Jehue Gordon’s triumph in the men’s 400 metres hurdles at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia, last year, was only the fourth senior global athletics title for Trinidad and Tobago.
Just 21 at the time, Gordon followed in the footsteps of 1976 Olympic 100m champion Hasely Crawford, 1997 200m world champion Ato Boldon, and 2012 Olympic gold medallist Keshorn Walcott.
Crawford and Boldon were beneficiaries of the American collegiate system. Walcott was not.
Like the reigning Olympic men’s javelin champion, Gordon is a home-grown talent. But while Walcott was guided to the top by Cuban coach Ishmael Lopez Mastrapa, Gordon’s support team is total local.
Dr Ian Hypolite and Edwin Skinner are the senior coaches at Memphis Pioneers—a successful Port of Spain-based athletics club with close to 150 members.
It’s Good Friday, traditionally a lazy day in T&T. But for a group of committed Memphis athletes, the public holiday is not a day of rest, but rather, an opportunity for an earlier than normal week-day training session at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
Some of these focused athletes are as young as seven, and are new to the concept of organised training. At the other end of the spectrum is the club’s first world champion.
Memphis is a family, and Gordon is at home as he and his teammates go through their daily grind at the Crawford Stadium and then at the club’s gym, a stone’s throw away.
It is Hypolite who coaches Gordon, and the medical doctor was rewarded for the athlete’s golden run in Moscow with the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) 2013 Coach of the Year award.
Skinner serves as Gordon’s local manager, but he is a top-quality coach in his own right.
That’s not all. The fit as a fiddle 73-year-old brings even more to the table, for he was a world-class athlete in his day, earning Olympic bronze in 1964 as part of the T&T 4x400m relay team.
“Mr Skinner,” says Gordon, “is a living legend—1964 Tokyo Olympics; he was one of the founders of Memphis Pioneers; he stayed there, he gave back to the club, he gave back to track and field. Mr Skinner has his own business now, so he was successful on the track and he is successful off the track. He is definitely somebody I tend to follow in the footsteps of.”
Skinner says Gordon is a rare gem.
“Every so often he would come and talk to me, especially before a major race. He sees me, I guess, as a mentor and he shows me a lot of respect. It’s very rewarding.
“I consider myself fortunate to have Jehue. He is blessed with talent, and has all those qualities that the coaches love. He is disciplined, and does not suffer from the fear of failure because he has experienced it in his life.”
Gordon speaks in glowing terms of Dr Hypolite.
“He’s very versed in everything. When it comes to dressing, when it comes to women, when it comes to intellectual capacity, he is the guy to go to. He knows a good bit of everything. He’s definitely somebody I look up to. He has done so much for himself, for his country, for his family most importantly, and for me. I guess I could say he’s my second dad.”
Like all good fathers, Hypolite has a vision for his “son” and is willing to run with him every stride of the way en route to the goal.
“There is a lot of scope for the development of his speed, particularly his flat quartermiling speed. When you look at the history of the event, guys really hit their peak round about 26 to 28. Jehue is 22, so to me there is still some scope for strength development. I’m hoping that once he remains injury-free, once there’s no major injury, then we can pull that altogether.”
Already a senior world champion at 22, there’s a strong sense that Moscow won’t be the last golden moment for Gordon and his total local Dream Team.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Trinidad Express writer Kwame Laurence is among a select group of sports journalists chosen to be part of the latest IAAF Day in the Life series, a project featuring some of the Caribbean’s best athletes as well as other major players in the sport of track and field. Next Friday, a world champion strives for normalcy.