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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    The Caribbean’s first female Olympic champion is about to receive a national honour from the Government of Jamaica.

    As Jamaica celebrated its 58th year of Independence, her outstanding servants from various fields were announced to receive national recognition come Heroes’ Day October 19.

    Twenty four years since shrugging off the challenge of Americans Kim Batten and Tonja Buford-Bailey in Atlanta, Hemmings-McCatty is finally receiving her due.

    She is to be conferred with the nation’s fifth highest honor, the Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander Class.

    We could debate whether this honour is a number of years too late or even if Hemmings-McCatty should be receiving a higher accolade.

    But for now, we say, well deserved.

    Hemmings-McCatty was no ordinary servant of Jamaica’s track and field. She represented the country at three Olympic Games and won three medals; 2 in the 400 metres hurdles and one in the mile relay.

    Since 1980, track and field enthusiasts across Jamaica, the Caribbean and the world felt that Merlene Ottey would be the nation’s first female Olympic Gold medallist.

    Ottey, Jamaica’s first female world champion had been a consistent force in major events and therefore that feeling was not without a strong base.

    In fact, at the 1996 Games, Ottey was denied achieving that feat by only thousandths of a second when victory in the Women’s 100 metres was awarded to American Gail Devers.

    Ironically Hemmings-McCatty’s quest for Gold started the following day, July 28 and culminated on July 31.

    Who can forget the voice of American commentator Carol Lewis belting, “… here comes Kim Batten.”

    Batten, the world record holder at the time, was indeed making a strong push, but that season Hemmings-McCatty’s improved hurdling technique ensured there were no errors on her part as she smoothly maneuvered her way to victory, almost unbothered by the Americans who had sandwiched her.

    Arms aloft as she crossed the line, the then 27-year-old, broke the Olympic record she had set in the semi-finals and became the first woman to run sub-53 seconds in the 400 metres hurdles in consecutive races.

    While Atlanta 1996 was the crowning moment of her 11-year senior international career, Hemmings-McCatty’s legacy goes way beyond that.

    At the Sydney 2000 Games, she overcame a period of injuries and backed up her “96 Gold with a silver-medal performance.

    She also won silver as part of the country’s 4x400 relay team.

    She was also a consistent force at the IAAF World Championships, winning four medals, 3 individual and a mile relay Gold, a first for the country, achieved at the 2001 championships in Edmonton, Canada. 

    Since her retirement at the end of the 2002 season, she has given back to the sport in several ways, including serving as team manager for national teams and currently organises a development meet, specifically for schools in the Northern region, including in St Ann where she was born.

    Not bad for a girl who was given a university scholarship “as part of a package deal” after her high school years ended at Vere Technical.

    The record shows she is one of the best to have done it, and while, for whatever reason, the land of wood and water has taken some time to officially acknowledge that fact, we salute her and say thank you for being one of the best firsts to grace this blessed land.

  • The Commentators: Odean Skeen still has designs on beating the world The Commentators: Odean Skeen still has designs on beating the world

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    Skeen, the 15th Jamaican to break 10 seconds over 100 metres has a personal best of 9.98 seconds, set in 2017.

    He was among the favourites to make the Jamaica team for the IAAF World Championships in London that year but pulled up with a hamstring injury in his semi-final at the National Stadium in Kingston.

    The 25-year-old, who has struggled with injuries since high school, says that was an especially difficult moment for him to handle.

    “That moment of time I feel like to give up,” he explained to Ricardo Chambers and Donald Oliver on The Commentators Podcast.

    “I could actually win Jamaica trials or even come second,” said the confident former Wolmer’s star athlete.

    The 2012 IAAF World Under-20 bronze medalist also revealed that his confidence level fell dramatically following the incident.

    He has since done surgery and gone through several coaching changes but now says he has found a home in Texas with Baylor University’s Associate Men’s Coach Michael Ford.

    He admitted that Ford has played a significant role in his confidence returning and while he has had doubts in the past, he is now extremely confident he can make a strong statement in 2021 including at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. 

  • Healthy, confident Andre Ewers ready to run faster than ever Healthy, confident Andre Ewers ready to run faster than ever

    Andre Ewers is encouraged that better days are ahead following his fast 100m run in Jacksonville, Florida last weekend.

    The 25-year-old Jamaican clocked 10.04s to win his heat at the JAC Combined Events Championships, making him the second-fastest Jamaican this year. Julian Forte’s 10.03 set two weeks ago in Kingston, leads all Jamaican male sprinters for 2020.

    The time was also an improvement on Ewers’ 10.10 run in Clermont, Florida, at the end of July that took the young sprinter closer to his goal in this COVID-19-impacted season.

    “When I started to compete again the goal really was to execute, have fun and get a good run in and knock the rust off,” Ever said Monday. “After that, I told myself that I believe I can run sub-10 the next meet possibly 10.0x if I can find one.”

    The time took him close to his personal best of 9.98 that he ran in Tampa, Florida, in May 2018 and is proving to be a boost to his belief that another sub-10 run is not far away.

    “I believe I’m capable of it but, unfortunately, this may be my last meet for the year due to everything going on and the difficulties in finding meets,” he said. “Now, my focus is on the Olympics next year and working hard to accomplish my goals.

    “Even though my ultimate goal was to run sub 10, I look at 10.04 as a blessing, given the circumstances and lack of resources I have right now. I’m honestly pleased with the time.”

    During his final years at Florida State University, Ewers progress was hampered by persistent injury. He now says those days are behind him, thanks to the work of his coach, Ricky Argro.

    “To prevent injuries, my coach makes me do a lot of different kinds of pool workouts,” he said. “My health right now is really good. I’m healthy and I’m thankful for that.”

     

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