Up to 15 medals possible for Jamaica in London

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published July 31, 2017

Hypothetically, Jamaica could snag up to 15 medals at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London. However, what is the realistic haul we should expect?

Jamaica could win up to 15 medals at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.
(Photo credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

If Track and Field was a perfect world and only Jamaicans were the stars, Jamaicans could mine up to 15 medals in London at the 2017 IAAF World Championships starting next week. The popular predictions have Jamaica winning anywhere from 9-11 medals. However, are these predictions realistic, ultra-conservative or bold? I think it is time for Track and Field’s Nostradamus to be bold and deliver his predictions.

Of the 50-plus member contingent going to London, nine athletes in all – five men and four women – are ranked in the top-6 of 10 events this year. Oh, and by the way, the prodigious Usain Bolt is not among the nine. Therefore, if we add Bolt, seeing he is an anomaly we cannot debar from any conversation – outside of the relays – there are 10 Jamaicans with a theoretical opportunity to capture 11 medals in individual events.

For Usain Bolt, it’s all about winning medals and he could win two at his final major championship.
(Source: GQ)

If we add a medal in each of the 4x100m and 4x400m relays for the men and women to the 11 from individuals events, Jamaica could win 15 medals hypothetically. Hence, that is how we got up to 15 medals possible in London. However, that is the theoretical evaluation. Let us look at what is practical and realistic.

Starting with the men, Yohan Blake in the 100m and the 200m, Usain Bolt in the 100m, Omar McLeod and Ronald Levy in the 110m hurdles, Fedrick Dacres in the discus throw and O’Dayne Richards in the shot put are the possible medal contenders.

With his return to form, Yohan Blake (left) could be Usain Bolt’s main rival in London for the 100m gold medal.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Yohan ‘Blessed’ Blake is ranked in the top-6 based on times in both the 100m and 200m, that is, at number two and at number six respectively. His best chance to medal might be in the 100m, albeit, he has Justin Gatlin, Andre de Grasse, Chris Coleman and his stablemate Usain Bolt as his main rivals. I am predicting a medal for him here, the colour of which I cannot tell but let us say a bronze medal for now.

Bolt’s demonstrated form, on the other hand, has not been arresting or awe-inspiring this year, but that has been his mantra for the past few years before every championship. Will his luck extinguish or will his impenetrable plan fail this time? I am expecting gold or at worst silver for Bolt. So, that is two medals from the sprints and both from the men’s 100m.

Olympic champion, Omar McLeod (right) and Ronald Levy (left) in the 110m hurdles are Jamaica’s best shot at a 1-2 finish in London.
(Photo credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

In the 110m hurdles, Omar McLeod and Ronald Levy are Jamaica’s best opportunity at a 1-2 finish this year in an event. With both ranked number one and number three in the world this year and with each beating the other, it could be a stellar showdown in London. Hurdle races are tricky business, so don’t sleep on the Russian and reigning world champion Sergey Shubenkov or the world record holder Aries Merritt, who both have returned to exquisite form. If McLeod or Levy slips up, then Shubenkov or Merritt will pounce. Nevertheless, gold and silver is the prediction.

Fedrick Dacres, the former youth and junior discus champion, is a legitimate gold medal challenger in the men’s discus. He has the second-best throw of the season, three of the top-six, and in fact, 10 throws above the qualifying mark of 65.00m. His main competitors for the podium and the gold medal should be Sweden’s Daniel Ståhl and Lithuania’s Andrius Gudžius. Nonetheless, for me, Dacres is presaged to mine silver or at worst, bronze, though a gold medal would be a pleasant surprise.

Fedrick Dacres is a serious medal contender in the men’s discus throw.
(Credit: Brazil Photo Press/CON)

O’Dayne Richards, the bronze medallist in the men’s shot put at the last world championships, has been finding impeccable form late this season. Two weeks ago, Richards threw a personal best and a new national record of 21.96 metres. In my opinion, to guarantee a medal in London, Richards, who is the fifth-best thrower this year, will have to throw above 22 metres. The unsentimental expectation is that he will fall just short of the podium. Nevertheless, another bronze would not be considered a bombshell.

