April 03, 2014
With a focus of promoting Caribbean athletics globally, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) is spearheading a 'Day in the Life' Series, featuring some of the best athletes in the region. The first stop on the regional tour is the island nation of Jamaica. Sheldon Longley is with the IAAF team, and will be bringing updates here in the Sports Section of The Nassau Guardian.
KINGSTON, Jamaica - The name of his foundation is YB Afraid. He has a passion for cricket, and on the tour he is known as 'The Beast'. All perfectly describe the man who is the second fastest sprinter ever behind his training partner and triple world record holder Usain Bolt.
Just a couple years ago, Yohan Blake was laying down some times and performances that solidified his place as one of the world's best sprinters. He had surpassed Michael Johnson's former world record in the 200 meters (m), and had matched Tyson Gay as the second fastest ever in the 100m. He was looking forward to an even greater progression in 2013, but a severe hamstring injury kept him out of the Moscow World Championships and he was unable to defend his world title.
Now, Yohan 'The Beast' Blake is on the comeback trail. He still feels that he is not at 100 percent, but is looking forward to a great season, inclusive of the inaugural world relay championships in The Bahamas. He said that he is looking forward to running with his Jamaican teammates in a sister Caribbean nation. The 2014 International Association of Athletics Federations' (IAAF) World Relay Championships is set for May 24-25, at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
"It's going to be exciting," said Blake in an exclusive interview with the IAAF 'Day in the Life' Series team on Friday.
"I've always been a relay person so I'm looking forward to the world relays. Back in high school, we always talked about just running relays and relays alone. It would be fun. It was an idea of the late Neville 'Teddy' McCook, and we're looking forward to it. We're going to The Bahamas to represent Jamaica well, and we're going to love it."
Blake has personal best times of 9.69 seconds in the century, and 19.26 seconds in the 200m, both ranking second best of all-time. He is one of those Jamaicans who train at home, as a key member of the Racers Track Club.
"I just can't wait for the season to get started. I feel good - just taking my time and working my way back. I'm patient," he said. "I know what I can do. Once I'm healthy it's going to be problems (for his opponents). I just try to keep me focussed and keep working hard to get myself back to where I was before the injury."
Blake said that his focus, drive and love that he has for the sport separates him from everyone else.
"I never give up. While everyone is sleeping I am working," he said. "All of the athletes look up to me. They want to work with me because of the work ethic that I have. They see that I'm coming back from an injury and continue to train hard. That's the standard that I set in training," he added.
This past Sunday, the IAAF 'Day in the Life' Series team visited the Mt. Olivet Home for Boys in Walderston, Manchester, Jamaica - the home of Blake's latest project and the base for his YB Afraid Foundation. Currently, 26 boys, ages 7-18, are at the location. The home, which was established by the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands in 1967, provides a place for boys who would have been abused or neglected in the past. The home is licensed to house 30 boys.
"What this does is keep them happy," said Blake on Sunday. "When a lot of them first came here, everyone was fighting, but now they've kind of settled in. We're trying to build chemistry among the boys. With training ongoing, I don't get to come here that much but the YB Afraid team checks in and reports back to me.
"Every day it gets harder and harder. A kid gets kicked out or lose their mom or something like that. The pile is getting bigger every day. It's tough. Every day I get emotional. This place needed help, and it needed help fast. I give my all in everything I do - in this project, in track and field, and in my life."
Since taking on the project, with the help of Adidas, Blake and his team have provided furniture, a computer room, and sporting facilities such as a mini basketball court and a mini soccer pitch for the establishment. He's not stopping there, as he and his team plans to move to his hometown of Montego Bay next, and then possibly take on a project in Africa as well.
Sonia Lowe, director of the home and also of the Pringle Home for Girls in St. Mary's, said that Blake has established an ongoing relationship between himself and the boys, and they love it when he comes and visit.
"They cannot wait to see him. They know everything about him, and they always want to know more," said Lowe, who has been with the home for four years. "What happens is that these boys go before the courts, and if space is allocated, they get assigned to us and we prepare for their arrival. They come from all over Jamaica. We want our boys to succeed in whatever they do. We need trained men in all facets of society, and that's what we want from our young boys here. We don't want them to end up homeless, and I wouldn't want to see any of them washing anyone's car windows. We just want to push them to be the best that they can be."
When Blake is not training and dealing with his foundation, he said that he enjoys playing cricket here in Jamaica, and reading books.
