Glen Mills, 62 and arguably the world’s best sprint coach, is branching out to include the 400m to his repertoire. With the departure of 1983 World champion Bertland Cameron as coach of the quarter-mile program at Racers Track Club, where Mills is president, the head honcho seems destined to take his band of male quarter-milers to places they have not yet discovered. Among them are Ricardo Chambers, Jermaine Gonzales, Allodin Fothergill and Edino Steele.
The world started looking at the prowess of Jamaican sprinting long before the 2008 Beijing, China Olympics. In fact, the country had a formidable tradition at the Olympics starting in London in 1948. They made a big splash then and in Helsinki, Finland, in 1952, set a world record in the men’s 4x400m relay. Now, Mills' foray into territory where he is not as known as in the shorter 100m and 200m events might not be a shot in the dark; he could be on to something. As a matter of record, he conditioned quadruple Olympic medalist and 1976 Olympic 200m champion Donald Quarrie and former Jamaica national 100m champion Raymond Stewart. Coach Mills’ expertise goes beyond the Jamaican shores. In 2003 he prepared Kittitian Kim Collins to the 100m World title. Therefore, challenging some of the world’s best at 400m is a natural addition to his already heady workload.
Coach Mills shares a special moment with his charges.
Photo by DPalmer
If we are to follow his word, Mills’ success has only just begun. He is already drawing parallel between his superstar athlete Usain Bolt and the up-and-coming Kemar Bailey-Cole, the 12th Jamaican under 10.00secs for the 100m, having run 9.97 in Europe in the summer. On his coach’s predictions, Bailey-Cole is the next big thing. Both athletes, the coach says, are built on the long-legged model, are notoriously slow starters, but their acceleration is otherworldly at top-end speed. That is pressure for the just-turned 20-year-old who has to also overcome the flamboyant and would-be sprint king Yohan Blake. Bailey-Cole finished fifth at the Jamaica Nationals and went on to win a gold medal, having run in the preliminaries of the men’s sprint relay in London (the team won in world record time, maintaining their four-year unbeaten run in major races).
Also in the Racers line-up are Olympic 200m bronze medalist Warren Weir, who may yet include the 100m in his repertoire. Specialists in the 200m usually include the long 400m sprint or the shorter 100m dash in their workload. Aside from that trio, keep your eyes on Jason Young and his 19.86secs 200m run. Then there are young Jazeel Murphy, Delano Williams and Odail Todd, all distinguished at the junior level.
In all of this development, Bertland Cameron’s dismissal or resignation, depends on whomever you listened to, has opened up new possibilities and opportunities. Mills’ assumption of the 400m program leaves a question mark as Gonzales, the national men’s 400m record holder at 44.40secs is strongly aligned to Cameron. Truth be told, Cameron guided his charge to some success but there was never a real breakthrough. With his abundance of talent, many observers believe that Gonzales is an underachiever. He has never, for instance, been a serious medal threat at the highest level. However, with Mills now at the helm, one gets the impression that things could change, if he decides to take orders from Mills.
Bolt will, despite denouncements, within a couple of years join the 400m fray. I would not be surprised if Cameron made way for Mills since the latter would never leave his main charge to someone else’s care. I think this is a calculated move as Bolt tries to cement and expand his legendary status, being the first athlete to set a world record in all three sprints and win an Olympic title in each.
A few days ago Mills responded to hushed criticism that the women under his tutelage are ignored. He pointed out that Rosemarie Whyte won an Olympic relay medal in London and went on to equal her personal best of 50.08secs in the 400m. Besides Whyte, Mills also has a promising trio of female quarter-milers in Davita Prendergast, Bobby-Gaye Wilkins-Gooden and Shereefa Lloyd, as well as one short sprinter, Schillonie Calvert, who could soon challenge big-meet national sprint-double champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
As a nation, Jamaica still has a long way to go. Track and field continues to be one of the country’s best resources, and at this point superlatives defy. To borrow someone else’s adage: Jamaica, you’ve come a long way, baby.