calgary and a two-year diploma in massage therapy from Mount Royal University. He is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with the NSCA and is A.R.T certified. Operating his own consulting business, he primarily contracts his services to the Canadian Sports Centre, working with athletes in speedskating, bobsleigh, skiing, hockey, track & field, swimming, and cycling.

Give him a follow @Mars_TS

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Jamaican Swagger...

12 year-old Kimone Shaw

“The stands were a stand-in for Jamaica, a nation of passionate, noisy, tribal people.  We Jamaicans are most at ease in disorder; not, of course, to the extreme - just enough so we can do our thing our way”. 
- Jamaican writer Colin Channer

Last Saturday, drums were beating. Vuvuzelas blaring. A large, loud and colorful crowd congregated inside the National Stadium in Kingston, and watched two 15 year old boys run the 400m in under 47 seconds.  

...and get dusted.  

The winner tore 6/10ths of a second off the previous competition record to win in 46.64.

While a 13 year old boy ran 10.85 and 21.87.   

A 15 year-old boy ran 20.63. 

A 16 year-old high-jumped 2.19m.

A 17 year-old beanstalk threw the shot out and over the sector. 

An 18 year-old boy ran 10.28 and 20.27, and split 45.2.

And an 18 year-old girl ran 22.98 into a headwind.  

Yet none of these was the outstanding performer of the competition.

That title goes to 12 year old (!) Kimone Shaw, who set National records in the 100m (11.75), 200m (24.28), and long jump (5.52m).  

I’ll repeat that...12 years old!!!

This is Champs...

...officially, the greatest high school track and field competition in the world.  

This year was the greatest Champs in history.  30 records were set.  And I was there to enjoy it...

I’ve spent the last month in Jamaica, and aside from doing a lot of nothing, I have spent a ton of time at tracks, talking to coaches, watching young athletes train, talking to former athletes, and trying to further understand what exactly it is about this tiny island that enables it to produce such outstanding sprinters.  I’ve been here before...many times.  In fact, this is my 15th trip here.  But this is the first time I’ve been here since Jamaica began to absolutely dominate the world sprint scene.  

And I want to know why...

Boys' Champs winners - Calabar

I’ve been staying with an old friend of mine - former Canadian sprinter, world record holder, and Olympic Champion Donovan Bailey.  For over two decades, we have discussed high performance sport, success, sprinting, coaching, etc.  Over the last four weeks, these discussions have intensified - as both of us are enjoying a little down-time.  And - after a long trip back  over the hills to Montego Bay from Kingston last week, we joked that we should tape some of these chats.  

So I did.  

We rehashed some of these same conversations - discussing Donovan’s career, Jamaican dominance, track in the UK, and the current state of affairs in Canada.  

And over the next little while, I’ll share some of the details of these conversations, as well as discuss some of my thoughts on the current state of sprinting in Jamaica and elsewhere...

But we will start with Donovan: 

Jamaican Sprinting...

SM: With CHAMPS recently celebrating their 100th anniversary, why is it that we have only seen sustained international success over the last 6 or 7 years?

DB: I think that today, there’s a different swagger - a different sense of accomplishment - a difference sense of belonging - a different sense of dominance...

Both Linford and I learnt at an early age - being born in Jamaica, and moving to first-world countries - that the culture of Jamaica - the infrastructure that was here at the time - and still is - instilled in us the attitude that we would be the very best we could be.  We were exposed to the very best right from day one.  It was expected of us.  Linford dominated because that was his attitude. Because of his upbringing, he understood that he could show up and dominate.  I grew up in the exact same way.  Competing at Champs gives you the confidence that when you compete on the big stage, you are not scared.  From the time you are 12, 13 years old, you are competing in front of 50,000 people inside a pressure cooker.  World Championships and Olympic Finals are just extensions of that.  At 13, 14, 15, 16 years old you have to deliver for your school.  It’s huge pressure...

Sitting out there last week, that’s what I was thinking....these kids must be feeling comparable pressure as to what you felt back in '96 in Atlanta...30-40,000 people going crazy, and they’re just kids

...yes - absolutely - probably more so...

So do you feel, then, that if you had moved to Canada when you were 5 - instead of 12, and had your early competitive track and field experiences in Canada - and not Jamaica - do you think you would have enjoyed the same success later on?

