“Jehue, push yuh head.”
Marcella Woods is not a track and field coach. Her advice, though, was crucial as her son, Jehue Gordon, battled to the line in the men’s 400 metres hurdles final, at the 2013 IAAF World Championships, in Moscow, Russia.
Like a good son, Jehue pushed his head. His body followed, and he tumbled to the track. The result was gold, Gordon clocking 47.69 seconds to finish just ahead of American Michael Tinsley, the silver medallist in 47.70.
For technical advice, Gordon relies on his coach Dr Ian Hypolite and his local manager, 1964 Olympic 4x400 metres bronze medallist Edwin Skinner. But the 22-year-old athlete does not take for granted his mother’s role in his track career.
“A lot of people say when they see my mom, they see me—when they see me, they see my mom. Anytime I’m overseas, my mom connects with me spiritually. She has a feeling, especially when I’m about to do well, and she kind of relates that message to me. And I use her as my backbone, because sometimes I go overseas and don’t perform as I’m supposed to. Last year at the Jamaica Invitational, I was going good up until the last 10/15 metres; then, two guys came and took it from me on the line. At the Guadeloupe Grand Prix last year, I was leading the race with three metres to go, and Omar Cisneros dipped me on the line.
“Ever since, she always pressured me: ‘Jehue, push yuh head, push yuh head’, so I just went in with that thought. Little things like that could make an impact at the end of the day, because if I didn’t push my head at the World Championships last year, I was definitely not going to win. I’m not saying I could win all the time, but she has a vibe, and her vibe complements my vibe, and we work with each other.”
And, of course, there’s no cooking like mummy’s cooking. So, on Thursday evenings, after he trains at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, Gordon takes the 10-kilometre drive to his family home in Papyia, Morne Coco Road, Maraval, where he has dinner. But mummy prepares more than one meal, ensuring that her son is properly fed for the next four days, at his temporary home—Milner Hall, University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine.
As a professional athlete, Gordon travels quite often, missing out on the food he loves best. So, when he returns home, he makes a beeline for a particular kitchen in Maraval.
“It’s not to say I would go to any restaurant. My mom, she does a lot of different stuff, she takes care of everything. She could make ‘buss-up shut’, and that’s one of the favourite things I like to eat once I come back home; crab and dumpling, but I haven’t had that in a while; some nice ribs with some cole slaw does the trick.
“But I definitely want to get some buss-up shut. That’s curry,” Gordon explains to a group of international journalists. “Roti skin and everything—mango, pumpkin, spinach, the full works. Maybe some curry goat or curry duck...yeah.”
Gordon’s decision to turn down scholarship offers from American universities, and attend UWI, has borne fruit. He is now world champion and, as a bonus, gets to eat Marcella’s cooking on a regular basis.
But being a Trinidad and Tobago-based world-beater has been challenging.
“Most people already limit themselves when they’re thinking about staying at home and training. They think we don’t have enough infrastructure, we don’t have enough facilities, enough resources at our disposal. The thing is we actually have those resources, but the people who disburse these resources and make them available for the entire athletic fraternity, that’s the difficult part. Around Carnival time, they close off the stadium from us, and that’s probably one of the biggest challenges I have to face.
“As much as Trinidadians love the Carnival season,” Gordon continues, “I personally hate Carnival season. It takes away so much time from being able to put in some solid hurdling work, time to be specific and technical at that time of the year when you’re starting to get ready to compete, for March, for April, and then to fly off to the Caribbean and European circuits after.”
Judging from the evidence of his global success in Moscow last year, what Jehue has lost in terms of training time at the Hasely Crawford Stadium has been outweighed by the comfort of living at home. Undoubtedly, mummy’s cooking is high up on that list of comforts.
SPORTS 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, a Royal tradition.