Four Decades of Excitement

Article by: 
Hubert Lawrence
February 27, 2016
It’s 1992 and a healthy National Stadium audience is watching a business like St Jago quartet take charge of the boys’ class 2 4x200 metre Gibson Relays nal. Moments earlier, Jamaica College including Rudolph Mighty set a super class 1 record of 1 minute 24.67 seconds. That set the crowd buzzing.
 
With victory in sight for St Jago, Davian Clarke of Kingston College high-steps from fth to fourth to third to second and then to the front.  at big move grabbed success for Clarke and KC in record time, 1 minute 29.73 seconds. Needless to say, the crowd was on its feet.
 
Records come and go but that’s the kind of excitement the Gibson-McCook Relays has delivered since 1973.
 
ere was a similar scene at last year’s meet. Once again, St Jago was hurrying away to victory in the class 2 4x200 nal. is time, it was Calabar’s Christopher Taylor who zoomed past St Jago to cross the  nish line rst. His phenomenal anchor leg was timed in 20.7 seconds. Clarke went on to become an Olympic 400 metre nalist and one of Jamaica’s nest 4x400 relay runner. Everyone hopes Taylor will scale the heights too.
 
The Relays have delivered wonderful quality. In 1975, for example, Grace Jackson, Carolyn Jarrett, Karen Gascoigne and Allison Jones of the Queens School sped to victory in the class 3 4x100 in the record time of 50.0 seconds with four more teams under the old mark of 51.7. That was the start of a drive to the 1978 Girls Championships title by the Queens. Jackson went on to win an Olympic silver medal in 1988.
 
In that same 1975 renewal, Everard Samuels dramatically knee lifted STATHS past Camperdown in the class 1 4x100, 41.9 to 42.0. ‘Sammy’ went on to run for Jamaica in the 1983 World Championships.
 
Just like the 1975 Queens win, a 1976 4x200/4x400 Calabar double win told of things to come. At Gibson, Everett Giscombe, Paul Wynter, Michael Barnes and Herb McKenley Junior sizzled to record times of 1.26.6 and 3.14.1. Weeks later, Calabar stopped KC’s 14 year Kingston College winning streak at Boys Championships.
 
The invitational 100 metres races of 1982, 1984 and 1985 are still talked about today. Picture perfect Camperdown sprinter Leroy Reid calmly ran down quick starting Earl Laing of Calabar in 10.2 seconds in the 1982 race. His Camperdown successor Raymond Stewart beat the big boys including Samuels in 1984 and Rohan ‘Ernie’ Wade of CAST zipped a 10.2 to deny fast St Jago schoolboy Wilberforce Godfrey in 1985.
 
1984 was special because Olympian Juliet Cuthbert won the women’s 100 and because World Champion Bert Cameron set a meet record for the 400 metres that has stood the test of time at
45.5 seconds.
 
In his Daily Gleaner column, Olympian Mel Spence related an episode that spoke volumes about the Relays’ reputation for being on time. As the starter raised his pistol for the last of 108 events in 1986 at 9.45pm, founding chairman Neville ‘Teddy’ McCook was asked if he knew what the time was. Without so much as a glance in the direction of his wristwatch, Mr McCook said, “Exactly
9.45pm.”
 
STETHS made the best memories in 1987 with a sensational 4x800 record, 7 minutes 34.96 seconds. is mark is one of the most enduring records in Gibson history. It lasted until 2015.
 
In a prelude to the blossoming of international champions at home, the 1989 CAST Club team of Olympian John Mair, Robert ‘Beefhead’ McFarlane, Michael Nevers and Wayne Watson
produced the rst two sub-40 4x100 times by a non-national team - 39.92 in the heats and 39.7 seconds in the nal. 1991 saw crisp Invitational 100 metre wins for St. Jago’s Donovan
Powell in 10.2 seconds and Wolmerian Nikole Mitchell in 11.2.
 
The late Wayne Fenton led the Wolmers’ boys to a class 2 triple in the shuttle hurdles, the 4x100 - in the record time of 42.27 seconds - and the 4x200. 
 
Of all the girls to run at the Relays, Claudine Williams might just be the most versatile. Recruited to Vere as a sprinter, she ran cracking legs at 4x400 and 4x800 to set great records with her
team-mates in the early nineteen nineties. 
 
The 2001 Girls 4x200 Open was a race of supreme quality.  Remarkably three teams broke the elusive 1.36 threshold, with new power Holmwood winning in 1 minute 35.23. St Jago and
Vere deserved better for their times of 1.35.45 and 1.35.93.
 
After helping the 1993 Calabar team to class 2 4x100 records of 41.84 and 41.64, Ali Watson sadly stopped due to injury while leading on the 4x200 anchor leg. Earl Grant was leading Jamaica College to a big win in the 4x800 in 2008 when a lapped runner inadvertently tripped him.
 
The mood at the meet in 2014 was just recovering from the recent passing of Mr McCook when news of another death ltered through. St Jago’s Cavaan McKenzie had collapsed at the end of a cross country race in Trinidad and Tobago minutes earlier. e 17 year-old distance runner never woke up.
 
Thankfully, the sad moments have been few. When Team USA Bickle walloped the local high school girls in the 4x400 and 4x800 in 2010, the National Stadium fell silent. Usain Bolt lifted their spirits with a 44.2 400m leg in a losing Racers 4x400 side. Six years earlier in 2004, he had wheeled through a 44.9 split as part of a record setting High Performance Training Centre team in the same event.
 
Bolt is part of a new wave of world class Jamaicans who have trained at home. at has boosted the Clubs and Institutions section of the Relays. In 2004, just a year after leaving Manchester High,
Sherone Simpson started her road to Olympic gold and silver with a quicksilver 100 metre win clocked in 11.22 seconds. With Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, Ainsley Waugh and Michael Frater of the MVP and Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir at the Racers, the men’s 4x100 has come a long way since the CAST Club Bolts of Lightning ran 39.7. Now Bolt and the Racers have the record at 38.08 seconds.
 
For all that, the high school sprint relays still supply their fair share of excitement. In 2014, they produced the best 30 minutes of athletics of the year. In class 1, Calabar’s Edward Clarke, Javon
Francis, Julanie Walker and Michael O’Hara rushed to a world high school record of 39.61 seconds. Shammawi Wellington, Akeem Bloom eld, the precocious Jhevaughn Matherson and Dontre
Williams blitzed the class 2 record to 40.65 in the very next races. Then, with the ink still wet on those two records, Tyreke Wilson, Taylor, Brandon Heath and Dejour Russell a xed the name Calabar to the class 3 record. eir time was remarkable at 41.83 seconds.
 
After 40 years, excitement like that is still what the Gibson-McCook Relays is all about.
 
Hubert Lawrence has attended the Gibson Relays for more than 30 years.