Skip to main content
Original Issue


For decades Jamaicans have excelled in the dashes, perhaps because running is a fast way to a better life

Let's assume you've just made your way here from the evocative scenes of the middle pages. Your hands are still a little unsteady. Your breathing seems a bit more ragged than usual. Well, whether you tremble from appetite or indignation or simply from the relief of a few moments without winter, if you keep reading back here, you're in for a further jolt. The transition from Jamaica's North Coast settings, so languid and lubricious in their perfect light, to the life and sporting concerns of the rest of the island can be jarring, even upsetting.

The contrast is that profound one between First World and Third, between visitor and native, between a most luscious manifestation of a wealthy colossus and an island with fewer people than Mississippi, less land than Connecticut and not very much money at all.

Jamaica's per capita income in 1981 was $1,340. It is derived almost totally from bananas, bauxite, sugar and tourism. The administration of former Prime Minister Michael Manley (1972-1980) had socialist sympathies which made investment capitalists edgy. Similar fears caused a near-exodus of professional and business people. Unemployment rose to more than 30%. The present government of Edward Seaga espouses a free market policy and has cut the inflation rate from 18% to 8.4%, but a quarter of the work force is still unemployed. The result is abysmally low pay for those lucky enough to have jobs. Unskilled workers in the electronics and beverage industries make between $47 and $105 a week (U.S. dollars). Meanwhile, chicken is $2 a pound, gas is $2.60 a gallon. There are some lovely homes in the foothills of the Blue Mountains behind Kingston, the capital, but in the city, most Jamaicans live very close to the bone.

Yet it's from these hardscrabble families that the nation's proudest athletic tradition continues to flow. Jamaica is a fountain of sprinters. Since 1948, when Arthur Wint and Herb McKenley finished 1-2 in the Olympic 400 meters (and 2nd in the 800 and 4th in the 200, respectively), there has seldom been a year without one or two Jamaicans near the top of the list of best sprinters. George Rhoden won the 1952 Olympic 400 and McKenley was again second. McKenley got a third silver medal in the 1952 100 and is the only man ever to make all three Olympic sprint finals. Lennox Miller's 10.04 was second to Jim Hines's world-record 9.95 in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic 100 and Miller won the bronze medal in the 100 in '72. Don Quarrie won the 1976 200 in 20.23 and was second in the 100 to Trinidad's Hasely Crawford. Last year, Bert Cameron was ranked No. 1 in the 400 by Track & Field News.

But this recurring genius isn't just coincidence. Jamaican high schools send as many as a dozen teams to the Penn Relays every year. In 1981, Quarrie's alma mater, Camperdown College (in Jamaica, a high school is usually called a college in the manner typical of British Commonwealth nations), won the high school 4x100-meter relay there in 40.90. "Our time was faster than that of the winner of the IC4A college-division race," says Glen Mills, who has coached Camperdown for 13 years. "I got tired of people asking me whether we were an all-star team from all over Jamaica. I said, 'Then where did the second-place team come from?' "

It came from Kingston. Nearly all the country's best sports schools are located in or near this city of 671,000, and any study of Jamaican sprinting excellence must proceed in its smoky, noisy urban center. Walking along North Street, for example, a mile from the docks, in search of Kingston College, one is approached by a wiry youth with the matted locks of Rastafarianism. "Ah, mon, I know what you want."

"Well, I want to find the school at this address...."

He seems able to walk a yard from one's side and at the same time rasp in one's ear, "Ah, but besides that. You want ganja [marijuana]. You want sinsemilla [higher-potency marijuana]."

"No. Lord, that would give me bad dreams."

"Not this ganja. This will let your spirit soar. This will let you see the truth of things for the first time. This will put you at rest with your soul."

"Look, all I need to relax is to get my bearings."

"Oh, mon. Relax around here and you be lost."

He slides away into the sidewalk swirl. The crush seems to affirm the need for such exhortations as the one on the billboard overhead: IT TAKES ONE MINUTE TO GET PREGNANT. THAT SOUNDS EASY. IT TAKES 20 YEARS TO RAISE A CHILD. THINK THAT'S EASY? PLAN TO HAVE ONLY TWO CHILDREN.