For the women, the hopefuls include Elaine Thompson in the 100m, Shericka Jackson in the 400m, Danielle Williams in the 100m hurdles and Kimberly Williams in the Triple Jump.

Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson is the heavy favourite to win the women’s 100m in London.
(Credit: AFP)

Barring something unpredictable, such as injury or the second coming of Christ, Elaine Thompson seems like the sure winner in the women’s 100m. So far this year, she has clocked 10.71 and 10.78 seconds, the two fastest times of the year. If she is able to regain the form she exhibited early in the season, the gold medal and nothing short of a personal best and a new national record is anticipated.

In the women’s 100-metre hurdles, Danielle Williams is the fourth fastest woman down to compete at the Championships. The reigning world champion, Williams, is considered third fiddle behind world record holder Kendra Harrison and former Olympic and world champion Sally Pearson, who is coming off a serious injury in 2016. Nonetheless, due to Williams’ championship mettle, she is forecasted to capture – at least – the bronze medal and will have American Nia Ali as her main rival for the final podium spot.

The resilient reigning world champion Danielle Williams of Jamaica is tipped to medal in the 100m hurdles in London.
(Photo credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

In the women’s 400 metres, Shericka Jackson, a bronze medallist at the last world championships and the Olympics, is fancied to capture the bronze medal again. Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo and world champion Allyson Felix are the main contenders for gold and silver. Jackson, however, will face a serious challenge from the American trio of Quanera Hayes, Phyllis Francis and Kendall Ellis for the bronze. Nevertheless, her championship mettle and raw speed should have her prevailing but it will be an immense battle.

Kimberly Williams in the triple jump is ranked fifth this year. Her chances of a medal are slim, and as for me, she will have to produce a personal best like she did in Moscow in 2013 in order to come anywhere close to a medal. And even then, she might fall just short.

Kimberly Williams will be hoping to improve on her fourth and fifth place finish at the last two World Championships. (Source: Youtube/IAAF)

In the men and women’s 4x100m relays, Jamaica is reckoned to clinch gold and silver respectively. For the women, if USA’s baton woes return or if an elite thoroughbred like Thompson is anywhere close to the US, gold might not be out of the realm of possibilities.

For the 4x 400m relays, the experienced Jamaica female team and reigning world champions are expected to mine silver with a strong USA team getting the gold easily. The inexperienced men’s team have some brave runners and have a realistic chance at the bronze. However, anything above a bronze medal will be an overachievement and an event shocker.

Unlike the pleasant surprise in Beijing 2015, the women’s 4 x 400 metres relay team are expected to capture a silver medal this time around in London.

In all, Jamaica has the possibility of capturing 15 medals at the World Championships. However, no championship is perfect. Unexpected events always occur and predictions have to be revised. Hence, I am going with 12 medals in London: eight individual and four relay medals.

Table 1. Jamaica’s Projected Medal Haul at the 2017 IAAF World Championships

4 Gold 4 Silver 4 Bronze
Men’s 100m Men’s 110m hurdles Men’s 100m
Women’s 100m Men’s Discus Throw Women’s 100m hurdles
Men’s 110m hurdles Women’s 4 x 100m relay Women’s 400m
Men’s 4 x 100m relay Women’s 4 x 400m relay  Men’s 4 x 400m relay
Total 12

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter, blogger and columnist.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.comFollow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was published in the Western Mirror on July 31, 2017.

Common sense returns to West Indies cricket

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published July 17, 2017

Suddenly, the Darren Bravo-CWI impasse has been resolved, the hard-line CWI selection policy looks set to be softened and it’s ‘Hakuna Matata’/’Oh Happy Days’ in West Indies cricket again. But for how long?

