Jamaica's new crop

Howard Campbell, Sunday Gleaner Writer

GOOD HOME training - like good home cooking - never hurt anyone. And veteran track coach Dennis ‘DJ’ Johnson believes that developing track talent in Jamaica is the main reason for the country’s remarkable showing at the Beijing Olympics.

Most of Jamaica’s successful track athletes at the Games, including triple gold medallist Usain Bolt, train locally. At previous Games, that was not the case; many athletes came up through the college circuit in the United States.

“Here, they have better instruction, we have resources, sponsors,” Johnson told The Sunday Gleaner. “The most important thing is, they’re home where they’re comfortable.”

Locally based

The 100-metre women’s champion Shelly-Ann Fraser and 400-metre hurdles champion Melaine Walker are members of the MVP Club, which has Stephen Francis as its head coach.

Sherone Simpson, silver medallist in the 100 metres, 110-metre hurdles finalist, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, and Asafa Powell and Michael Frater, finalists in the 100 metres, are also MVP members.

Significantly, Bolt - star of the Beijing Games - trains at the University of Technology where the MVP athletes are based.

Some of Jamaica’s greatest athletes, including Herb McKenley, Donald Quarrie, Bertland Cameron, Merlene Ottey, Juliet Cuthbert, Grace Jackson and Deon Hemmings, came up through the competitive US college ranks.

“Track and field in the (United) States is not what it used to be. (edit),” Johnson said.

Traditional track powerhouses like San José State (Johnson’s alma mater), University of Oregon, University of Nebraska (Ottey’s old school) and New York Tech have either shut down or scaled back their programmes (edit).

The Beijing Olympics was the worst in years for US track and field. They struggled in the sprints, dominating only in the 400 metres men’s event where they swept the medals.

Johnson said the US college system had outlived its purpose. Many talented Jamaican athletes, he pointed out, deteriorated once they went overseas.

“What has happened to (Rudolph) Mighty? What has happened to (Tesfa) Latty, (Daniel) England … many more of them? Where are they now?” he asked.


The outspoken Johnson has the credentials to back up his comments. He was a star sprinter for Calabar in the 1950s and ran for Jamaica at two Olympics: Rome in 1960 and four years later in Tokyo.

He was appointed head of the sports programme at the former College of Arts, Science and Technology (now University of Technology) in 1971. That programme produced a handful of athletes who represented Jamaica at the Olympics, Pan American and Commonwealth Games, and evolved into the successful MVP Club.

Wake-up call

Johnson believes the success of UTech and MVP should be a wake-up call for sponsors and Government to give track and field the mass funding it deserves.

“We need to look seriously at the results we are getting from athletes who train on 40 acres,” he said. “Then, look at the amount of money we are spending on our football coaches and getting no results.”