A minute to get pregnant? This is indeed a nation of sprinters. Another billboard advertises Sanatogen Tonic Wine—27 PROOF TONIC AND RESTORATIVE, IT'S A GOOD, HEALTHY HABIT TO PICK UP.

At last, across from the dome of the Roman Catholic cathedral, one discovers the beige-and-purple buildings of Kingston College. They are arranged around a dusty but spacious courtyard.

Students in white shirts and loosely hanging purple-and-white ties direct the visitor to a darkened doorway. Inside, past an old shower room, in a tiny, dim office, at a desk no more than two feet by three, sits Sportsmaster George Thompson. Kingston College is one of the two most powerful track schools in Jamaica. Lennox Miller graduated from KC. "And said his training was harder here than it ever was at USC," says Thompson, a muscular man with a pronounced air of solemnity. He is reputed to be an exhaustive trainer and doesn't deny it.

"Schoolboys work harder in running than any other sport," he says. "We ask, 'Can you get a college education by yourself?' They say no. 'Well,' we say, 'train hard.' "

The only major institution of higher education in Jamaica, the University of the West Indies, has an athletic department which puts very little emphasis on competitive sports. This is in the British academic tradition. But in England, competitive sports are done in university or municipal clubs. In Jamaica, they are done in the high schools or almost not at all. Thus, the way to continue as an athlete after 18 and the way out of a subsistence life are the same—an athletic scholarship to a U.S. college. Thompson can lean on 16-year-olds as hard as he wants with a clear conscience. It's their only chance. "In Jamaica, young athletes are pushed, driven more than in the States," he says. "Track is a boring sport. By the time they come to us, they already know it takes a lot to come out in first place. We add even more discipline to that."

And some reward. "Maybe a lunch for an especially hard workout," says Thompson. "Or a used sweatsuit for a good training week. Anything to motivate them." These are serious items in a country where a new sweatsuit costs $70 and running shoes $100 because of import duties. Often a school will do more for its athletes than clothe and feed them. "We have old boys [the traditional name for past graduates] who are doctors and dentists. They do things free for us. Others come in to help coach." Thompson has five assistants helping with his squad of 60. "As big-event time comes, we call on even more."

The biggest events are the Penn Relays (the trip financed by old boys and local business firms), at which young Jamaicans are seen by U.S. college coaches, and the annual Schools Championships, run over three days and before 30,000 spectators in the National Stadium. "That's the toughest track meet in the world," says Thompson with relish. "We had one boy in the 400, the 800, the sprint relay and the mile relay. Heats, semis and finals in all of 'em. And you see funny combinations, like a boy doing the shotput, pole vault and 100. That's because it's all done for points. For the school. The rivalries are deep."

To say the least. In 1981, in the final leg of the sprint medley relay, the anchor runners from KC and archrival Calabar College, coached by McKenley, collided. Both fell. "Our hurdler went after the Calabar boy," says Thompson. "The loyalties were high. The fans got on the track. There were fisticuffs." The melee was such that the Inter-Secondary Schools' Sport Association called off the rest of the meet and banned both Calabar and Kingston College from the 1982 championships. "They thought the rivalry was too strong," says Thompson, who disagrees. "The loyalty to the school has to be kept intense. Talent, style, grace are important, but the will to win, that pride, is vital."

He calls in a tall boy who wears a purple pin over his breast pocket that says PREFECT. This is Lennox Graham, a 53.2 intermediate hurdler. "What does it mean to run for KC?" asks Thompson.

