They say The Great Wall of China is so grand that it can be seen from outer space. The Berlin Wall was, and famously when that fell in 1989 it marked the metaphoric end of the Cold War. History lesson aside, I’ve most recently discovered another wall that is less notable despite seeming even more insurmountable – Jamaica’s Men’s 400m Wall. Over the years, Jamaica’s 400m runners on the men’s side have been disappointing at best and woeful at worst. This year’s Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo had been no different. Of the three who entered the event only Christopher Taylor managed to make the final. In fairness to them, Demish Gaye – an experienced campaigner on the team – was overcoming a foot injury just to make the trip. Meanwhile, Nathon Allen was competing in his first Olympic individual 400m event, and though he failed to make the final, he did play his part in the men’s 4×400 relay team that made the final. Taylor impressed most of all with a finals berth and a Personal Best in his first ever Olympic Games at just 21. His 44.79s is way off the national record though.
Rusheen McDonald’s 43.93s still stands as the time to beat for Jamaicans, and only Akeem Bloomfield has come close to that so far, doing a 43.94s on the remarkably quick track of Eugene, Oregon. Next on that Jamaican all-time 400m list is actually Nathon Allen who did a 44.13s in the same race as Bloomfield’s remarkable run. After them, is Jermaine Gonzales who did 44.40s back in 2010 while Demish Gaye’s 44.46s rounds out the top five. If we consider ‘The 400m Wall’ that has been established, we can think of those times as significant notches that can serve as footholds when scaling that barrier, especially because McDonald’s 43.93 is tied for only the 16th fastest time ever – and Bloomfield is 19th. The world record is closer to 42 seconds than it is to our national record. Beyond that wall is a land of 43 second times as far as the eye can see. Right now, in McDonald, we have one man on the wall seemingly content with the view – seeing that he’s failed to get anywhere near to that time again. Meanwhile, Bloomfield, who’s got up and is likely plotting a way down into uncharted territory, is the only other person who’s successfully scaled the wall. The next question is… how do we move from here? How do we get over this wall; how do we get our men into the sub 44 times?
Well our women have had much more success in their competitions than the men, with double the number of finalists in the individual event and a bronze medal in the relay. There might be something to the women’s coaching that our men could benefit from. Perhaps it’s the coaches themselves. Majority of young athletes go away for collegiate training in the United States to compete in the NCAA Championships, and while plenty stay on, many more come back as seniors to join local track clubs. Considering the plethora of USA representation on the all-time list for the men’s 400m, plus the fact that our only finalist at the Olympics was Chris Taylor who trains in the US, then maybe… that’s a solution worth looking into.
Culturally, the 400m has not sustained top billing in Jamaica, we love the 4×4 but that’s mostly because it’s the last – and sometimes the Championship-deciding – event at our annual Boys and Girls Championships. With the recent showing at the Olympics, there might be interest in other events other than just the short sprints, maybe the 400m can be one of those. Then hopefully soon someone would have what it takes to break through The 400m Wall.