BY DANIA BOGLE Observer staff reporter
Sunday, July 25, 2010
WORLD-renowned track coach Glen Mills has credited relaying a proper foundation with the steady improvement of newly-minted national 400-metre record-holder Jermaine Gonzales.
Gonzales set a new national record and posted a world-leading 44.40 seconds in winning the event at the IAAF Monaco Diamond League meeting in Fontvieille last Thursday.
Jermaine Gonzales competes in the 400 metres last week in Monaco. (Phoot: AP)
[Hide Description] Jermaine Gonzales competes in the 400 metres last week in Monaco. (Phoot: AP)
It follows a season of steady lowering of his times from 46.71 at the Camperdown Classic in February to 45.22 at the Jamaica International Invitational in May, to 44.72 in Lausanne on July 8, and 44.63 in Paris-St Denis on July 16.
It also comes eight years after Gonzales first threatened to be the next great Jamaican quarter-miler after claiming bronze at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston.
The athlete spent the better part of the remainder of the decade struggling with injury which either kept him out of competition or on the brink.
After travelling overseas and working with specialists to discover the root of the problem, it has taken less than two seasons with Mills – who also conditions double sprint world record-holder Usain Bolt – for Gonzales to begin realising some of the promise he showed in his early years.
Mills told the Sunday Observer the mentorship of former 400m world champion Bert Cameron and laying the right foundation off the track is the reason behind Gonzales’ outstanding showing this season.
“Before we think of running fast times we try to deal with the problem that is causing them not to perform, and so in his (Gonzales) first year we worked on him to develop his overall physical strength, his flexibility, improve his nutrition and hydration… all the things that we were given to assess that we felt were not up to the mark,” he explained.
He added that the athlete suffered from a lot of cramps, which suggested problems with hydration and nutrition.
“… Making the same mistake year after year, but we tend to focus on the track alone sometimes and the problem is outside of the box, so if you’re not taking a global approach you can miss the factors while you’re trying to correct what you think is the problem on the track,” he added.
Mills said that the first season of work enabled Gonzales to qualify for last year’s IAAF World Championships in Berlin as a member of the Jamaican relay team with fairly modest times.
"They were not spectacular times, but the important thing was that for the first time in two or three years he was able to compete for the entire year.
“With that foundation laid to correct the majority of the problem, the foundation was laid for the next year that you see the result of now,” he added.
Mills said a similar method was employed for Bolt who started training with him in 2005 after also suffering similar problems, which was at the time put down to “growing pains”.
It was under Mills’ tutelage that Bolt moved from being the 200-metre World Junior record-holder to competing in his first 100-metre race in 2007 to breaking the world record in both events five times within the last two years.
Mills also coaches National 100m Junior record-holder Yohan Blake and former National 400m champion Ricardo Chambers, who were also in stunning form in Monaco.
Blake became the second fastest Jamaican over 200 after running a blistering 19.78secs for second place, while Chambers was just behind Gonzales in the men’s 400 in a personal best 44.54.
“I’m not surprised his (Blake) 200 is so good,” Mills stated.
He said the focus initially for the 20-year-old, who joined his camp in 2008, was not on the 200 because he was closer to world-class level in the shorter sprint.
“We felt it would be easier for him to make the Jamaica side, if it was even the relays, to get him to international games,” Mills told the Sunday Observer.
He added that Blake still has a problem in the beginning of his race which has prevented him from competing in more 200s, though he said the athlete might be in action again at the Weltklasse Zurich later this summer.
"He still has a lot more to learn and a lot more to master to take him to the top echelon of sprinting in the world, but he is a tremendous talent. Once he gets going and gets it right, you will see outstanding performances from him.
“We’re working on that and as soon as he masters it, the 200 will become a permanent part of his armoury,” he said.
Chambers is coached exclusively by Mills, who explained that twice last season the athlete suffered with illness which severely hampered his training.
“Thank God he’s healthy now and getting back on track and he, too, will be shooting for the stars.”
Meanwhile, Mills said Cameron has been an invaluable addition to the coaching staff.
“Bert brings to the table not only his coaching experience, but also experience as a quarter-miler and a world champion and somebody like Gonzales who needed that kind of support benefits from that.”
Mills said both Chambers and Gonzales have the potential to medal at next year’s World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, adding that hopefully by then, Blake would also have mastered enough to be a serious contender in what would be his first World Championships.