For a moment Graham seems taken aback, as if asked the meaning of finding a five-pound gold nugget on the beach. "The reputation—being a KC boy—inspires us, keeps us going," he says. "Once I heard a friend say, 'You're nervous? But how can you be? You go to KC.' "

Thompson gives the visitor a brief tour of the college. "What do you think of our track?" he asks, pointing to an area the visitor had believed to be a sandy, rocky playground. Judging by appearance, the school seems able to hold about 500 students. Enrollment is 2,300. "But we have another campus for the younger ones, and we double-shift," says Thompson. There's an Anglican chapel on the grounds and the husk of a building left over from times of slavery. "Now they are raising walls around us for security," says Thompson. "There is so much theft. It all started with political unrest during the Manley days, but don't remember us for that. Remember the strength of loyalty men have for the school." He presses an index finger against his visitor's chest. When he draws it away, a little blue-and-white sticker remains. It reads K.C.—FORTIS CADERE CEDERE NON POTEST. "Our motto," says Thompson. "The brave may fall, but they never yield."

On the phone, the secretary for the First Life Insurance Company, Knutsford Branch, has a throaty lilt. "Kindly hold me, please," she breathes, a disconcerting statement until it penetrates that one has been put on hold. When she returns she confirms an appointment with the branch manager, Herb McKenley, O.D. (Order of Distinction).

McKenley is now a distinguished 60 (though women acquaintances insist that the child in him is apparent), and the president of the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association. He still coaches at his old school, Calabar, and is active in civic affairs. A try at a talk in his large, gold-curtained office is defeated by interruptions from the phone. To enjoy the energetic recounting of McKenley lore, one must escort him to a fine Kingston restaurant such as the Terra Nova, which on this evening is lit exclusively by candles. "It's romance by necessity," says McKenley. "The power is off in this whole district."

McKenley was born in Clarendon, about 45 miles to the west, and came to Kingston when he was 10. "I went to Calabar and started running some because of the interest shown in me by the late Dr. Charles B. Phillips," he says. "My father was a doctor, too, but he thought sport was a waste of time, that I'd mix with the wrong type of people. My first hero was Arthur Wint. He was two years older. He was tall and had that long stride. I never had a clear purpose until 1938, when I was 16. Arthur had made the team for the Central American Games in Panama, and he came by the school before he left. He was wearing his team uniform. It was an all-white suit, white shoes, a maroon tie and a panama hat with a maroon band." McKenley still shakes his head at the glory of it. "I looked at that, and I...I was overtaken. I thought, 'I must wear one of those.' "

Before the chance could arise, the war intervened. "Arthur joined the RAF. My father wanted me to go to England as well, but the German U-boats seemed to me to be making that a risky proposition. I said, 'Let's wait a while.' Then the scholarship offer came."

McKenley believes he was the first Jamaican athlete to take the avenue to U.S. colleges. A local priest who had followed his career arranged for a grant at Boston College. McKenley began there in 1942. "I transferred to Illinois in 1945, out of good feeling for Coach Leo Johnson."

A large brown bat has flown into the Terra Nova dining room, seemingly from the bar, and silently circles the room, hunting for the way out. None of the well-dressed diners pay any mind.

"I loved to run, unquestionably," McKenley says. "But I never thought in terms of ultimate goals. When I got to Illinois, Johnson asked me right out, 'How'd you like to be the best quarter-miler in the world?' I laughed, it seemed so astonishing. He let it go for a while, but every week or so he'd have a word or two to say on the subject. Then one night I dreamed an amazingly vivid dream. It was of breaking the world record, of the race, the crowd, even reading the time in the paper. When I woke up I couldn't believe I was in bed. I was wet. I'd been running. The next day I told Leo about this remarkable joke. 'It's not a joke,' he said. 'Every great happening must originate in a dream of some kind. It gets a hold of your subconscious. Your subconscious is telling you that it feels you can do it.'

"After that he stayed away from me, knowing that if I needed him, I'd find him. Well, a few days later I sought him out. I asked him what I had to do. He said I had to train more than anyone else, beginning with cross-country, which I hated. But I remembered the dream, the people applauding, the tremendous feeling of importance. I said, 'O.K., Leo,' and that day we planned the program. I ran through the cornfields around Champaign with blistered feet. I had my best indoor season ever. And on June 1, 1946, on a wet track in the Big-10 championships in Champaign, I ran the world record of 46.2. I had dreamed what the headlines said, and the next morning they said it."