“Oh happy day (oh happy day) Oh happy day (oh happy day)”

It seems amicable days might be here again. Last Thursday, West Indies cricket loving fans’ hearts were jolted with a plethora of news suggesting that the various impasses between the board and its players are simply halting. Media release, after media release, and stories all pointed to a thawing of the antarctic and misanthropic relationship between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), now Cricket West Indies (CWI), and its players. If only a fool’s hope, it seems both the board and its players have discarded their mephitic differences and have joined in a warm embrace singing ‘Kumbaya, My Lord’ and ‘Hakuna Matata’. What took them so long, you may ask? How would I know?

After close to two decades of strikes, quagmires and morasses, which have left West Indies cricket at the crypt of world cricket and the heart of its fans affixed in doldrums, the fans are now being sold that they have ‘no worries for the rest of their days. It’s a problem-free philosophy.’ Who is buying this hug-me-tight moment? And how long realistically do you think it will last?

Darren Bravo was suspended for his “big idiot” comment directed at CWI President Dave Cameron after Cameron incorrectly indicated in a TV interview on SportsMax that Bravo was on an ‘A’ contract.

Trinidadian Darren Bravo, West Indies leading batsmen in terms of Test career batting averages at 40 in recent times, is set to return to the team after being provisionally suspended from November 2016 for his “big idiot” Twitter comment directed at the CWI president Dave Cameron. Antecedent, Cameron had blundered when referencing Bravo’s past contracts in an attempt to explain the philosophy of the board regarding the awarding of retainer contracts based on performances. CWI, through its then director of cricket, Richard Pybus, informed Bravo of the cancellation of his match contract and demanded an apology from Bravo for his remarks. In my view, at the time, CWI hastily sent Bravo – who is ranked 31st in the world in the ICC Test player rankings – home, without following due process. Nevertheless, in April, newly appointed CWI CEO Johnny Graves seemingly thought that a resolution to the ‘big idiot’ riposte was imminent until Bravo’s barristers initiated a claim against the CWI for loss of earnings.

“It has come as a surprise as I was under the impression we had agreed [on] a way back for him. I’m very disappointed and yes, a bit frustrated,” Grave told ESPNCricinfo.

Cricket West Indies (CWI) chief executive, Johnny Grave.
(Source: Guyana Chronicle)

Well, on Thursday, a joint statement from the CWI’s president and Darren Bravo seemingly squashed their egos for now and placed Windies cricket first with the exchange of public apologies.

In Dave Cameron’s portion of the joint statement, he said, “In early November 2016, I gave an interview to SportsMax TV during which I discussed player retainer contracts and the grades of contract that had been awarded to certain players. In the course of the interview, I stated that Darren Bravo had previously been on an ‘A’ contract, which I have since been advised is not correct. I apologise for the misstatement and wish to assure Mr Bravo that there was no insult or [offence] intended towards him. Darren is a senior cricketer who has been a valuable part of the WINDIES set up for a long time, and I would hope to see his game continue to progress and mature, at both regional and international level.”

Darren Bravo and Dave Cameron have released a joint statement apologizing to each other and to all West Indies fans.
(Source: DNA India)

Conversely, Bravo’s portion of the joint statement read, “On 11 November 2016, after viewing statements made about me by Mr Dave Cameron, president of Cricket West Indies, on a television sports programme, I tweeted a response which referred to the president which was, in retrospect, inappropriate. As I have always tried to uphold the best traditions of West Indies cricket and its players, I now, therefore, wish to withdraw the comment made on my Twitter account and apologise to the president of CWI and to all WINDIES fans.”

To be honest, something like this never needed eight months for both parties to type and a mutual agreement found. Nothing is wrong with admitting when you have erred but I am glad that both parties or their sides have reached this palsy-walsy juncture.

Nicholas Pooran
(Source: Mumbai Indians)

In addition to the Bravo idiot-proof news, according to another CWI media release, sanctions against another Trinidadian, 21-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Nicholas Pooran, has ended and he is now eligible to play in all three formats for West Indies. Pooran, who was a member of the President’s XI which played against Afghanistan last month, opted last year to forego the West Indies four-day tournament, in favour of playing in the Bangladesh T20 Premier League for the Khulna Titans, though he was selected by a domestic franchise team. As such, Pooran was sanctioned for the move.

