I'm going to get a doctorate in four years, says Jehue Gordon on the day before he leaves Trinidad and Tobago to head to England for the Olympic Games. But one thing at a time. For now, his head was focused on the immediate goal. Gold.
"To me, going is a dream come true because every athlete dreams to go to the biggest stage. In football it is the World Cup, as a track and field athlete, the Olympic Games is the starlight show and it can only mean good things to come."
After a brilliant showing in the qualifying races, he made it to the finals of the men's 400m hurdles yesterday, where he came in sixth in 48.86. In the first semi-final, he had clocked a personal best of 47.96, a new national record.
Jehue, who has just completed the second year of his Sports Management degree at The UWI, had done this interview, which appeared in UWI's SPED Magazine in October 2010. It is reproduced here courtesy The UWI's Sport and Physical Education Centre (SPEC).
He was bequeathed biblical names by a neighbour, and though he doesn't like the old-fashioned ring to Augustus, Jehue Gordon didn't fuss about me using it. He doesn't seem to fuss about anything, except winning an Olympic Gold medal.
"Every athlete's dream should be to win an Olympic Gold medal," he says with an expression that considers anything else unthinkable… and unforgiveable. Reflecting later, I realised that I believed not only that he believed he was going to win an Olympic Gold medal, but I believed that he would do it. Such is his presence.
He was born in 1991, an early Christmas present to Marcella Woods, a domestic, and Vincent Gordon, a plumber. He has a 15-year-old brother, Zaid, who attends the same school he did, Belmont Boys' Secondary. His brother prefers football, basketball and cricket to track and field, but his real love is for fixing things with his hands, electronic things mostly, anything around the house.
Jehue remembers that although they were not an affluent family, his father, who was a cricket fanatic, enrolled him when he was six in Harvard Sports Club (where Brian Lara used to go as a baby) and there he took up cricket and football. But he was never sold on a game where success depended on a team doing well all round, and a few jokers could drag everyone down. He preferred a sport where you could take out whatever you put in. He'd started running around at school, Maraval RC, from about Standard Three, placing seventh or thereabouts until he hit Standard Five and actually won the national championships.
"I couldn't believe it," he says. He couldn't believe he could win something, but tasting the elixir of success changed him.
He joined Memphis Pioneers athletics club, coming under the wing of their head coach Dr Ian Hypolite, a psychiatrist with a passion for sport. He still makes no moves without running it by Dr Hypolite, even setting up a photo shoot which would possibly entail a shot of him jumping a hurdle (while not in his training season), was subject to consultation.
Perhaps this early mentoring has helped to define his priorities, because Jehue is very clear about what is important in his life: excellence. He wants to be a world-class athlete, he wants to ace his studies, and he wants to take care of his family. Underlying it are two things. He's seen his parents struggle to make ends meet and he wants to provide a better life for them and himself. And he's not afraid to do what it takes. "I had to work hard for everything I wanted," he says.
Rather than make him lower his goals, it only raised the bar.
In 2008 a landslide practically demolished their home in Maraval. It was not long after he had returned from being a spectator at the Beijing Olympics (courtesy the TSTT Foundation) and he was watching TV in a room when the disaster struck. It left them living without electricity and water for months, making do in the fridge-less, stove-less, partial house where nothing was simple any more—not even drinking a glass of cold water (he had to go by a neighbour for that).
"I can't continue to live like this," he thought, straining at the idea of getting his family out of it. "It really influenced me to work harder to come out of that life," he says of the landslide, and, especially as he had just returned from Beijing and seen the "best" competing, and had already set his sight on "being on that level," and "being the best in the world," he poured himself into training, accepting that the way out was via his "resource."
He entered the international arena that year, finishing fifth in the semi-finals at the World Junior Championship in Athletics, and winning a bronze medal (400m hurdles) at the Carifta Games. He took the Carifta gold medal the following year (2009), a bronze at the Central American and Caribbean Championships in Athletics and silver at the Pan American Junior Athletics Championships. But it was in Berlin at the World Championships that he caught international attention as the fastest 17-year-old when he took fourth place in the 400m hurdles event at a time of 48.26 (a new national record).
He was chosen as one of 25 athletes to be followed by the BBC for their two-year series, World Olympic Dreams, leading to London 2012.
HS International, a sport management company which has clients in compatriots, Ato Boldon and Richard Thompson, approached him to provide their services–negotiate appearance fees, seek endorsements and advise on investments and taxes. He's put himself in their hands, and one of the outcomes was a deal with Adidas in August 2010, just a month after he turned professional. That deal changed his lifestyle completely.
Jehue seems to be taking it in stride, though. Just as it took him some time to get used to being a celebrity with the media and fans (male and female) crawling into his space, he thinks he will learn to manage his new financial status. More than anything, he sees past his athletic shelf life.
Despite offers of athletic scholarships from prestigious universities (Harvard, University of Florida, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Florida State, off the top of his head), he decided to stay at home and attend The University of the West Indies. It was not a decision simply made, and it had something to do with wanting to give back to the homeland.
"Most athletes who go to the [United] States are exploited in some way by the school," he says. "They have to run and run every weekend, and when they come home they just don't have the zeal to continue." He acknowledges that they do get much in return, but he feels they lose some connection with home.
He chose to do the Sport Management degree being offered by The UWI and has had his programme customised to suit his training and travel schedules. He's doing his first semester courses now: Economics, Accounting (which he has always liked) Management, and Caribbean Civilisation, and he is enjoying them, seeing it as a relief from the gruelling training schedules he has ended until next year's season begins.
"Track and field won't last forever," he says conceding that he loves all aspects of it so much that he is preparing himself for life after his athletics career ends.
"I like the sport so much that I want to go back in it after I come out."
*Boys U-13 800m National Champion (2003)
*Carifta Boys U20 400m hurdles (50.01) and 110m hurdles (13.86) champion (2009)
*Boys U-20 110m and 400m hurdles National Champion and Record Holder
*Carifta Boys U20 400m hurdles (49.75) and 110m hurdles (13.40) record holder (2010)
*National senior record holder in 400m hurdles (2008) 48.26 Berlin (Fastest 17-year-old in the world)
*CAC Junior Championships (U20) 400m hurdles (50.26) champion (2010)
*CAC record holder 50.26 (2010)
*World Junior Champion Canada 49.30 400 m hurdles (2010)
"In 400m hurdles you need the speed of a 200m and 400m runner and the strength of an 800m runner, along with proper hurdling technique and speed endurance.
"The 400m dash is basically a sprint which involves more speed endurance rather than the strength for the 800m. Once you can maintain speed right through the race, you can win.
"Hurdling is not an event about jumping alone, you need to be aggressive. You can't be too laid-back or you would shift your pattern. You need to be thinking throughout the race."
"You don't have to be great to start; you have to position yourself to start to be great because nothing comes easily and you have to be focused to achieve your goal.