By Raffique Shah
August 17, 2013
The ten leading stories in last Friday’s online Express related to Jehue Gordon’s golden performance at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow. While that was a welcome respite from the daily fare of murder and mayhem, it told a sad story of just how starved this country is for good news.
It’s not that the young hurdler did not deserve the praises heaped on him from all quarters. But for his performance to dominate the news the way it did—and I’m referring to all the local media—is an indictment against this society, trapped as we are in a vortex of “bad news” that’s killing us slowly but surely.
During the week in which Jehue never took his focus off that last hurdle in Thursday’s final run, his cussed homeland was rent asunder by multiple murders of persons his age, some younger. Crime plan after crime plan has yielded little more than brief respites from the bloodletting. As if the young and ruthless are not doing a good enough job of ripping out the innards of the society, our politicians greedily feast off its decaying carcass, destroying the soul of the nation.
Indeed, it was during Gordon’s 47-seconds-run that the Prime Minister and an entourage were visiting the killing fields of Duncan Street, a tiny commune where, police say, 138 young people have been murdered over the past four years. For sure, there is no chance of that district growing over-populated. Adjacent is Nelson Street, little different in its crime complexion. And in the surrounding slums, hills and alley-ways, from Laventille through Morvant, hundreds more die violently, day after day, year after year.
There seems to be no end in sight to the crime spiral. Yet, the police and politicians tell us “serious crime is under control”. They reel off statistics that bear no relevance to what we see and feel on the ground. Singing Sandra’s “Missing Generation” has morphed into the plural. If we save 30 per cent of the under-30s from death, delinquency and destitution through education or sports, we can count that as an achievement.
Which is why, I suppose, Gordon’s golden run means so much to so many. It is comparable to what Keshorn Walcott and his fellow Olympians did for our flagging morale on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Independence last August. The nexus between Walcott and Gordon is uncanny: they are both the youngest competitors in their respective events, the javelin and the hurdles, which are also nontraditional for this country’s athletes.
Let me put Gordon’s achievement in perspective. He had prepared well for this race, the only concern being an injury he referred to after he won in 48 seconds flat at the Monaco Diamond League meet, two weeks before the Worlds. Earlier, he had raced well at home, a sign of things to come. In Moscow, he won each round with seeming ease, getting better every time.
In the final, though, he faced a formidable field. The experienced Michael Tinsley (29 years old) had run faster than 48 seconds twice this season, and held the leading time, making him favourite. Tinsley also won silver in London last year.
At 36, Felix Sanchez, a multiple champion, proved his durability in London last year when he “stole gold” from his younger rivals. Sanchez, whose best time is 47.49, won his first gold at the Worlds in 2001, when Jehue was age ten! He also won Olympic gold in Athens 2004. Javier Culson (29), though not close to his world-leading times of last year, has a personal best of 47.72 and a string of successes in Diamond League meets.
Trinidad-born Kerron Clement (28), with a best time of 47.24 (2005), was world champion in 2007 and 2009, and a silver medalist in Beijing. And Emir Bekrik, Omar Cisneros and Mamadou Hanne registered their form, if not class, before Moscow.
With a star-studded field like that, Gordon had to run the perfect race to win. That he did. He gained ground at every hurdle, and powered past the fast-finishing Tinsley when it mattered most—at the line. His heroics gave this country its only gold medal at the Worlds.
For those who follow athletics closely, Gordon’s golden run was not surprising. What makes the victory sweeter is that he is a 100 per cent local product, much like Walcott. His coaches, the venerable Olympian Edwin Skinner and Ian Hypolite, must be credited for the work they have done.
Now that he is on the cusp of greatness, I hope that the politicians do not derail his focus with parades, awards, rewards, and maybe a cameo platform appearance. Make the champion happy with a decent home, adequate funding for training and his final year at UWI, and maybe an award (not the highest—leave room for bigger achievements). Promote him as an exemplar to the misfits who see crime as their only way of life.
But please, whatever you do, don’t sacrifice the boy’s bright future on the altar of political expediency. Gordon’s journey to glory has only just begun. Let it not end on the barren wasteland that is politics in Trinidad and Tobago.