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Kenny Moore
February 14, 1983
For decades Jamaicans have excelled in the dashes, perhaps because running is a fast way to a better life
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February 14, 1983

Land Of Sprinters And Dreamers

For decades Jamaicans have excelled in the dashes, perhaps because running is a fast way to a better life

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In his role as Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association president, McKenley has lobbied successfully, through the Institute of Sports, for a $300,000 government grant to resurface the National Stadium track and so bring it up to international standards, the better to court a major meet. Kingston was a fixture on the international circuit in the mid '70s. Filbert Bayi of Tanzania ran his world-record mile of 3:51.0 in Kingston in 1975. In 1977, Quarrie returned to race Steve Williams of the U.S. in the 200 before 35,000 overwrought Jamaicans. Quarrie won in 20.32, finishing four inches ahead of Williams. The crowd exploded into such tearful, hoarse thanksgiving that all who were there, even Williams, understood the race had had its best possible results. But outside the stadium milled 5,000 emotional people for whom there was no room. There was violence and the foreign press was momentarily sealed inside the stadium, awaiting safe exit. The joy over Quarrie's victory and the bitterness of those kept from sharing it seemed to illustrate the heart of the Jamaican experience.

The Calabar fields are as overworked as those of all the other schools. A barbed-wire fence keeps a flock of brown goats out of the way of the hurdlers. The work is pursued with the same earnestness as at Kingston and Jamaica and Camperdown colleges. Here, the view of the mountains is better, and the loose ties worn by watching students are green. Enrollment is 1,750.

McKenley introduces the visitor to three members of the team that won the high school 4x100 sprint relay at Penn in 1982, and lost the 4x400 relay there because after the lead-off man got behind, each of the last three guys tried to pull a McKenley and catch up all at once. "Instead, we died," says Joe Boyd, whose best 400 is 47.64. Norman Pottinger, who at 17 has run 48.4, seems to speak for the group when he says, "I enjoy running, but I do it for a reason. I'd really like a scholarship to study electronics. Two or three seconds off my time will do it."

All are moved by the presence of McKenley. "He ran the last 150 of our 600s with us in the fall," says Pottinger, "to keep us from letting up off the turn. I enjoyed that."

And what of the man McKenley idolized, Arthur Wint? He was for a time a Calabar boy. The present team knows this, of course, but the name has little of the effect of the ebullient McKenley's.

"Arthur, well Arthur isn't in Kingston," says McKenley when asked about this. There seems to be something he wishes to explain. "Tell you what. He's a doctor, and always busy. But I'll see if I can't arrange a little talk at least."

Wint lives in Linstead. On the phone he was very proper, saying he could spare an hour at most, declining an offer of dinner. He gave precise directions.

Linstead is near the center of the island, 15 miles past Spanish Town, up the Rio Cobre. The drive is a curving green escape from the noise and smoke of the coastal cities. Once through a canyon, the motorist reaches rolling green hillsides, orange groves, soft sprays of bamboo, poinciana trees. It's cooler. One sees an old sugar mill near the town of Bog Walk. Its smokestack is square, built of brick in the 19th century. The country isn't deserted, simply rural. Linstead has a population of 3,500.

At one of the first intersections as one enters the town from the southeast is a two-story house with about as many porches and balconies as a house can support. Wint's office is on the first floor. His secretary, assisting an elderly woman down the front-porch' steps, says to go right on in.

The office is tiny and austere, containing merely a desk and a wall of medicines. A window admits the amber light of sunset. Wint, as spare as his surroundings, wears a lime-colored smock. He has the bowed posture of a scholar. He's both a general practitioner and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and is in charge of Linstead's small hospital, which is a two-minute walk up the hill through banana plants.

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