I think psychologically I still would have been pretty strong.  My parents taught me to be a very strong person mentally. Whatever I pursued, I had to give it my all - whether it was in the classroom, or basketball, or whatever.  However, the kids now - just because of the pressure they are subject to - and the immense depth that now exists in Jamaica means they’re taking it to another level.  We’re just seeing the beginning.  But to answer the question, I personally feel that in my situation, I would have excelled in either country because of the values that my parents instilled in me.  The present culture in Jamaica obviously makes it easier for everyone today though.

These kids are also technically sound - they’re being taught the right things.  Coaching has gotten better in Jamaica.  I know for a fact that some of the people in Jamaica that have not got enough credit are those that went over the the States in the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s on scholarships who were incredible athletes who have now returned to coach  and to teach.  And these guys don’t get enough credit.  

The grassroots training in Jamaica is the very best in the world.  The very best.  No other country is even close.  The sport matters here.  From children of 4, 5, 6 years old - training for track and field matters.  It’s like hockey in Canada, or basketball or football in the US.  

If you took Champs away.  Took the Regionals away.  Took away Gibson Relays.  And it just became a participation sport...even though the sport is still huge - it is still loved - say the way the sport is loved in the UK - without that nadir of competition to strive towards, do you think we would see the kind of athletes we saw last week?

No - not at all.  One of the things we are taught now in first-world countries is that it’s all about participation.  It’s different here.  Intense competition provides an expectation.  Absolutely absurd expectation!  Jhevaughn Matherson, Kimone Shaw - these are kids that are 12 and 13 years old, and they’re doing things now that would make most national teams in the world...

Talk about swagger!
...we watched these guys finish their races, and the cameras are jammed up into their faces, and it’s natural for them.  Like they’re used to it...
these are grown people...

...exactly, they are getting into their starting blocks as kids and coming out as adults...dealing with adult-like pressures...and they’re delivering - pointing to the stands when they’re done, acknowledging their audience!  You cannot replicate this - anywhere.  You just can’t...

These guys now are just doing the same things as Usain was doing a decade’s nothing new.  

You think some of the things we are seeing now - 30 records were set last week - is a lot of that due to Usain?  

I think because Jamaica is a huge track country, I wouldn't attribute it all to Bolt.  It was started in the late 60s with Donald Quarrie.  Continued through the 80s with Merlene Ottey.

And then Linford came along - a proud Jamaican-born Brit who competed for England - and then I came through, winning and setting a World Record in 1996, and most definitely Asafa must be given some credit.  But yes - a majority of this has to do with Usain, and his popularity.  He stayed home, and achieved tremendous success under his coach Glenn Mills...

So essentially, Bolt was the tipping wasn’t really until he came through - starting doing some truly freaky stuff, when we began seeing some of the performances like we saw last week.  

...yeh - sort of.  From a home-grown talent perspective, Asafa was out there doing damage - dominating.  It is just that he never got that big title.  

We have spoken of that said that maybe one of the reasons that Asafa has had his troubles in major finals was because he never really had the Champs experience (he competed twice for Charlemont High School.  In 2000, he was knocked out in the heats of both the Class One 100m and the 200m, while in 2001, he finished 7th in the 100m). He never really experienced the pressures that these other kids have...

Yes - exactly.  you learn very young that there is pressure.  Asafa never went through it, and now on the big stage, he gets scared...while with Bolt now, it’s just another day.  

One of the reasons why a lot of the American sprinters all seem to show up at big meets is because they’re used to being challenged.  They’re used to the pressures of competition.  They have had to compete their entire lives.  From kids right up to college, where they compete almost every weekend...they learn to COMPETE.

Absolutely.  But unfortunately for them, they’re competing against an island where track and field is the national sport.  This adds an additional level of intensity.  So they’re not afraid.  When I started to compete, my own teammates were scared of American sprinters.  American sprinters walked in with swagger, saying ‘listen - we’re going to kick your ass’...but I was never going to take a backseat to that.  I had a great coach and a great team around me, so whenever I went into competition, I knew I was ready to compete - and to beat - the very best in the world.  

And that’s what Jamaica has now - that SWAGGER.  Saying ‘listen - I have trained.  I am ready.  I have a good coach, and I don’t care who is here.  I’m going to do my thing’.  

