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Spotlight on Jamaica

The Blissett Memorial Classic, a popular event on the JCF calendar
The Blissett Memorial Classic, a popular event on the JCF calendar

Jamaicans love cycling. Jamaicans love sports in general. They like to win, and they don’t give up.

These words come from the Jamaican Cycling Federation (JCF) President Joylene Griffiths, who is determined to see Jamaica’s prowess in other sports, such as athletics, transfer through to cycling.

Since being elected President of the JCF in November 2017, Ms Griffiths has been on a two-month journey that she describes as “hectic, exciting, inspirational and enlightening.”

She has set herself an overwhelming list of priorities that include strengthening the Federation’s administrative effectiveness, continuing the dialogue with the government to build a new velodrome, creating a calendar of local and international events, talking with potential sponsors, introducing cycling into the school curriculum and ensuring the presence of a Jamaican cyclist at the next Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast, Australia, in April).

The new President is aiming high but is optimistic for the sport both at Elite and recreational levels. She says Jamaica has talented cyclists who just need the necessary support to realise their potential. The country has nine cycling clubs, and at weekends it is common to see groups of cyclists out riding from Kingston to Port Royal and in Montego Bay.

She believes the key to growing the sport lies in introducing cycling to Jamaicans at a young age.

Introducing cycling to schools

“My burning desire for cycling in Jamaica is to establish the youth programme,” says the JCF President who, even before becoming involved in cycling administration, had already been instrumental in organising Youth Development Summer Camps a few years back. These not only enabled inner-city children to learn to ride but also taught them the basics of bike mechanics, hygiene, hydration and road safety.

Since her election as JCF President, she has had meetings with school principals and students to share her ideas.

“My vision is to incorporate cycling into schools and organise a national championship for the schools similar to that for track and field. This is the approach that has made track and field so successful for Jamaica,” she says.

“This way we will discover new talent, fuel the love and excitement for the sport and regain the fan support and the much-needed sponsorship.”

Leading by example

JCF President Joylene Griffiths

To boost cycling among women, Ms Griffiths looks to the example set by Cycling Australia, which as well as accompanying elite-level riders to the top of the sport, also encourages women to ride for their health and for pleasure. She has pledged to lead by example and get back on her own bike.

“Jamaica is currently riding a wave of physical activity awareness, so it is a great time to introduce any new activity that gets people moving. A women’s cycling programme would be welcomed by our Ministry of Health, which is spearheading an initiative called `Jamaica Moves’.”

New velodrome a priority

A recurring topic when talking cycling with Ms Griffiths is the need for a new velodrome in Jamaica. Although there is a velodrome at the national stadium in Kingston, athletics meetings, football matches and national celebrations organised at the complex take priority over cycling. For example, February is the month dedicated to athletic championships, which means the velodrome, which in any case is scheduled to be removed, lies unused.

“A new velodrome could dramatically launch cycling into a new age,” says Ms Griffiths. “We would be able to host regional events, improve track training, host more development events and attract sponsors.”

As she lobbies the government for a new velodrome, she can count on the support of, and close collaboration with, the Jamaican Olympic Association (JOA), which has a dedicated director for cycling. Cycling is the only sport outside track and field that has ever won an Olympic medal for Jamaica (David Weller in the 1km time trial in 1980 at Moscow) and the JOA and JCF intend to see more cycling medals in the future.

Oshane Willams competes in a JCF Development Meet at the national stadium

“Jamaica has a good chance of gaining a medal at the World Championships and the Olympics,” predicts Ms Griffiths. “We have the raw talent and the drive. We just need the financial backing. Cycling has never had a large sponsor, so it is time to forge bigger partnerships.”

Track cyclist Oshane Williams, 22, is the country’s rising star and Jamaica’s hope for the upcoming Commonwealth Games. He is clearly a cut above the rest on the domestic scene but has yet to measure up against the best from abroad.

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“It will be his first and largest international event. He still has a long way to go but he has a hunger to succeed. A good showing at the Commonwealth Games will help rebuild the sport in Jamaica.

“I ran for President of the Jamaica Cycling Federation because I want to give Jamaica the opportunity to sing the national anthem not just for athletics but alsofor cycling.”

Her parting words, taken from the song, ‘Bad Card’ written by Jamaican reggae singer and songwriter Bob Marley, ring out almost like a warning: “Them a-go tired to see we face, Me say them can’t get we out of the race.”

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