In the media release, words and phrases littered throughout hinted that common sense has returned to West Indies cricket. The mention of “bilateral good faith discussions”, settling of the “matter amicably”, “commit[ment] to the development of West Indies Cricket at all levels”, commitment to “strengthening their relationship” and “regret” being expressed about how the matter was handled would have everyone singing the ‘Hakuna Matata’ song.

Several prominent West Indies players may become available for selection in the Test and ODI teams based on the new amnesty proposed by the West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA).
(Credit: AFP PHOTO/Ishara S. KODIKARA)

Moreover, declarations on Thursday further hinted that a proposed amnesty by the West Indies Players Association (WIPA) for some of West Indies more prominent players may be accepted by CWI’s board. The policy which made players ineligible for selection for West Indies ODI teams, due to their non-participation in the domestic ODI tournament, may be soon changed, resulting in West Indies best players, according to some, returning to the field.

In an interview in Bengaluru, India on Thursday, Chris Gayle, one such player affected by the CWI selection policy, stated that in terms of the relationship between the players and the board, “things have been steadily improving.

Gayle indicated that the relationship between the players and the Cricket West Indies board has been improving.
(Source: Unknown)

“Things are beginning to open up a little more now between players and the board. It’s looking good, and we’ve to try and build from this to get the best players out on the field.”

All good and grand, however, several sceptics have not bought this defrosting and are counting down to troublesome days again in West Indies cricket. Who am I to knock their pessimism? For the past two decades, what have I to show for my sleepless nights watching West Indies cricket? Like a mad man, I’ve been clinging to fool’s hope for 20 plus years. And guess what? Foolishly, I’m willing to do so for another 20 years. Ah boy!

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter, who – at times – thinks he desperately needs to find a new job which does not involve watching West Indies cricket. It’s at that very moment, he awakes from the terrifying dream.

Zaheer can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.comFollow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was published in the Western Mirror on July 17, 2017.

13 or 43 Exhilarating Seconds You Need to See in London

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published July 10, 2017

Despite Usain Bolt’s swansong in London, the men’s 110m hurdles, the women’s 100m hurdles and the men’s 400m are the must-see events at the 2017  IAAF World Championships.

Usain Bolt admits he will struggle to hold back the tears when his track career comes to an end at World Championships in London.
(Credit: Press Association/PA)
(Source: The Sun)

The 2017 IAAF World Championships in London is only 27 days away and the main draw card for the event is Usain Bolt’s final race at an international meet before his retirement. Any mentions of the impending breath-taking performances of other athletes by pundits and fans are all but a whisper.

The blue riband event of every World Championships or Summer Olympics is the 100m event, which crowns its newest winner as the “fastest man in the world”. Usain Bolt has had a throttlehold on this label ritualistically now for nine years, with the exception being his false start in Daegu at the 2011 World Championships.

Based on his performances two weeks ago in Ostrava, 10.06 seconds, and at the Racer’s Grand Prix last month, 10.03 seconds, it is clearly apparent that Bolt is currently not in any shape to defend his title. Nevertheless, in recent years we have grown accustomed to Bolt labouring and struggling to produce spellbinding times of yesteryears leading up to the big event – the Summer Olympics or the IAAF World Championships. However, when the light shines brightest, he and his coach Glen Mills, usually get Bolt to produce his best performance of the season, at the biggest stage.

Omar McLeod and Kendra Harrison are two stars set to light up London with world or championship record performances in the 110m and 100m hurdles events.
(Credit: Phillipee Fitte/IAAF)

Predictably, the events that have me hissing about a potential world and/or championship records, and are the blue riband events, for me, at this year’s World Championships are the men’s 400m and the men’s and women’s sprint hurdles, that is, the 110 m hurdles and 100m hurdles respectively.


SUPERMAN HANDS OVER: Bolt hands over the immense responsibility of carrying track and field to Wayde van Niekerk. [You are next big thing. The world of athletics is in your hands.] 
(Credit: Julio Cortez/AP)

With Bolt’s departure all but set, the world has been searching for the next athlete that will fill Bolt’s shoes, if only partially, in terms of dominance in a particular event(s).

