It’s the end of an era in Jamaica: Blake on why their male sprinters aren't winning anymore

Published on Jan 12, 2023 10:31 PM IST

Seated in the backdrop of a display from his medal collection in Mumbai, Yohan Blake, the second fastest male sprinter, spoke of the Jamaican 200m 1-2-3 sweep at the 2012 London Olympics as his career’s most special. A decade on, male sprinters from Jamaica are struggling to even get to the 1, 2 or 3, let alone the sweep.

Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake during a press conference, in Mumbai, (PTI)
Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake during a press conference, in Mumbai, (PTI)
ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai

Seated in the backdrop of a display from his medal collection in Mumbai, Yohan Blake, the second fastest male sprinter, spoke of the Jamaican 200m 1-2-3 sweep at the 2012 London Olympics as his career’s most special. A decade on, male sprinters from Jamaica are struggling to even get to the 1, 2 or 3, let alone the sweep.

It tells the tale that, at 33, Blake is still setting the pace for Jamaica's male athletes long after his compatriot, rival and greatest sprinter in history, Usain Bolt, stopped in his tracks. At the Jamaica Track and Field Championships last June, Blake was the 100m champion clocking 9.85s— his best time since 2012—beating Oblique Seville, 21, and Ackeem Blake, 20.

At the postponed Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and the Eugene World Athletics Championships last year, no Jamaican male made the podium in the individual sprint events. The closest to it was Seville who was fourth in the 100m (9.97s) in Eugene. In the men's 4x100m relay in both events, Jamaicans finished fourth. Thank the women—Elaine Thompson-Herah, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson swept the 100m medals in Tokyo—for keeping the Jamaican flag flying at global events.

“Not the female, but male sprinting is dying in Jamaica," Blake said on Thursday on a visit here as the international event ambassador of Tata Mumbai Marathon.

In an interview to Reuters in 2019, Bolt had highlighted the decline in attitude and motivation of the "little bit spoiled" young sprinters of Jamaica. Blake, in the shadow of Bolt for much of his career yet shining on with a couple of Olympic and Worlds gold medals, echoed the view and concern.

“It’s the end of an era in Jamaica," Blake said. "The transition from high schools to professional is not easy (for youngsters in Jamaica). When young athletes suddenly get a lot of money, they start losing their way, start partying a lot. I see that happening a lot in Jamaica. It takes them away from the sport.

“Back in the day when we were running, there wasn’t too much technology, no iPads. Our focus was on sprinting. Now, everybody is just sitting on their phones. That's an issue in Jamaica. We're losing those kids in that transition. It's something that really needs addressing.”

Blake wouldn't give a false dawn to follow his country's golden generation of male sprinters marshalled by Bolt and him.

“I don't see anybody addressing the problem. Everybody just wants to get some money and leave," he said. “The talent is there, but it's to harness that talent and give them proper guidance (which is a challenge).”

Blake’s 9.85s, his best time since his joint second-fastest ever of 9.69s in 2012, at last year’s Jamaican championships showed he still has some wheels, and plenty of motivation, left in those legs. The Eugene Worlds—he didn’t make the 100 or 200m final—might have not gone to plan but Blake wants to correct that in this season’s world event in Budapest.

"I'm very focussed on Budapest. Last year I started the season pretty well. I’m feeling much better, sprinting much better, I'm going to get better this year," he said.

“I have a few more years left. I’m motivated to put my best race forward and be consistent. I want to win another medal or two before I finish.”

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