Even McKenley's father began to come around. "His friends convinced him it was something special," continues McKenley. "But after the record I came home and ran a race against Elmore Harris of the U.S. and I lost, and my father was furious. 'I left my practice in the country and came all the way into Kingston for this? he said."

McKenley and Wint made up the nucleus of the Jamaica team for the first postwar Olympics, in London in 1948. "Arthur won the 400 [McKenley remembers Wint passing him with about four meters to go] and was the best man in the 800," says McKenley, "but he ran a dumb race, getting too far back of Mai Whitfield before he made his move." Whitfield hung on to win, 1:49.2 to 1:49.5. The Jamaicans hoped to affirm their sprint supremacy with a victory in the 4x400 relay, which McKenley was to anchor. But Wint, trying to make up ground on Roy Cochran of the U.S. on the third leg, pulled a hamstring, and McKenley never got the baton. "I stood there waiting for the longest time," he says. The wait would stretch to four years.

Approaching the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, Wint had a pulled right hamstring and was struggling with the demands of medical school in London. McKenley was recovering from the mumps. He asked to be dropped from the team after running last in his heat in the AAU 400 in Long Beach six weeks before the Games. "You have to go," he was told. "There's no one else for the relay."

Yet he made an astonishing recovery to get his two silver medals. In the 400 he came from five meters back to just miss catching Rhoden at the tape. They both ran 45.9. The 100 was even closer. McKenley lost to Lindy Remigino of the U.S. by an inch in 10.4 for both.

The 800 was a rematch of Wint and Whitfield. "And Arthur looked like he was in a good position to attack on the last backstretch," says McKenley. "Whitfield had a bad cold. He was vulnerable. But Arthur waited until the stretch, and Whitfield held him off again." Whitfield finished again in 1:49.2; Wint ran .1 faster than he had four years before. "Why didn't you kick earlier?" McKenley asked Wint. "Because if I didn't get around him, I didn't think I would be able to finish the race," Wint said. Then McKenley talked with Whitfield. "God, I'm glad he didn't kick on the backstretch," said the relieved American. "If he'd gotten in front, I could never have passed him again."

So McKenley came to his last chance. He was 30 years old. Another Olympics was out of the question. The same four Jamaicans who had run in 1948 took the track for the 4x400 relay. Wint's 46.8 and Les Laing's 47.0 left Jamaica well behind the U.S., which got a 46.7 from Ollie Matson and a blazing 45.5 from George Cole. McKenley's task looked hopeless. Charley Moore, who already had won the 400 hurdles gold at these Olympics, was 15 yards ahead.

McKenley produced the race of his life. He caught Moore in the stretch, held his form all the way and handed the baton to Rhoden with a two-foot lead. His split was 44.6, the fastest ever run to that point. Rhoden closed with 45.5, as did Whitfield. By the same two feet that McKenley had given it, Jamaica won by a tenth of a second, in a world record of 3:03.9. And McKenley finally had his gold. The four accepted their medals jubilantly and then waited for Czechoslovakia's Emil Zatopek, who had won the 5,000 and 10,000 meters, to complete his historic triple by winning the marathon. When Zatopek was done, the Jamaicans carried him on a victory lap, the applause deafening them all, and Helsinki was burned into McKenley's mind as the place where all dreams came to miraculous fruition.

"In 1978, thieves broke into my home and stole my Olympic medals," says McKenley evenly. "I happened to mention that to the chairman of this year's World Championships, which are to be in Helsinki. So now it seems new ones are to be presented to me there in August."

One of the many Jamaican kids deeply influenced by Wint, McKenley and Rhoden was Mel Spence. Now coach of the Jamaica College track team, Spence ran on the 4x400 relay team in the 1956, '60 and '64 Olympics and, with his twin brother Mal, made the Arizona State mile-relay team a national force. He worked for IBM in New York for seven years. "But good old home stayed Jamaica," he says. "I had to come home." Now he's an executive with the Jamaica Telephone Company.

Crisp and precise in speech and dress, Spence escorts a visitor to his school, which has a splendid academic reputation and a cattle guard at the gate. His team has begun its daily workout with a three-mile run through the streets, dodging coveys of uniformed, laughing elementary school girls. While Spence waits, he systematically identifies the factors that he believes combine to make Jamaican sprinters so good.

