Thursday, April 18, 2024

Daring to challenge

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WEDNESDAY’S Daily Nation of August 1, 2012 brought back fond memories of early 1958. The venue was Kensington Oval and the inter-School Sports were on display.
The rumour at Harrison College was that this man from Lodge School used to run ten miles from home to school every day and sometimes had to run back home in the morning if he forgot his books, and still arrived early. Perhaps the rumour was fomented by the Lodge schoolboys themselves.
The challenge: how to tame this cheetah! His favourite distance was the quarter mile, but we heard that he was also entered for the 220 yards, one of my favourite distances. I was not worried about the 220 yards, but we were at a loss as to how we could beat him in the quarter mile. As captain of our team, the task fell to me to tame the cheetah from Lodge School.
The much anticipated day arrived. The Kensington Stand was packed. Then came the 100 and 220 yards, and the screams from the stand gave me the lift that brought victory and the feeling of euphoria. But what about the quarter mile!
We knew that Lolly was not a front-runner. He would sit back in the pack almost last until the bend by the 3Ws Stand, then make his move. Our plan was for me to head for the front and put distance between me and the pack. Our games master, the late Stanton Gittens, had positioned himself at about the 150-yard mark just outside of the track.
True to plan, as the gun went off, I headed for the front. Runners must have thought me a madman, but I was sticking to the plan, going great guns around by where the cricket scoreboard is, along the backstretch. I was motoring along feeling good. A glance backward saw Lolly striding easily, but almost last. ‘Got’e!’, I was thinking.
As I rounded the bend, I heard Stanton Gittens’ encouraging cries, ‘Run, Russell, run!’ and I hit the straights in front of the Kensington Stand. I was ahead and I pulled out my auxiliary tank. Nothing! I pulled again. It was empty. There was no more gas to carry me home. I looked for the tape.
It was some 30 yards ahead. Suddenly, I heard “plop”, “plop”, “plop”, “plop”, somebody coming. Then a shadow! Tape 15 yards ahead! Then a figure! Tried the tank once more in desperation. It replied, ‘Yuh joking!’
All I felt were stinging ants in my feet and lungs. My eyes were closing, but I was still able to discern the striding figure of Lolly as he sailed past.
Lolly has been my friend since then. I had the unfortunate pleasure of competing against one of the Olympic team – the late Keith Gardiner. Keith was also a 110 metres hurdler who had held the Jamaica record. Mal Spence was the quarter-miler, and George Kerr was the half-miler. Mal and Mel Spence were the Jamaican quarter-milers and Lolly did well to separate them.
It was a signal honour to be the first Barbadian to win a medal in track at the Olympics and the honour went to my good friend Lolly.
The only other time that I felt needles and pins in my feet and lungs was in 1961 in Bogota, where I was competing at 9 000 feet above sea level in a quarter mile relay leg. That day when I handed the baton over to the late Spottie Clarke, my eyes were closed.
I believe that the quarter mile is the most gruelling of races. It is a sprint from start to finish, and those who participate in it are of a different breed.
Lolly, I salute you, and hope that God will give you long life to look at that medal and to remind yourself whenever the Olympics come around that you were there and succeeded.
• Harry Russell is a banker. Email quijote70@gmail.com

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