Sunday, April 14, 2024

THE SCORE: Distance runners losing ground


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THERE IS still a long way to go before Barbadian athletes reach their destination in distance running.
This year’s Run Barbados series was another reminder that the gap is still fairly wide between the local competitors and the elite overseas runners.
Even though the overall standard of the field is no longer as high as in the early years, with less than a handful of high-calibre runners, the Bajans are still behind by some distance.
Hence, it wasn’t surprising that no Barbadian managed a top-six position in any of the major races, with Jerome Blackett being the first local runner to finish both the 10K and half-marathon.
Blackett’s 10K time of 35.43 minutes in Saturday’s 10K and the 34.47 in 2011 are still a far cry from the 32.35 Darcy Small (calypsonian Ras Iley) clocked when he finished ninth three decades ago in 1984.
Ten years later, Adrian Clarke (33.03) and Lennox Ellis (33.33.21), the first two Bajans home, were running faster when they came fifth and eighth overall, respectively.
In fact, the late Reuben Bayley, who finished as high as third overall in the very first 10K in 1983, did a time of 34.12 then.
There continues to be a dearth of talent in women’s distance running, with very few females prepared to put in the hard work.
Amanda Maximilien, who was the first Bajan woman to finish the 10K, was 52nd overall with a clocking of 46.28 minutes. Something must be drastically wrong that Barbados can’t find a woman to run a 10K in under 45 minutes.
Sheena Gooding competed last year but we have to start looking to discover another Cheryl Blackman, Jennifer Rudder, Janelle Inniss or Najuma Comissiong.
While Springer Memorial’s Jade Searles has promise, someone in the athletics fraternity should whisper to Mary Fraser that she should concentrate more on distance running than on boxing or even body fitness.
With the organizers having taken the bold decision to discontinue the marathon, veterans Adelbert Browne, Keith Cumberbatch, Andrew “Micey” Greenidge, Eric Worrell, Noel Husbands, Lester Phillips and David Depradine are no longer participating in the annual series, while Emmerson “Horse” Waldron has passed on. To his credit, Reynold Walters continues to compete in the series.
It is noteworthy that the only time Bajans won the marathon during the last three decades was back in 1988 and 1989 when Reuben McCollin and Browne triumphed, respectively. Greenidge’s highest position was second in 1985 when he was just 20 years old.
Even before the Run Barbados series began, Barbados had notable distance runners such as Cleveland Yarde, who was a national champion in the 1960s and won an athletic scholarship to Eastern Michigan University; George Payne, George Griffith, the late Trevor Straughn, Glyne Harper, DaCosta Alleyne and Arlington “Cy” Nurse, to mame a few. There was also Edmund Yarde, who anchored the Barbados 4×4-mile team to third place at the Guinness Road Relay in Trinidad in the early 1970s.
In fact, Payne and Edmund Yarde were fourth and fifth, respectively, when Barbados also hosted a half-marathon back in 1968.
The Barbados flag was flown by others like Bayley, Ras Iley, Leo Garnes and Clarke in the 10K, while I recall other distance runners like Metropolitan’s Louis Trotman and Coleridge & Parry’s Floyd Patrick, who dominated the Waterford cross-country races in the 1970s.
It is no secret that the lack of vision by local athletics officials, and I should add tourism officials – as the Barbados Tourism Authority plays a major role in the series – has contributed to Barbados’ inability to produce quality distance runners in recent times.
How many half-marathons, marathons and 10K events have been staged outside of the Run Barbados series annually?
How many times have runners left these shores to represent Barbados in an international or regional distance race of 10K or longer?
Is it too far-fetched for a Bajan to compete at the Boston or London marathons?
Will Barbados ever get a 5 000 metres, 10 000 metres or a marathon qualifier for the World Championships or Olympic Games?
Why can’t the top three Bajans to finish the 10K and marathon be given all-expenses-paid trips to compete at any high-profile upcoming overseas events?
Will the likes of Blackett, Joshua Hunte, Dario Grandison, winner of the Fun Mile; boxer Keithland King and Orin Josiah, our top-five finishers in the 10K, get any exposure at overseas races before they step on the line for next year’s 10K?
No praise is too high for the efforts of long-serving coach Jerston Clarke and the Wibisco Stars club, who maintained an active distance running training programme in the 1980s and 1990s.
The National Sports Council must also be complimented for staging the schools cross-country relays and the 5K series.
But Barbados needs a proper structure for distance running to organize events not only during the Holetown Festival and the Oistins Festival but also during the annual Crop Over Festival. Another such race can be staged as part of our Independence celebrations, maybe a fortnight before Run Barbados, to serve as a tune-up.
Long distance runners like Browne, Cumberbatch and Greenidge have not been given their due over the years and it would be a very good gesture if they were recognized by naming some aspect of the series after them.
I believe that for each of the major events, the 10K and half-marathon, a minimum of three male and female athletes should be selected to wear the Barbados colours.
While it might not be possible for all local participants to be outfitted in national colours, at least we should make it easy for spectators lining the route to easily recognize the Bajan competitors and cheer for them, giving them that vital, extra encouragement.
As it stands now, everyone wears either their own jersey or that of the club, group or company they are representing.


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