While Jamaica’s track stars were preparing to sweep the sprint titles at the London Olympics, another group of the country’s athletes were making their own mark in Toronto.
For the first time, Jamaica was represented at the second World Deaf Athletics Championships (WDAC) at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium. The inaugural event was held in Turkey four years ago.
Jamaica was the only Caribbean participant at the one-week track & field meeting that attracted nearly 350 athletes from 30 countries, including Kenya and Cuba, which won 10 and five medals respectively. While they didn’t medal, the Jamaican contingent was popular with fellow athletes and fans.
The four-man team comprising sprinters Navarro Richards, Jason Campbell, Gavin Hobbs and Ricardo Rowe signed autographs, imitated Usain Bolt’s trademark ‘Gully Creeper’ pose for photo opportunities and – through interpreters – tried to explain Jamaica’s dominance in the sprints.
“We brought a ‘Jamaican-ness’ to these championships,” Deaf Sports Jamaica (DSJ) president Kevin McDonald told Share. “We helped showcase Jamaica and its special brand and it’s been an honour to do this in the same year that we are celebrating our 50th Independence Anniversary.”
DSJ was established just three years ago and the first National Deaf Sports Day was held in 2010 in Manchester.
“Through talking about sport and how best we can provide opportunities for our deaf athletes, a decision was made to start the sports day that brought athletes from the 14 parishes together for a day of fun-filled activities,” said McDonald.
One of the keen observers at the first local event was Jamaican-born Rohan Smith, who was the chairperson of the 2012 WDAC host committee. He met McDonald there and floated the idea of Jamaica taking part in the Toronto championships.
“I have been to seven Deaflympics and I never saw Jamaica at any of them,” said Smith who has been a resident of Canada since 1978. “Even though I was happy to be representing Canada, I was disappointed that Jamaica, which has such a rich tradition in athletics, was not at any of these Games. As chair of the Toronto host committee, it was such a pleasure to be blessed with Jamaica’s presence. That was a very special and proud moment for me.”
The WDAC evolved from the quadrennial Deaflympics, first held in Paris in 1924. McDonald is optimistic that Jamaica will make its debut at the 2013 Games in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“We had just four months of preparation for the WDAC,” he said. “That’s not enough time to get in shape for a major competition. The Toronto experience will help us grow and become better. Just getting to this stage however is quite an achievement in that we have been able to show the hearing community in Jamaica that deaf people have value and we should be appreciated.”
Lloyd Green, a business education teacher at Lister Mair/Gilby High School for the Deaf, is confident that Jamaica’s deaf athletes are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the next four years.
“Our participation for the WDAC was confirmed just three weeks prior to the start of the Games,” said Green who was the team’s coach. “That did not help when you also take into consideration the short time that they have been training seriously for these championships.
“The level of competition here was higher than I expected and I think our athletes who have been here know what to expect and what they have to do to get to that level where we can compete with the Russians and other top countries…We don’t have any Usain Bolts. What we have are individuals who are committed and dedicated to putting Jamaica on the map when it comes to deaf sports. We will get there in the next three to four years.”
By RON FANFAIR