Albert King is an unsung hero in the Jehue Gordon success story.
A teacher at Belmont Boys’ Secondary, it was King who first introduced Gordon to hurdling. As they say, the rest is history.
In 2010, Gordon was crowned world junior (Under-20) champion in the 400 metres hurdles. And three years later, at the age of 21, he grabbed gold in the event at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
But though he has climbed to the top, the young man from Maraval has not forgotten who gave him his start.
“For my first race over the 110 hurdles, I was telling Mr King I’m too slow. I was probably running about 11-high, 12-point over the flat hundred, and there were 100-metre sprinters who were running 10.8 at that time. I was first-year Under-17. When I started the 110 hurdles, I was running 15-point.
“I was confused. Why Mr King wants to put me in the 110 hurdles, and these dudes running 14-low, and 10-point over the hundred? I was like, ‘Mr King is definitely crazy’. But his craziness actually unfolded to be greatness.”
Grateful Gordon jumps at the opportunity to acknowledge King’s role in his athletics career. The retired teacher is equally enthusiastic to speak about a particular championship quality his former charge possesses.
“His forte is mental strength,” says King. “Coming to school here, he experienced serious, serious domestic problems with his parents and with his home—heavy rainfall (a landslide) damaged his home. He encountered all that in his five years here.”
Former teacher and former pupil meet at the Belmont Circular Road school. They are hosts to a group of journalists from Europe and the Caribbean who have travelled to Trinidad and Tobago as part of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) 2014 Caribbean Day in the Life project.
The King is holding court, and the visiting journalists—keen to learn more about Jehue “Young Prince” Gordon, and his introduction to hurdling—are paying close attention.
“I normally call it the running high jump,” says King, “because the kids run to it and jump over. Jehue was actually running over the hurdles, so I pulled him aside and said: ‘Boy, yuh know you could make it in the hurdles’.”
King is a resourceful coach. With no playing field at Belmont Boys’ Secondary, many training sessions were conducted indoors. And the coach did not have actual hurdles to work with, so he used a bench to help the athletes develop their skills.
King and Gordon proudly display the makeshift hurdle.
“Here is where it all started,” Gordon recalls. “You could see how old the bench is—wood lice eating out the bench. I guess if we had a field, it would have been better to get hurdles, but it’s all concrete in the school.”
The pupils would sometimes get the opportunity to train on a grass track at the nearby Queen’s Park Savannah. On those occasions, they would use PVC hurdles.
“This is the plastic hurdle we used,” says Gordon. “We upgraded from the old stool to this.”
The world champion gives a demonstration.
“I remember those days as if it was yesterday—trying to get those knees up. Knees up, parallel, pull.
“When it comes to actually jumping over the hurdle, that was the scary part. You needed a little loose screw. Most people were thinking, ‘boy, next thing I hit my johnny (private part)’. There were some who just went over it crazy, some who took their time. And there was me, who thought about it a lot before I went over: ‘How should I approach this thing?’ I went over smoothly. Then Mr King watch meh: ‘Yuh have de ting natural; yeah man, yuh could do de ting; yuh have it in yuh.’
“Compared to the other fellas who were trying so hard, it was kind of effortless for me to just step over the hurdle.
“Hurdles chose me. I didn’t choose hurdles.”
As fate would have it, the paths of Albert King and Jehue Gordon crossed, the Belmont Boys’ Secondary teacher and Air Bon Sonics coach ensuring the right choice was made by the talented pupil.
All hail the King.
EDITOR’S NOTE: 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, Doc and the Olympian.