Saint Stephen?

Jamaica Gleaner - - TUESDAY SPORTS -

... MVP boss show­ing softer side

IS THE sport of track and field ac­tu­ally see­ing a new Stephen Fran­cis? Talk is that in re­cent times, most specif­i­cally, af­ter the Rio Olympics, the MVP Track Club’s head coach is dis­play­ing a softer side to his per­son­al­ity, pre­vi­ously hid­den from pub­lic view. Foster’s Fair­play has re­ceived a few calls on the mat­ter and is com­pelled to give an ear to what seems to be real chat.

The tra­di­tion­ally highly com­bat­ive Fran­cis is known for his bel­liger­ent stance, tak­ing on the sport’s elite thinkers, adamant to il­lus­trate that he should be in­cluded in that lot.

His open de­fi­ance of, aligned with rant­ing and rav­ing against, cer­tain edicts from top ad­min­is­tra­tors, has be­come a fea­ture of the highly spir­ited in­ter­ac­tion with the au­thor­i­ties, while on the cusp of ma­jor cham­pi­onships. Usu­ally, the point of dis­cus­sion rests with com­pul­sory pre-com­pe­ti­tion camps, which the Univer­sity of Michi­gan MBA grad­u­ate sees as anath­ema in re­spect of the needs of his



Im­me­di­ately af­ter the crown­ing of MVP’s new sprint­ing sen­sa­tion, Elaine Thomp­son, as the lat­est Olympic 100m queen, the de­throned Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, amidst all her grace, el­e­gance and charm, dropped a bomb­shell. She re­sponded to jour­nal­ists’ queries in a man­ner that sug­gested that all did not go well in her prepa­ra­tion for a mo­men­tous event.

Her chance of be­com­ing the first ever triple-gold medal­ist in the short sprint, had been shat­tered. A se­ries of in­ter­views, re­vealed that coach Fran­cis was be­ing asked to shoul­der the blame for a per­for­mance that de­nied FraserPryce a spe­cial place in his­tory.

Then came what was de­scribed as the “Shelly Shocker” with this news­pa­per’s spe­cial projects ed­i­tor, An­dré Lowe, re­port­ing from Rio that “MVP coach Stephen Fran­cis has con­firmed that Olympic 100m bronze medal­list ShellyAnn Fraser-Pryce has lost con­fi­dence in the pro­gramme and is mov­ing on.”

Fran­cis re­sponded: “I am in agree­ment with her that she should try some­thing dif­fer­ent.” This was af­ter an­other al­leged state­ment sug­gest­ing that he held up his hand when the ques­tion of Shelly-Ann’s not mak­ing the his­toric cut a few weeks ear­lier was raised.

There was an ad­mis­sion of guilt. “Coaches of the dis­ap­pointed peo­ple, like my­self have to take the blame, and I ac­cept full blame for ShellyAnn not per­form­ing the way she ex­pected to.”


Judg­ing from all this, as was the case in pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tions, with Asafa Pow­ell, Sherone Simp­son, Me­laine Walker and so many high pro­fil­ers, the MVP door is not a re­volv­ing one.

Once you leave, you stay out – no room for re­con­sid­er­a­tion or re­visit by ei­ther party – rough but real.

Re­turn­ing to Ja­maica seems to have brought out a change of di­rec­tion. The hith­erto per­ceived ‘my way or the high­way’ su­per coach is now singing from a dif­fer­ent hymn sheet. Re­gional track and field ex­clu­sive web­site, car­ried a story: ‘Shelly-Ann FraserPryce could re­turn to MVP’.

The thought was fu­elled by a Fran­cis com­ment that did not typ­ify the no-non­sense, no re­treat, no re­turn, aca­dem­i­cally gifted for­mer ac­coun­tant.

“From what I’m hear­ing, it looks as if things are not as clear-cut as they were be­fore. It seemed clear-cut back in Rio, but it doesn’t seem as clear-cut now,” Fran­cis con­tin­ued, “we will see what hap­pens.”

That fi­nal of­fer­ing at the Air­port wel­come cer­e­mony, has sparked the sen­ti­ment that Fran­cis is on a dif­fer­ent path. Could it be one that ac­com­mo­dates a view lead­ing to di­a­logue?

Ja­maica, nor for that mat­ter, the world is not awash with coaches of the cal­i­bre of a Stephen Fran­cis. He has been vil­i­fied in the past for an at­ti­tude that can com­pro­mise the for­tunes of our most tal­ented. A case in point was that anti-camp face off at the 2009 Ber­lin World Champs that led to a fren­zied pull-out of some even­tual medal­ists. It was only as­tute and as­sid­u­ous ac­tion by some top ad­min­is­tra­tors that saved that day and the na­tion’s global im­age.

Ev­ery Third World na­tion de­serves to have its best ath­letes and its best coaches work­ing in tan­dem to achieve best re­sults.

If what we are see­ing is real, Foster’s Fair­play wel­comes the new and re­freshed Stephen Fran­cis.


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