On the female side, Elaine Thompson seems to be the heir apparent to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as the marquee female athlete over the 100m and the 200m. However, the world, Olympic and championship records in those events are some distance away. On the male side, many have suggested that Yohan Blake or Andre DeGrasse, running over the 100m and 200m, are the successors to Bolt’s throne in terms of dominance and captivation. However, other potential candidates to that throne include Wayde van Niekerk and Omar McLeod while on the female side Thompson might feel some pressure from Kendra Harrison, who is due to explode on the world scene.


Wayde van Niekerk smashes Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old 400-metre world record to stop the clock at staggering 43.03 seconds.
(Photo credit: Associated Press)

As I had predicted last year – two months before the Olympics – van Niekerk shattered Michael Johnson’s 400m Olympic and World records. Unfortunately, I missed the trifecta, after van Niekerk failed to break 43 seconds by four hundredths of a second with a blistering 43.03 run from lane eight. This year, the expectations of van Niekerk are no different, if the conditions are ideal and the competition sufficient, he may be pushed to immortality. Undoubtedly, he should break the world record, championship record and 43 seconds in one quick swoop, if pushed. Unsurprisingly, van Niekerk broke Usain Bolt’s and Michael Johnson’s 300m two weeks in Ostrava and a week ago, he eased to 43.67 in Lausanne.

A non-spectacular run from the ageing former Olympic and world champion LaShawn Merritt coupled with the absence of former Olympic, World and Commonwealth champion Kirani James might be the Achilles heel to another ‘van the Man’ performance from van Niekerk. In addition, if van Niekerk contends both the 200m and the 400m for men, with the men’s 200m first round and the 400m finals scheduled for the same day, the last time I checked, then we might be robbed of another great Rio performance from van Niekerk.

Omar McLeod will have Colin Jackson’s championship record of 12.91 seconds in his sight at the London World Championships.
(Source: Reuters)

‘Mr Smooth’ Omar McLeod light up Rio last year when he won the 110 metres hurdles event and this year, he has already set five of the top-7 seven times over the distance. After switching coaches this year, he has set his personal best and a national record of 12.90 seconds at the Jamaican National Championships. With the world record at 12.80, the championship record at 12.91 for over 24 years, McLeod has the raw speed and ability to break the world record, championship record or both. He currently sits on the fifth fastest time of all-time set this year.

Keni Harrison, disappointedly, failed to qualify for the Olympic Games last year after falling apart in the 100m hurdles final at the US trials, finishing sixth. Harrison had dominated the season up to that point, winning most, if not all, of her races. A few weeks after the sorrowful trials, she destroyed the 28-year-old world record with a run of 12.20 seconds at the London Olympic Stadium, the same host of this year’s World Championships.

Kendra Harrison wins the 100m hurdles in a world record of 12.20 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London 2016.
(Source/Credit: Kirby Lee/IAAF)

Henceforth, even though Usain Bolt is the most exhilarating athlete we have seen in track and field, at this his final major international meet, the elation and goosebumps might be produced from performances from Wayde van Niekerk, Omar McLeod or Keni Harrison, or all. Once again, track and field’s Nostradamus has looked into his crystal ball and these are the scary and delightful premonitions he saw.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter. The last time he tried to run the 110m hurdles, it took him a super-fast 43 seconds to complete. Omar McLeod or Kendra Harrison would have finished the same race and would be having a drink by the concession stand by then.

Zaheer can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.comFollow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was published in the Western Mirror on July 10, 2017.


Sports & Cancer: Never Give Up on Your Dreams

By Zaheer Clarke

Published July 3, 2017

Oftentimes, your love for sports can make the difficult moments in your life a little easier. For several individuals battling cancer, it’s this love and the love from their family that transform them into superheroes.