"I just feel at home in my own country. I enjoy being home," he said. "I grew up loving cricket through my father. It's imbedded inside of me and something that I will cherish forever. Of course I'm passionate about track and field as well, but I don't like to talk too much about it because I don't want to put too much tension on my body when I'm competing. I like to take my mind off what I do, so as not to put too much pressure on myself. You would find that Usain and Warren (training partners Usain Bolt and Warren Weir) are basically the same. In my spare time, I just like to read books and play cricket. I like a lil bit of tennis as well and watching horror movies."
Blake, now 25, exploded on the world stage during the 2010 season when he lowered his personal best times to 9.89 seconds in the 100m and 19.78 seconds in the 200m. The following year he won the world title in the 100m, and about three weeks later, he recorded the second fastest time ever, in the 200m. He has also been a part of two world record setting 4x100m relay teams for Jamaica, but is still missing that elusive Olympic individual gold medal - a feat that he says drives him in practice each and every day. At his Olympic debut in London in 2012, he won two individual silver medals behind Bolt.
"Getting an Olympic gold medal would really mean something - it is something that could atone for four years of hard work," said Blake. "It's real important because that is the biggest stage in the world. What I learnt from my first Olympics is not to crush under pressure - take the experience from it. When it's your time, it's your time. I will always wait until it's my time. I always give my best and when it's your time, nothing can stop you."
Blake, a high school athlete at St. Jago in his younger days, watched as two of his sprint records were broken at the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA) Boys and Girls Athletics Championships, commonly known as 'Champs', over the weekend. His 100m time of 10.34 seconds fell in the final of the Class 2 (14-15) final in that event as Raheem Chambers, also of St. Jago, ran a time of 10.29 seconds, and his Class 1 (16-19) record of 10.21 seconds was blasted by Kingston College's Zharnel Hughes who posted a time of 10.12 seconds.
"I really like what I saw at 'Champs'. I'm really impressed by what is going on," said Blake. "Records were meant to be broken. I just hope that these guys could hold the faith and continue what they are doing after they are finished with high school. I am really impressed with what they are doing. We just need to preserve our athletes after high school."
Young Chambers is a fellow Jamaican, but Hughes is from the tiny island nation of Anguilla. As far as his foundation is concerned, Blake said that one should never be afraid to help, hence the name of his foundation, which is known for providing good support for impoverished kids.
"I have the opportunity to assist, and I'm going to do that," said Blake. "Growing up, it was tough for me. I always told my mother that I wanted to make things better not only because of what I was going through but also to help young kids. I've been to some places in Jamaica, and it's really sad to see what some of the young kids are going through. Sometimes it makes me cry. These kids have a lot of talent, and I'm just trying to create a better world for them.
"Some of them have been abused and neglected. I'm trying to get them back to a life of normalcy. We at the foundation have made a lot of strides in that area. It is successful, and a lot of persons want to come on board because they see the success that we are experiencing. These kids are starting to do well in school. Every day I try to talk to the young kids at UWI. The sky is the limit for them, no matter what. I just want them to know that they could aspire to be the next fastest man in the world or even prime minister."
Blake and his high profile Racers Club teammates share a training ground with the young athletes from the IAAF High Performance Training Centre, at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Mona Campus. Growing up, Blake said that he got a lot of his inspiration and his drive from his parents.
"My mom and dad are the ones who supported me when things were really tough. It was really hard for them to send me to school. I didn't know I was going to turn out to be this type of person, but I just have to thank God for it. Going through what I been through, it's a huge drive for me. Sometimes in training, you feel like you can't go but when you remember where you come from and that you are making poor people happy, you have to keep going," he said. "You know training with guys like Usain and Warren is a lot of fun. We have chemistry, we gel together. We have fun and that helps the camp. It's a situation where you have the best four or five in the world training together, and that makes all of us better."
While he is eagerly anticipating the world relays in The Bahamas, Blake said that he hasn't made a decision on the Commonwealth Games as yet. The 20th Commonwealth Games is set for July 23 to August 3, in Glasgow, Scotland.
"For right now, I'm just looking to get my stride back, and get back to where I was in the world. I'm training and things will come together," he said.
On the tour, Blake has his own style that makes him stand out from anyone else, whether it be the plaits, the uniquely-designed socks or the long nails. He said that he likes the image that he presents, and just doing things differently.
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