By RON FANFAIR
Former Jamaican track and field record holder and coach Leroy “Pops” Keane has died.
He succumbed to cardiac arrest in a Toronto hospital last Saturday, just a week after his 73rd birthday.
Keane held the Jamaican record – 52 seconds – in the 400-yard hurdles and was the West Indies hurdles and pentathlon champion before retiring to take up an assignment as track and field coach at Calabar which he attended in the mid-1950s.
The two-time Class One champion athlete led the Kingston school to the 1955 national schools championship (CHAMPS), scoring 14 of the team’s 51 points. He won the 120-yard hurdles, defeating Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association (JAAA) president Howard Aris and the Open 800-yard event and was second in the discus and third in the 220- and 440-yard races.
The following year, he smashed the Class One 440-yard record, captured the 120-yard hurdles and open discus titles and was runner-up in the triple jump.
“Leroy was an outstanding all-round high school and international caliber athlete,” said Share columnist Errol Townshend, co-author of Herb McKenley: Olympic Star. “As a coach, he was quite knowledgeable and very dedicated to the sport.”
McKenley, the only athlete to reach an Olympic final in the 100-, 200- and 400-metre events, coached Keane who was his first champion.
Schoolmate Rev. Canon Gervais Clarke said Keane was a giant among men in high school and a super athlete on the track.
Keane, who migrated on December 30, 1976, might not have coached in Canada had it not been for Ben Johnson losing his gold medal after testing positive for a performance enhancing drug at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
“Having to put up with Ben going from a Canadian winning a gold medal to the disgraced Jamaican sprinter leaving the Games in ignominy was just too much for me to stomach at the time,” he once said. “That was the spark that re-ignited my interest in coaching.”
Johnson said he was honoured when Keane told him why he got back into coaching in Canada.
“More importantly, he used the opportunity to get scholarships in the U.S. for several young athletes and that made me feel good,” added Johnson who launches his autobiography, Seoul to Soul, on September 24. “I will remember him as being cheerful and someone who was very outspoken.”
A graduate of the University of Nebraska Teachers’ College and an All-American in the intermediate hurdles in 1961-62, Keane was instrumental in the success of former Canadian 400-metre champion Rayton Archer and ex-national sprint champion Pierre Brown who won a bronze medal at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002.
He used his extensive networks at American universities to secure scholarships for nearly 40 young Canadian student athletes, the majority of whom graduated on time.
“Pops was a father, mentor and someone who looked out for me always,” said Archer who attended Mississippi State University. “My father was not here so Pops filled the role admirably. There were times when he showed up on my university campus unannounced just to make sure I was doing the right thing. That was how much he was concerned about me staying on the right path.”
Prior to coming to Canada, Keane was a member of the JAAA 1966 Commonwealth Games team selection committee and a senior officer with the Sports Corporate Association in Kingston & St. Andrew for five years.
Keane hails from a family with a proud and excellent sports tradition. His late brother, Dr. Basil Keane, captained the Calabar side that won the Manning soccer title in 1943 while his son, Martin, was a member of the national amateur basketball program for almost a decade.
Six years ago, the Calabar Old Boys Canadian chapter honoured Keane for his significant contribution to sport.