"You know about the competitiveness at the school level," he begins. "High school athletes are almost deified in Jamaica. That can give a false view of self, but it's sure tremendous encouragement. Then there's coaching, which is of a high level simply because of the great number of good sprinters we have had, who now work with kids."

Spence looks around at the fields of Jamaica College. At least there's grass on them. "We have some fine hurdlers here," he says, "but not a complete set of hurdles. The kids' diet is terrible. A lot of them only have a shaved ice and bun for lunch. Only during track season are they assured of a decent meal. That's when we beg companies to provide a piece of meat. Lots of kids come to school from the country and spend their first week in a dental chair. The point is, if they run so well under such conditions, they must be gifted with raw native talent."

The team gathers. "Our gym burned not long ago," says Spence, "so we use an old classroom." Without his direction, the athletes climb stairs to this room and clear desks and chairs from the dusty wood floor. Before a mural they begin a sequence of 14 stretching and strengthening exercises, the last being three 20-second bursts of high-knee running while pushing against the wall. Among the athletes a few words are softly exchanged, but all are intent on their tasks. "These guys never shirk work," says Spence.

When they're done, they go to rude steel parallel bars outside. They do dips and hand-walking on the bars. "When they practice starts, their shoulders won't be sore after five minutes," Spence says. They run over short steel hurdles for cadence. "Keeps people from overstriding. They learn rhythm." One boy has lost an arm. "He scraped it. Gangrene set in."

An assistant takes over the drills. Spence introduces a boy who had been kicking a soccer ball. "This is Nicholas Tracey," he says. "Fourteen years old, best 400 of 48.6. But Tracey is also an excellent soccer player, and soccer is in season, so he's enjoying the easier training." Tracey gives him a shy smile. To the visitor Spence says, "Don't say, in five years, I didn't warn you. He's tough."

A mustard-hued Mercedes glides down the drive. From it emerges the exuberant bulk of Dennis Johnson, the coach at the College of Arts, Science and Technology (a true college). Johnson ran for San Jose State from 1961 to '64 and burst to a wind-aided 9.2 for 100 yards at the Mt. San Antonio Relays in 1961. Spence gives Johnson the gist of the visitor's inquiry. "We had just begun talking about talent," Spence says.

"You probably can't find people anywhere as genetically mixed as here," says Johnson. "But I believe a lot of the original people must have come from a certain part of Africa, from a set of tribes rich in the physical ingredients of sprinting."

"But," the visitor says, "no part of Africa has ever had the sprinting success that Jamaica has."

"None has developed our tradition for it. But look how well Nigeria, say, has done in boxing, which calls for the same speed and power. In contrast with the Ethiopian type of slenderness, sprinters are densely muscled, with strong shoulders and big butts, and are compact, well balanced. It seems a Negroid body type. And I know that diet is important. Carbohydrates give the energy, and those are the Jamaican staples—rice every day, lots of yams and potatoes and cassava and bread.

"And there's the style of the people," continues Johnson. "Jamaicans talk fast. They write fast. They like action. They're jittery. The temper of the society is kind of like a sprinter's."

Johnson departs abruptly, stylishly. Spence offers the visitor a ride back to his hotel. En route he identifies the gray clumps of rootless plants that grow on phone wires. "Old man's beard. And the yellow vine on the fence, that's illegal in some places because it spreads and kills things it chokes. It's called love bush."

The conversation leads to another illegal plant. "Ganja used to be no big deal. It began as a medical thing. But in the last 10 years or so. a sort of culture has grown up around it. It's smoked in the schools; you can't stop it. But as an adminstrator of sports, I won't have anyone who smokes it on the team."

"What's this stuff called tonic wine?" Spence grins and says, "Jamaicans believe in tonics. Years ago we used to boil leaves and bark and drink that stuff. People came up with tonic wine. If you're sick you take it. If you're well you take it. And everyone has a good time. Myself, I drink stout."

