Looking Back at The Gison McCookK 400 Metre Record with Berth Cameron

Article by: 
Hubert Lawrence
April 23, 2017

It’s improbable that a Jamaica record in sprinting could endure for more than 30 years. ­ at is, however, what has happened with the men’s 400-metre record at the Gibson-McCook Relays. Set in 1984 by World Champion Bert Cameron at 45.5 seconds, it has perplexed those who feel today’s Jamaican 400 metre men should be quicker. Interestingly, he might even have run faster on that last Saturday in February 33 years ago.

“­ There was not much in the race”, Bert remembers of a contest that he won by a full second. “I did not even run the first 100 and then when I went down the back stretch, I started to look across”, he reminisces. “Normally you start looking across when the race is about to finish”, he explained.

“­ Then I heard the crowd a little bit and I started to run and then I finished like with my knees up”, he summarizes. “When I looked at the time, I didn’t believe it”, he confesses. “Sometimes when you’re going to run fast you don’t know”, he says now.

­The Gleaner report of February 27, 1984 confirms Cameron’s view. ‘World Champion Bertland Cameron easily and effortlessly outclassed his rivals when he captured the 400 metres invitational event at the 11th renewal of the Gibson Relays on Saturday afternoon at the National Stadium’, it began. ‘It had the large gathering at the Stadium echoing adjectives of adulation’, the report said, ‘as he strode past his opponents with timely ease with just over 100 metres to go as if he was out for a Saturday afternoon stroll’.

Cameron, a two time Olympic 400 metre finalist, isn’t surprised that his record has lasted so long but he does believe that when it is broken, the new mark will be a sign of progress. Now head coach and founder of the Cameron Blazers track club, he offers one possible explanation for the longevity of the record. “You know, it hasn’t surprised me”, he asserts, “because we weren’t running for money. Now people are choosing what race they’re going to run because they’re going to get paid. We ran because we love it.”

Master coach Michael Clarke, the guru at Calabar High School, proffers another explanation for the extended stay of Cameron’s mark on the books. “February is quite early for anyone to want to run that fast knowing what the future holds and then the emphasis is on relay performances”, analyses Clarke. In a reference to his charge Javon Francis, he expands, “I’m sure, in February, Francis could have run that time last year or probably the year before but it’s just that you want to put the emphasis on the 4x4, not on the  at 4 and to come back, he has to run 2 400s.” By comparison, Cameron’s record race was his only trip to the track on that day 33 years ago.

Clarke might be right about Francis being able to reach Cameron’s record. Francis anchored Clarke’s AKAN Track Club to a 4x400 victory at the 2016 Gibson-McCook Relays with a 44.8 second anchor leg. In that same 40th staging of the Gibson-McCook Relays, Demish Gaye of GC Foster College came reasonably close to Cameron’s record with a time of 45.75 seconds despite also running in the 4x400.

­That seems to confirm Clarke’s view of why the record has lasted so long. “To run a flat 4 plus come back and run 4x4 heats and final is a bit much for a one day activity when there’s no real incentive”, he explains. “If there was an incentive involved, hey,” he theorizes, “then it changes the whole complexion of the picture.”

Others, with US indoor collegiate commitments, haven’t had the opportunity to compete at the Gibson-McCook Relays due to scheduling clashes. Cameron understands this and, in fact, he set the record in the first season after he had completed his collegiate eligibility for the University of Texas El Paso when he had been NCAA Champion three times.

Had Pete Coley been able to run at the Gibson Relays in 2002, the record might have gone. ­ then a student-athlete at Louisiana State University, Coley ran 400 metres in 45.37 seconds in Fayetville, Arkansas, on February 24. ­ The 2002 Gibson Relays were held a day earlier.

It may, therefore, be risky to use Cameron’s Gibson-McCook record as a measure of quality of Jamaica 400 metre running. He left the national record at 44.50 seconds when he retired and that was lowered to 44.49 by Roxbert Martin in 1997 and then to 44.40 by Jermaine Gonzales in 2010 and to 43.93 by Rusheen McDonald in 2015. In the same period, Martin, Davian Clarke, Michael Blackwood, Greg Haughton and Gonzales have all reached major championship finals with Haughton taking bronze medals from the 1995 and 2001 World Championships and the 2000 Olympics while Blackwoood had a bronze from the 2003 Worlds.

Besides that, fast early season 400 times are rare. History has seen only 10 sub-45 clockings before the end of February. Most of those were run in Australia or South Africa whose summer falls in the October – March period, with the pre-March world record of 44.60 coming in a super Auckland race won by two-time Olympic finalist Darren Clarke on January 28, 1990.

Fastest 400 metre times before March

44.60 Darren Clark AUS 06.09.65 1 Auckland 28.01.1990

44.61 Roberto Hernández CUB 06.03.67 1 La Habana 20.02.1987

44.77 Félix Stevens CUB 08.03.64 1 Santiago de Cuba 21.02.1986

44.80 Félix Stevens CUB 08.03.64 1 La Habana 05.02.1986

44.82 Jeremy Wariner USA 31.01.84 1rA Melbourne 21.02.2008

44.86 Ben O ereins AUS 03.12.86 1 Sydney 27.02.2010

44.88 Samson Kitur KEN 25.02.66 2 Auckland 28.01.1990

44.90 Hendrik Mokganyetsi RSA 07.09.75 1 Potchefstroom 12.02.2001

44.93 Simon Kipkemboi KEN 15.04.60 3 Auckland 28.01.1990

44.99 James Godday NGR 09.01.84 1 Abuja 11.02.2006

Source: www. Alltime-athletics.com

­There is, of course, another why the record has lasted so long. “I believe that it is just the calibre of athlete that I was”, Cameron recalls in an even tone. “I perform to win and if the race is easy I run fast”, he says. “I will cherish it until somebody comes along and break it”, he revealed, and I hope somebody does it soon though.”

“We can’t be happy as record holders to sit back and say, ‘I’m going to keep this record for a long time. It means that when somebody breaks it that we are moving ahead”, he says sincerely. “It’s progress”, he concludes. HUBERT LAWRENCE has attended the Gibson-McCook Relays from more than 30 years.