The greatest thing about the kids competing now is that swagger.  I had that, and some of it rubbed off on other members of the relay team.  Individually, they knew that they were never going to be the best in the world, but they knew that with Bruny and I on there, we could beat anyone.  The confidence is contagious...

That’s what Jamaica has now - they’re not even concerned who they are competing against....they couldn’t care less!  I love that!

So what needs to change, then?  What can the UK do?  What can Canada do?  

From an athlete’s perspective, the very first thing that you need to have is a winning attitude.  You need to be 100% confident in your coach, in your program, in your training, in your training partners.  

You also need leadership from the top.  You need coaches who have had success, and know how to develop it.  I am talking about legitimate, international success.  You need Olympic champions, world champions, world record holders, involved in the programs - people who have done it, and understand the unique determinants of success.  In sport, you can give a man a shot, but when we have qualified people it should be a very easy call.  The UK has had a great deal of successful ex-champions, who they have involved in the sport over the years.

Canada is a different story.  Canada is not involving their ex-champions at all.  I don‘t care what sport it is, whether it is hockey, basketball, skiing, what have you - ex-champion athletes are the ones you reach out to first, have them sit on the board, ask them advice, and that has just not happened.  

In Jamaica, every single person that has ever done something significant for this island internationally is still involved.  Merlene Ottey is involved.  Juliet Cuthbert is involved.  Michael Greene is involved.  Donald Quarrie is involved.  We go to Champs, and Asafa is there.  Yohan is there.  Juliet Cuthbert, Juliet Campbell, Shelley-Ann Fraser are all there...  And it could be at any level - whether it is in media, coaching, administrative.  Whatever it is - a basic model, where everyone is part of the team.  That’s what I want to happen.

Canadian Program...

Have you ever been asked to be involved in the Canadian set-up?


Why’s that?

I don’t know.  It’s something that I want to do.  It’s something I have coveted.  My attitude towards the Canadian program is this: I am about pure success.  That’s all I care about.  I do not need to go into a program to kiss someone’s ass because I need a job.  Just the same as when I was competing.  I would walk in and if there was something I could contribute to, I would do so 100%, but only if it would further the chance for success.  If it was therapy.  Or coaching.  Or nutrition.  Whatever...

But too often, the people in charge are more concerned with just keeping hold of their jobs.  Success is not a concern...

As the best sprinter in Canadian history, all I want for the kids that are competing right now is for them to look at 9.84 as a National record, and realize that that is what they should do in the very first competition of the year...I am looking forward to handing the title of the fastest man in the world to someone in Canada again.  But clearly, the country has a long ways to go, and is sipping further and further away.

So why is it then that Canada doesn’t involve you?  For example, the UK a few years ago had a mentorship program, where they involved athletes such as Linford Christie and Katharine Merry in mentoring the younger athletes - teaching them what were the expectations.  This is what is necessary to achieve success.  This is what we did to reach the success that we enjoyed...etc.

I think that’s a great idea.  In Canada, we have no such program...never have.  One of the first things I think the country should do is orchestrate such a program - covered by the Federation, by OTP, the COC - whatever - these are things that actually matter, and we would see success.  But someone has to take the initiative to actually do it.  

A perfect example is your event.  After your generation, we saw a pretty strong group of young sprinters in Canada, running fast times as 19-20 year olds.  They peaked early, then floundered for the remainder of their careers.  Perhaps with someone who had been there-done that helping to guide them, then we would have seen two or three of these guys break though...but instead, they made poor decisions, and their potential was wasted...

Right, right...
What you need to to is 1) and I say this to all the kids now - you have to be somewhere that is warm.  You need to be somewhere that you can run 120, 150, 180m outside under the sun.  You just have to;  and 2) you have to be in a training environment that includes other fast guys.  I would never have achieved the success that I did if I had not gone to Baton Rouge, LA, and then to Austin, TX.  There was an environment of success.  And success at all levels - baseball, basketball, football, track and field  - whatever.  It penetrated everything.  It oozed success.  

The Relay Program?

In Canada, we’re building a relay program...this makes no sense.  There should be no such thing as a relay program.  The relay program is made up of four fast men - and what you need to have a successful ‘relay program’ is have four fast men running fast individual 100m, and then you do a relay.  