There's a plaque beside the track in the National Stadium. ON THIS SPOT, WAS ERECTED THE FLAGSTAFF FROM WHICH WAS LOWERED THE UNION JACK AND UPON WHICH WAS RAISED THE FLAG OF JAMAICA, AT MIDNIGHT, 5TH-6TH AUGUST, 1962. The Jamaica that McKenley, Wint and Rhoden represented at the Olympics was not yet a sovereign nation.

Yet it welcomed them back after the 1952 Games with an impromptu national holiday; it collected money, and it erected a statue to the Jamaican champion. This figure, which now bolts from the starting position outside the stadium, is a composite of several sprinters, and has, most notably, the body of Wint and the eyes and hawk nose of McKenley. On this smoky morning, gray pigs crop the lawns that spread down to Arthur Wint Drive. (McKenley and Rhoden Crescents are on the other side of town.)

Up behind the highest tier of the stands, Camperdown Coach Glen Mills sits in his office. He's also a national coach. He, too, sees the psyche of the sprinter throughout Jamaican society, or the other way around. "Life here is hectic," he says. "Everything's in short supply. It's understood that there aren't enough jobs, schooling, housing, transport. Forty-two thousand take the exam to get into high school. Only 9,300 can make it. You can't stand at the back and wait your turn or you'll get left out. In the city we like to regard ourselves as quiet people, but even a small dispute brings out the aggression. Sprinting is built around that dramatic release."

This makes the visitor think of Quarrie, a Camperdown alumnus, not because he was a paragon of aggressiveness but because he seemed quite the opposite-soft-spoken and modest. "That was part of why Jamaica came to admire him so," says Mills. "But if you knew him well, you could see the drive in him. It's just that he only let it show in his races. The other thing was that he went right from winning the 100 and 200 in the Schools Championships in 1969 to a triple gold in the Commonwealth Games in 1970. He didn't go to USC until later. So kids could say, 'He was just here, right here with us.' He was the greatest lift to the tradition since McKenley and Wint."

Quarrie lives in Los Angeles now; Lennox Miller, who's a dentist and will be the Jamaican liaison to the Los Angeles Olympics, lives in nearby Altadena, Calif. Rhoden is a podiatrist in San Diego. Clearly, there's a risk in sending men such as these abroad for education.

"No, we don't have the healthiest of systems," says Mills. "Colleges in the U.S. have brought great results, but all those youngsters without academic strength are left out. Jamaican athletes win perhaps 10 to 15 scholarships a year. What about the rest?"

Mills would love to see a system of clubs develop. But Jamaica has many needs. "We'll have to look forward to sending the best abroad for some time," he says. "It's unfortunate, but it's a question of means."

There is a sports school in Jamaica. To reach it, one must drive 13 miles west of Kingston, to Spanish Town. Little of the way is without people beside the road. Some work with machetes on the wide verges, throwing cuttings on smoky fires. Men hang out around the many cement-block lounges, leaning against walls and posts. There are donkey carts of sticks and car parts. Goats abound, JERK CENTER says a sign advertising a shop specializing in pork and chicken jerky. Through the soot and diesel exhaust walk young women of regal bearing, their maroon, red and bright blue dresses dramatic against gleaming black limbs.

The driver, named Sam Redshirt, is a friend of McKenley's. He points out the St. Catherine district prison, saying, "That place is where they hang people." The center of Spanish Town is a beautiful old square of columned, yellow and pink brick buildings. "Built with no mortar," says Redshirt, "just molasses, sand and white lime."

The G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, just outside of town, is startling in its space and functional line. A gift from Cuba, it cost $6 million and opened in 1980. Its vice-principal, Al Phillips, (he has since left the school) was a long jumper and sprinter for Indiana from 1956 to '60, and it was his father who first encouraged McKenley to run. Phillips is 45. He looks 28.

As he displays the large gym, weight room and pool, Phillips' main point is that the tradition of success in the sprints has left a terrible gap in the other events and so ultimately has sold Jamaica short. "Coaches will say they coach track and field, but it's only sprints," he says. "Ask them how you hold a pole, how you set up a training schedule for a 5,000-meter runner, and they'll say, uh, I don't do that. Ask them what athletes they have produced and they'll name sprinters."

