Jamaica Gleaner photo
The headlines in the July 7, 2022, edition of the Jamaica Observer newspaper screamed “Clayton twins goes pro with MVP.” Tina and Tia Clayton both attended Edwin Allen High school, and according to the brief story in the paper, (based on reliable information) may have run their last high school race and are on their way to pursuing the path of professional athletics as the deal included signing with footwear company Nike ahead of two other major equipment brands for shoe contracts. It is understood that Nike officials met with the Claytons, their mother, and their coach Michael Dyke in western Jamaica last Friday to formalize the contract.
The deal also means they have signed with the MVP Track Club, where they will now be coached by Stephen Francis, unquestionably the most successful female track coach in the world. Francis’ MVP organization was responsible for coaching Olympic sprint gold medalists Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson Herah. MVP now has the white-hot female sprinter Shericka Jackson under their guidance, and she threw down the gauntlet at the recent Jamaica National Senior Trials with a 21.55 seconds and 10.77 seconds in the finals of both the 200 and 100 meters respectively. Tina Clayton had demonstrated her dominance at the junior level with her first sub-11 second time at the JAAA National Junior Championships at the National Stadium last month. She ran a national junior 100m record in 10.96 seconds. Her twin sister Tia is also a record holder, having joined Tina, schoolmate Serena Cole, and Hydel High's Kerrica Hill in Nairobi, Kenya, to set the world under 20 women's 4x100m relay record at 42.94 seconds last year. The Claytons move though follows on the heels of the dazzling Hydel High School athlete, Brianna Lyston’s decision to attend NCAA powerhouse Louisiana State University (LSU), beginning this Fall semester. The news was confirmed by LSU coach Dennis Shaver to World-Track last Thursday. Brianna is currently ranked third in the world this year among U20 sprinters in the 100m with a personal best of 11.14 seconds and No. 2 in the 200m at 22.53 seconds. The contrasting decisions made by these three young female sprinters have in peculiar ways reopened the discussion on the way forward for the development of Jamaican youngsters, especially those engaged in the sporting world. Many among the ‘talking heads’ were quick to attempt to administer licks to Brianna Liston’s decision, while there are gathering throngs of critics against the Clayton twins move with many suggesting that they ought to have been allowed to complete high school. From where I sit, I believe that the three made the best decisions based on their individual circumstances. The world certainly operates quite differently than it did in my time as a youngster, and today, a young person can find sustainable economic success from an athletic career. Having a college degree is but another path that is available for the said youngster to take. We should remember that an athletic career is not infinite and that for the student with such athletic potential, there is a reasonable 5-6-year window available for that development as only the exceptional athletes can sustain their careers beyond 10-12 years. In most professional sports, the careers of participants are no more than five or six years. This is one major factor supporting those who would wish to pursue a mix of academics and sports. At the end they can move into other areas, possibly combining their sporting experiences with academic preparation. It is my view that Jamaicans have been fed on a diet that personal development is best measured by the number of letters that garnishes the end of one’s name. The fact is that the world has changed, and with it, so too the opportunity platforms on which that portion of our young who chooses sports are able to access and upon which they can build their lives. Advances in technology and the application of said technology to marketing in sports has created greater opportunities for young people involved in different sporting disciplines. It provides specialized opportunities for the talented and makes turning professional immediately out of the high school gate, a newer, earlier rung on the career decision tree for quality young athletes. Jamaica is known for its track and field prowess but what has been lacking is the appreciation of how professional sports can make a difference in the lives our youth on the one hand and on their families on the other.