When you think about great coaches in Track & Field, a few names come to mind. One of the first names that would come from the lips of many Jamaicans, given his distinguished contribution to the sport, is the soft-spoken Stephen Francis.
Not only has his influence advanced the sport on the island, but his guidance given to athletes such as Asafa Powell, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Brigitte Foster-Hylton and Elaine Thompson-Herah just to name a few, has given him the reputation of being one of the most brilliant and successful minds in Track & Field history.
‘Franno’, as he is commonly known as, has a catalogue of athletes who, under his leadership, have etched their names in the history of the sport. Asafa Powell was a dominant force between 2005 and 2008 when he broke the 100m world record twice with times of 9.77s and 9.74s respectively. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, as we know, is highly regarded as one of the greatest sprinters of all time. Double Olympic gold medalist, four-time World Champion and the third fastest female sprinter ever are all achievements that can be traced back to the tutelage of Francis.
Jamaica owes so much to the man who helped to form one of the most renowned Track & Field clubs in the world. How many of our Olympic and World Championship medals since the turn of the century can be traced back to his influence?
It is difficult to trace exactly how many medals Francis has directly contributed to since starting MVP (Maximising Velocity and Power) Track Club in 1999, such is his massive contribution to the sport on the island. However, his coaching has spanned across many disciplines, ranging from 100m, 200m, 400m, 100mh, 110mh, high jump and long jump.
Compared to other programs locally and overseas, it is difficult to argue against the impact of Francis’ MVP. Other than the aforementioned athletes, there are also other legendary names who were developed under the guidance of Franno: Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart, Melaine Walker, Shericka Jackson, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter are some others who have played major roles in building and maintaining Jamaica’s dominance on the track over the last two decades.
It’s therefore shocking, slightly incomprehensible, to hear Elaine Thompson-Herah’s decision to train independently and cease partnership with the veteran Jamaican coach.
At this point in her career, Elaine stands in a league of her own. As the fastest woman alive coming within 0.5s of a world record that has stood isolated since 1988, as well as also clinching the historical feat of becoming the first woman to win the Olympic double twice, there has never been a better moment in her career. In the heights of her prime, to leave the coach that helped her to achieve said success, is indeed very very strange.
The departure of probably the best female sprinter ever from under his guidance doesn’t suggest sudden incompetence on the part of Franno, that would be foolish. However, I’m sure there are other elements to that relationship which have not been made public that contributed to the eventual departure of the 29-year-old.
Despite this latest stain on an otherwise illustrious career, Stephen Francis has no doubt etched his name already in the history of world athletics. It is clear that he is an elite coach, who has helped to cultivate the careers of many great athletes.
The definition of a great Track & Field coach varies depending on who you ask. For many Jamaicans, it is believed that Stephen Francis’ contribution to the sport and to the nation is immeasurable and makes him deserving of the title of greatest.