The college track is sandy, its lanes marked with black lines of tar. "We've had to learn to use indigenous things. The tar stays down in the hard rain. Lime washes right away."

G.C. Foster (named for the man who, in 1907, reportedly ran a 9.7 100 yards when the world record was 9.6) offers a three-or four-year college program. Its first class of 97 is now in its final year. The students are the solution to Phillips' lament about the narrowness of Jamaican coaching. "They're getting a solid grounding in all the facets of track coaching," he says. "The graduates are going to go out and start programs in the country, right across the island, and the athletes they produce will steamroll the ones the present coaches have. There's no reason our talent can't find expression in a whole range of events." Phillips would seem to be borne out in this by the success of a Jamaican like Milt Ottey, who left for Canada at 10, enjoyed good coaching and won the 1982 NCAA high jump for UTEP at 7'7¼".

"Ah, talent," Phillips says, luxuriating in the fundamental Jamaican blessing. "Not just in track, you know. Pat Ewing, who plays for Georgetown, was originally from Kingston. Bob Marley sang of Trench Town Rock." Indeed, for Phillips, gifts are to be seen everywhere. A few years ago at a soccer game, he liked the way one of the goalies moved. "You ever run?" he asked afterward. "No, not me. I play cricket and football," the goalie replied. Phillips got him out to do a few hills in the mornings. His name was Floyd Brown, and he has run a 45.87 400 for the University of Florida.

McKenley drives his rattling, blotchy 1972 BMW with 130,000 miles on it toward Calabar College. "Calabar is the name of a place in Africa," he explains. "Jamaican missionaries had come back from there when they started this school, originally for sons of the Baptist clergy." Now the Jamaican government comes up with a subsidy. "But it always seems late with its support, or it cuts the budget, so the schools are always behind in payments for facilities or equipment. The Calabar Old Boys Association is the reason for the sports program's survival. For example, this year there will be a special dual meet between Calabar and Kingston colleges to raise money for the track teams at both. The cup they'll fight for will be called, I'm happy to say, the McKenley-Miller Cup."

In his role as Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association president, McKenley has lobbied successfully, through the Institute of Sports, for a $300,000 government grant to resurface the National Stadium track and so bring it up to international standards, the better to court a major meet. Kingston was a fixture on the international circuit in the mid '70s. Filbert Bayi of Tanzania ran his world-record mile of 3:51.0 in Kingston in 1975. In 1977, Quarrie returned to race Steve Williams of the U.S. in the 200 before 35,000 overwrought Jamaicans. Quarrie won in 20.32, finishing four inches ahead of Williams. The crowd exploded into such tearful, hoarse thanksgiving that all who were there, even Williams, understood the race had had its best possible results. But outside the stadium milled 5,000 emotional people for whom there was no room. There was violence and the foreign press was momentarily sealed inside the stadium, awaiting safe exit. The joy over Quarrie's victory and the bitterness of those kept from sharing it seemed to illustrate the heart of the Jamaican experience.

The Calabar fields are as overworked as those of all the other schools. A barbed-wire fence keeps a flock of brown goats out of the way of the hurdlers. The work is pursued with the same earnestness as at Kingston and Jamaica and Camperdown colleges. Here, the view of the mountains is better, and the loose ties worn by watching students are green. Enrollment is 1,750.

McKenley introduces the visitor to three members of the team that won the high school 4x100 sprint relay at Penn in 1982, and lost the 4x400 relay there because after the lead-off man got behind, each of the last three guys tried to pull a McKenley and catch up all at once. "Instead, we died," says Joe Boyd, whose best 400 is 47.64. Norman Pottinger, who at 17 has run 48.4, seems to speak for the group when he says, "I enjoy running, but I do it for a reason. I'd really like a scholarship to study electronics. Two or three seconds off my time will do it."

All are moved by the presence of McKenley. "He ran the last 150 of our 600s with us in the fall," says Pottinger, "to keep us from letting up off the turn. I enjoyed that."

