In Honour Of: Claston Bernard and the special nature of being the first

By Ricardo Chambers July 29, 2020
Claston Bernard Claston Bernard

There is something special about the first time.

The first time you saw your child walk or talk, first day of high school, first time you did something significant in sport from as small as the first match at any level all the way to a first World Cup, first century, first goal, first triple-double, first Gold medal for country.

No matter the level or scale, first times tend to be heartwarming and often unforgettable and not just for those achieving but equally for those witnessing it.

That is exactly how I feel about a Commonwealth Gold medal won by a Jamaican at the 2002 Games in Manchester, England.

Yes.

A commonwealth Gold medal.

It was won by Jamaica’s Claston Bernard in the Men’s Decathlon, making him the first Caribbean athlete to secure a medal in this event at the Commonwealth, World or Olympic level.

I was only 12 years old at the time and barely knew anything about the Games and it’s history but I vividly recall sportscasters and analysts discussing with shock that Bernard, a 23-year-old from St Elizabeth, Jamaica, was leading the Decathlon after day one.

Bernard had accumulated 4285 points on day one, almost 300 points clear of Scotland’s Jamie Quarry who had tallied 4015 points.

By the end of day two, shock had turned to celebration as sportscasters across various stations in Jamaica led with news that history had been created and the country had it’s first-ever Decathlon Gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games.

I myself beamed with pride and joy for a man I had never heard about before then, but one who was the country’s first.

By no means did Bernard hit his best performances in that competition. He ended up scoring 7830 points which was off his lifetime best of 8094 points set just over a month prior.

He also set just one personal best, 56.34 metres in the Javelin throw which all but secured victory.

However, at the time, I knew none of those details and to be honest, none of them mattered.

What mattered was that this former Munro College and Louisiana State University graduate had set a new standard and given hope to every young Jamaican and maybe even Caribbean athlete who might not be great at any one event but could deliver when 10 were combined.

Injuries hindered his overall development and he never quite hit the heights one would have hoped at the World Championship and Olympic levels but the foundation was set.

Since his triumph, the Caribbean has won three more medals in the Decathlon at the Commonwealth Games and one at the IAAF World Championships.

Maurice Smith, with a silver medal at Melbourne 2006, Grenada’s Kurt Felix with Bronze at Glasgow 2014 and his brother Lindon Victor with Gold at the 2018 Gold Coast Games are the English-speaking Caribbean athletes to have graced the Commonwealth Games medal podium since Bernard’s breakthrough.

Smith took an even bigger step when he became the first English-speaking Caribbean athlete to win a global medal in the event, silver at the 2007 IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan.

Smith, for sure, who eventually competed alongside Bernard must have gained some inspiration from his fellow Jamaican.

And while we remember and celebrate Maurice’s effort at the global level, we must never forget that Claston Bernard, on July 28, 2002, made a significant contribution by becoming Jamaica’s first and the first for the English-speaking Caribbean.

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