Coach Stephen Francis ® with star pupil Asafa Powell (Getty Images)
Francis: Molding the ‘ordinary’ into global stars
Wednesday 24 May 2006
Kingston, Jamaica - Vincent Francis, known to Jamaicans and indeed the rest of the world as Stephen Francis, is slowly becoming the Angelo Dundee of track and field.
Like the legendary American boxing trainer, Francis has that amazing ability to turn ordinary athletes into world stars at his MVP (Maximising Power and Velocity) Track Club based at the University of Technology in St. Andrew, Jamaica.
The 43-year-old Francis holds a BSC in management studies from the Univeristy of the West Indies and an MBA in finance from the University of Michigan, and could easily have taken up a high paying nine to five job, instead he decided to go full-time into coaching, and the rest as they say is history.
Stephen Francis keeps a watchful eye on pupil Brigitte Foster Hylton
Francis’s genius is best advertised in the performances of the co-World Record holder in the 100m, Asafa Powell, who had a lifetime best of 10.81 when he joined Francis’s camp in 2001. Barely four years he dashed the distance in 9.77 seconds.
There can be no question that Powell’s rise to the top of men’s 100m sprinting has helped to further establish Francis as a coach on the international scene, but the soft-spoken Francis had been working his magic before Powell, from the moment he decided to quit coaching at the high school level in 1999 to concentrate on moving his career to the next level.
100m sprint hurdler Brigitte Foster Hylton was the first to join MVP and like Powell, her improvement was swift, leading to silver at the World Championships in Paris in 2003 and bronze in Helsinki in 2005. She is also the Commonwealth champion and the fastest Jamaican ever over the distance, all of this under the guidance of Francis.
Stephen Francis with Helsinki 100m silver medallist Michael Frater
Since then the likes of Michael Frater, silver medallist in the 100m at the worlds in Helsinki, Sherone Simpson, world and Olympic finalist and current Commonweath champion, Shericka Williams, Jamaica’s 400m champion and Germaine Mason, fourth in the men’s High Jump at the Worlds in Paris, have benefitted from the expertise of Francis. At last count, Francis, who is also head coach of the Univeristy of Technology, had 42 athletes in his camp.
Francis is a master at spotting talent, which many believe is his greatest asset. Powell qualified for the final of the national high school 100m, but was pulled for two false starts. But instead of going for the winner or even one of the top-eight finishers, Francis went for Powell whom he thought had something the others didn’t. The same held true for Simpson who did not win the 100m final at the high school championship, but Francis again, went for her and not the winner, and he continues to do so.
He will be the first to tell you that he is not interested in ready-made athletes. He likes a challenge, and for him there is none better than beating the world with what he terms “his creation”: in other words he makes champions.
Francis and his MVP group will be in Eugene, Oregon this weekend for the Prefontaine Classic.
Wayne Walker for the IAAF