These guys have it backwards!  

Even in my time - there were a few times when people thought that we would threaten the world record.  There was no chance of that.  We had myself as the world record holder.  Bruny - a top ten guy in the world.  And two 10.4 guys.  How could we possibly break the world record?  At no point, were we ever going to threaten a world record.  It just didn't compute.  Now we have Jamaica re-writing the record books because we have the three fastest sprinters in the world, and the fourth guy is also in the top ten!  That’s what breaks records.  

Jamaica doesn’t have a relay program.  Nor does the US.  

Canadian Sprinters

I like the guys running in Canada today - they are as talented as we were, but the problem is they’re focussing on the relay.  The relay will not make you fast.  It won’t make you anything.  You’re not going to get into the Hall of Fame running the relay unless you become Olympic Champion.  You’re not going to be Olympic Champion in the relay unless you have some real good raw speed.  You won’t be Olympic Champion in the relay without having some guys who can make the final in the 100m.  

The relay program works very well if you’re Japan.  Or Holland.  And you just want to make a final, and hope for the best.  Because you just don’t have the horses.  Canada has immense talent.  This should not be the goal for Canada.  I look at Justyn Warner for example.  Based on his anchor leg in London, Justyn Warner should be running 9.8-9.9 all day long.  No question.  He’s a top ten sprinter in the world.  Absolutely.  I just don’t want Canada to go back to the complacency of just ‘getting a uniform’.  And that’s the road I fear they’re traveling...

Would you fund these guys?  Say you’re Canada - you’ve got half a dozen pretty fast dudes, but none of them breaking through.  Would you fund them?  

Yes - but in a different way.  I think if you put together ten guys, have them all train together.  Give them the chance to race on the circuit.  Make a living - then absolutely, I would fund them.  Again, a mentorship program here is key.  It starts with establishing the right environment - explaining to them what the right environment could be - explain to them the necessary work level.  The necessary nutritional expectations.  Therapy.  Sleep.  Rest.  The importance of all these things.  Absolutely - I would be in favor of funding such a program.  But not a relay program, for the sake of running a fast relay.  

Kevin Tyler - he was our Head of Coaching at UKA for the last four years before his contract expired following the London Olympics - talks about the two keys to developing track and field success in Canada: 1) camps, and 2) coaching.  Camps are essential, as we do not have the weather, like you said.  Would you agree with this?

Absolutely.  I agree with Kevin 100%.  I left Canada, and that’s why I became Olympic Champion.  This would not have happened had I stayed.  Kevin’s got it nailed on.  One of the incredible things that Kevin did - he actually built a great program in Edmonton from nothing.  Great enough that he was essentially ‘stolen’ by the British guys to help build their team.  Now - if we have a Canadian - and we have just finished talking about a mentorship program where I would like to be involved - now Kevin Tyler left Canada, went to the UK, and now his contract is up.  If I were Athletics Canada, or OTP, or COC, or whoever makes these decisions...the day that Kevin Tyler left England - the day - that afternoon - he would have a contract in his hands for five years minimum.  At least.  

Because, here you have a guy who’s sole focus is on one thing: success.  He’s not concerned with much else.  I believe that Kevin just wants every single one of these kids to have an opportunity to succeed.  How we prepare them, and then stick them in the blocks.  Then your failure, or your success is right between your ears.  Honestly, if I were Athletics Canada, or if I were one of these guys who is in charge of hiring the new coaches in Canada, a contract would have been in Kevin’s hands five minutes after he left the UK.  It’s been far too long that Athletics Canada has been run the wrong way.  We need for someone to come in with a new view...

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Donovan Bailey is best known for setting a World Record in winning Olympic Gold at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.  Voted by Track and Field News as the sprinter of the decade in the 1990s, Donovan also won 4x100m relay gold, is a three-time World Champion, eight-time Canadian Champion, Pan American Games Champion, Goodwill Games Champion, Commonwealth Games Champion, and still holds the world record for the 50m. In 1997, he solidified his standing as the Fastest Man in the World by beating Michael Johnson in a 150m race in Toronto.  He was the first sprinter to reach in excess of 12m/s. He is also the only person to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame as both an individual and as part of a team.  

Give him a follow at @DonovanBailey