And what of the man McKenley idolized, Arthur Wint? He was for a time a Calabar boy. The present team knows this, of course, but the name has little of the effect of the ebullient McKenley's.

"Arthur, well Arthur isn't in Kingston," says McKenley when asked about this. There seems to be something he wishes to explain. "Tell you what. He's a doctor, and always busy. But I'll see if I can't arrange a little talk at least."

Wint lives in Linstead. On the phone he was very proper, saying he could spare an hour at most, declining an offer of dinner. He gave precise directions.

Linstead is near the center of the island, 15 miles past Spanish Town, up the Rio Cobre. The drive is a curving green escape from the noise and smoke of the coastal cities. Once through a canyon, the motorist reaches rolling green hillsides, orange groves, soft sprays of bamboo, poinciana trees. It's cooler. One sees an old sugar mill near the town of Bog Walk. Its smokestack is square, built of brick in the 19th century. The country isn't deserted, simply rural. Linstead has a population of 3,500.

At one of the first intersections as one enters the town from the southeast is a two-story house with about as many porches and balconies as a house can support. Wint's office is on the first floor. His secretary, assisting an elderly woman down the front-porch' steps, says to go right on in.

The office is tiny and austere, containing merely a desk and a wall of medicines. A window admits the amber light of sunset. Wint, as spare as his surroundings, wears a lime-colored smock. He has the bowed posture of a scholar. He's both a general practitioner and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and is in charge of Linstead's small hospital, which is a two-minute walk up the hill through banana plants.

He deflects talk of being the originator of the Jamaican sprinting tradition, saying, "No, there were plenty of others who had the same effect on me that Herb says I had on him. Dr. A.F. Brown was a competitor in the 1938 Central American Games. Barry Grant ran the 1,500 and was known as The Flying Farmer. But I know the way Herb felt when he saw me in my games suit. I had the same experience, but it happened that I was struck by an air force uniform."

Wint trained as an RAF pilot in Canada. "We finished the advanced course two days before VE Day," he says. "I spent five years in the service and then began my medical training at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London."

Thus from 1942 to 1952 Wint never had the luxury of having running as his first priority. "Training was different then," he says. "I never ran against the clock any farther than three-quarters of a mile. I only trained three times a week. A workout would be four 300s or two 600s. It took an hour on the underground from St. Bartholomew's to reach the track. So by today's standards, no, I never reached my potential. I regarded my running as pure recreation, although I was always disciplined. I knew early that if I wanted to win I had to work at it."

Wint is the son of a Presbyterian minister, John Samuel Wint, who's now 95. "My father's attitude was that you went abroad to improve and came home to help," says Wint. "And seeking foreign scholarships is still the only way to get competition. I recognize the social implications of that policy. They'll stay abroad, a lot of them."

Wint isn't particularly troubled by that, in part because it has always been so; he had been away from home for six years before he first represented Jamaica in an Olympics.

He's asked to recall the 1948 800 meters. He grins and shakes his head. "It was a total error on my part," he says. "I should have won and broken the Olympic record. Marcel Hansenne of France had had the fastest time in the semis, so I decided I'd just shadow him. Whitfield ran around into the lead and I dismissed him. I didn't go after him. Then, when I saw he was getting away, I was boxed between two Frenchmen [Hansenne and the wonderfully named Robert Chef-d'hotel]. In 1952, though, no matter what Herb says, I was lucky to get second place. The whole field let Whitfield and me go."

McKenley has also said that if Wint had gone through the U.S. college system, he would have run 1:46. "And wouldn't have had half the fun," says Wint. "I ran my first race at 11 and my last at 32. To stay at it so long, I must have been having fun." He thinks about that for a moment. The sunset dims, although the oranges on the trees are still live coals in the dark foliage. "Well, success breeds success, so you want to go on doing anything you do well. But you must also know the time at which you must give it up."

Wint is 63. "Every day I give thanks for having been able to do all the things I have. My grandchildren are doing well. I've had satisfying careers in sports, the air force and medicine."