POSITIVE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF ATHLETICS

Lorna Boothe in conversation … with Clayton Goodwin

Jamaica – Athletics – Success – Gold. Now, to add to that, there is the upcoming 60th anniversary of the country’s independence to co-incide with the Commonwealth Games. What better way to bring them together than to present a Triangular Tournament of Jamaican athletes from the home-island and the Diaspora with teams of Jamaican heritage competitors from the United Kingdom and from North America to profile the cream of contemporary track and field. Out of one country, many athletes. Lorna Boothe, then as the Commonwealth 100 metres hurdles champion, had broached the idea to me first forty years ago and now, as a leading coach and administrator, she thought that the ideal time had come. Everything was in alignment. In fact, amid all the gloom of pandemic, political crisis and sporting controversy, Ms Boothe was exceptionally positive about the immediate future of track-and-field athletics.

Lorna was in such a hurry to tell me the good news that she left no time to have breakfast on the way. So, we shared a pre-lunch bite looking down on the platforms of London Victoria station, reminisced about the past, and enthused over the present. Lorna recalled that the last time we were at that spot, some two years ago, was shortly after her visit to a place in the vicinity which was much more grand. Indeed, it was Buckingham Palace itself. She had been invested with the MBE by Princess Anne, co-incidentally her team-colleague at the Olympic Games in Montreal in 1976. Two years later the athlete won the Commonwealth gold medal at Edmonton, also in Canada, and Her Royal Highness, too, has gone on to make quite a name for herself.

Lorna can see how athletics in the United Kingdom can come out of Covid even stronger than it was before. For a start, the constituent parts of the union are working more closely together, sharing resources, expertise and experience. Young people, especially girls, are being attracted to the track in encouraging numbers, keen to train and to succeed. As Lorna was dressed in her track-suit I assumed, correctly, that she would be racing off to the track as soon as our interview had ended. She has seen every aspect of the sport from competitor, team manager, coach and administrator, and, in spite, or, rather, because, of her 66 years, is determined to pass that knowledge on to another golden generation.

Consequently, she is particularly proud of her election last year to the post of non-executive Director of England Athletics. Election – not appointed from “on high” – because she had been elected from the sport itself, the clubs and the members. Ms Boothe was a popular choice because she was well-known both through her achievements and the hard-work that she put into the election-campaign. And, if I may say so, because of her positive attitude. It would be so easy for her to rest on her laurels – well, we did reminisce a little – but she is as enthusiastic for what is to come as for what has passed. Since leaving Jamaica when she was 5 years old (and apart from seven years in the USA), Lorna has lived in South London but the whole world seems to be in her book of contacts.

Dina Asher-Smith’s influence has been tremendous, she told me. From Orpington almost in her own neighbourhood, the 25 year-old sprinter’s birthday differs from Lorna’s by only one day. Of course – only true Sagittarians have the innate speed to fly like an arrow (whether or not they take in hurdles on the way). Because Dina’s charisma extends beyond the track into modelling, advertising and general joie de vivre, she is such an ideal role model. Good things, too, should be expected of Daryll Neita, another 25 year-old, who is already an Olympic Games bronze-medallist. And other tips for the top …. How many do you want? … how long have you got? Well, not too long, alas, and we shall have to come back to Lorna later for an up-date.

Lorna’s height, or rather lack of, is in itself an inspiration to the next generation. She has proved that an athlete does not have to have all the physical advantages of Usain Bolt to succeed. It cannot have been easy competing always against bigger opponents. That evening I watched again the film of her heavy landing at the last hurdle, and the longer stride of rival Shirley Strong, edging her out of retaining gold into the silver medal in the Commonwealth Games at Brisbane in 1982. Determination and application, the correct coaching, and commitment are – in Lorna’s opinion – the ingredients for success ……

Even if you have to miss the occasional breakfast along the way to get there.

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