I know it is way too early to put such high expectations on any athlete, but is Javon Francis the athlete who will start the trend to take Jamaica out of the quarter-mile doldrums? The two major Jamaican newspaper featured him for their sports headlines coverage of the February 14 development meet. He ran an incredible 46.28 in the male 400m at the meet, but based on world standards, this is not really great.
Nevertheless, he looked as if he was doing a stroll in the park. It is long overdue to see some positive change in Jamaica's male senior 400m performance. Francis 4x400m leg at the Moscow 2013 world championship shows that he is a fighter who refuses to lose. Sometimes that is even more important than talent, though we can never question the talent of Francis. Francis' 45.00 seconds ran last year at the Jamaica High School Athletic Championship after coming off injury has said a lot.
Some may wonder what the big deal is, after all, we see the US produce quarter-milers who can run 44 seconds on a routine basis. For me that is not the point. The point is that we are seeing someone with promise who we believe have the talent, work ethics, the belief and the will to be a world class athlete or be able to challenge for a podium position. It has been a long time since Jamaica has produced a male athlete who has consistently made the 400m final on the world senior stage. Many for a while thought it would have been Jermaine Gonzales; unfortunately injury has plagued his career. He was the last male finalist for Jamaica at the senior championship – he placed fourth in the 2011 world championship. It has also been rumored that he is expected to make a return, but how much can we expect? He is 30 years old, going on 31 in November. After years of injury, is it plausible to expect he will recover and become the leader of the Jamaican quarter-milers?
There are many who have been around for years and the time has passed for any expectations above what we have been seeing from them. It is not that I am diminishing anyone's hard work or accomplishment, but the fact of the matter is that Jamaica has not come close to an individual male 400m gold medal since Bertland Cameron did it at the 1983 Helsinki World Championship. Since then, Gregory Haughton is the only one to win individual medals in both the Olympics and world championship (bronze in both the 1995 world championship and 2000 Olympics). There were finalist representing Jamaica for a number of years but since 2011 there has not been anyone.
Now we look for young Javon Francis to be the trailblazer. Francis is with his high school coach, Michael Clarke, and some may question this situation and wonder aloud why not transition to an established professional coach. I look with great anticipation because his coach Michael Clarke is a proven winner for years producing many champion high school athletes. To win consistently at the Jamaican High School Championship as he does takes great management skills, dedication, knowledge, experience, and strong will.
Mr. Clarke might not have coached an Olympic quarter miler before, but look at Mr. Mills and Mr. Francis before they produced the great Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Bridgette Foster, Asafa Powell, Shelly Ann Fraser price etc. I believe similar to the short sprints and hurdles, someone has to start somewhere and if recent history is our guide, starting to develop professional quarter-milers locally is as good as any other place. Moreover, we have seen the consistent improvement of Francis for the past three years. The improvements were significant and not many had the expectation that transferring to Calabar High School would lead to Javon Francis running 45.00 seconds a few years later. This is a testament to Coach Clarke's ability to get the best out of his athlete.
I am hoping that Jamaica will pattern the short sprints and develop a great quarter-mile program that will compete with the rest of the world and make its supporters proud. Who is to tell, Javon Francis and his coach, Michael Clarke might be the light to give direction to the end of the tunnel.
It's due time the videos showing Jamaican males winning 400m championships be at a more modern date, starting at 2015 would not be a bad idea. It is incomprehensible that two Olympic years of glory is followed by over 50 years of drought by a country that produces so many great sprinters for the world to enjoy.