Hundreds Bid Farewell to Captain Horace Burrell
(Source: BOJTV)

Last week, the entire Jamaican football fraternity paid respects to a man, Captain Horace Burrell, whose dream united a people and made a nation proud. In 1994, Burrell marched into the presidency of the Jamaica Football Federation. His immediate dream at the time was for Jamaica to attain qualification for the 1998 World Cup in France by 1997. It was a daunting task to be achieved in three years, but it was a task that required an enchanting and stomping leader, and that he was.

The Captain, with Rene Simoes at his hip, transformed Jamaica’s outlook on its place in world football with steely performances in match after match ‘at the office’ and overseas. Surprisingly for many outside of Jamaica, Jamaica qualified for the 1998 World Cup and went on to finish 22nd out of the 32 teams that participated. Amazingly, Jamaica finished ahead of teams like the USA, Cameroon, South Africa, Scotland and others. Many will forget that in 1994, Jamaica was ranked as low as 75th in the world by FIFA. However, it was under Burrell’s tenure that Jamaica rose to its highest ranking of 27th in 1998.

Captain Burrell, the man with the dream that united a nation. Cancer could not tame his drive.
(Photo source: Guyana Chronicle)

The influence of the Captain on Jamaica’s football was like Santiago Bernabeu’s own influence on  Real Madrid Football Club. Real Madrid was once a fledgeling club in Spain, with the big clubs – Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao – dominating proceedings. Bernabeu had a dream of Real Madrid one day rivalling the big clubs in Spain and Europe. He first started off with building the largest stadium in all of Europe. He and Real Madrid were mocked bitterly, with many at the time declaring that it was “too much of a stadium for so little a club”.

Today, the club has gone on to win the most Champions League titles in Europe. And the stadium, which bears his name, the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, is the perennial home of Real Madrid Football Club and the Spanish national football team.

The stadium owes its name to the legendary president of the club, Santiago Bernabéu de Yeste.
(Photo credit: Real Madrid F.C.)

In a similar manner, something significant, which will be mentioned each time Jamaica steps out to play, must be named in Captain Horace Burrell’s honour. Burrell took a small English-speaking Caribbean country to a World Cup tournament, which many had said was ‘too big a tournament for such a small country like Jamaica’ back in 1994.

Burrell’s contribution to local football and the national program warrants such recognition and not just a passing breath at his funeral service. His impact and legacy on Jamaica football must never be forgotten or diminished. When several corporations looked away from Jamaica’s football and its viability, Burrell, through his own business, Captain’s Bakery, pumped money and resources into the parish and local football programs to ensure their feasibility and continuity.

Captain Horace Burrell, last year, greeting my friend and fellow Jamaican Cleaveland at a department store in the United States, shortly after the Copa America Centenario tournament. The Captain was battling cancer at the time.
(Photo source: Cleaveland Smith)

Unfortunately, last month, Burrell died of cancer. I recall during the Copa America tournament last year when he was ill and I heard of the magnitude of his illness, I too was sombre as to the direction of Jamaica’s football program after Burrell. He gloriously returned for the final game of the tournament after receiving treatment, even though Jamaica were mathematically out of the tournament. It was a sign of defiance in my eyes. It was a sign of him wanting to be there for his boys – the Reggae Boyz – as always, despite his illness.

A good friend of mine from Trinidad, Marsha, who is a perennial supporter of West Indies cricket, was diagnosed with cancer last year. When healthy, Marsha can be found near the Trini Posse stands at the Queens Park Oval, cheering on West Indies through thick and often thin.

My friend Marsha in the hospital preparing for another round of chemotherapy. On the days West Indies wins, she feels no pain.
(Photo source: Facebook)

Unfortunately, in order to save her life and try to beat cancer, she had to do surgery, several rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It was a difficult time for her and her family. However, win, lose or draw; sick, well, or maim; you couldn’t get her away from her West Indies’ team. When the West Indies won three global titles last year, with the under-19 boys winning the ODI World Cup and the senior men’s and women’s teams winning the T20 World Cup, no amount of carcinogenic pain could damper Marsha’s joy, even when lying on a hospital bed or on her own bed at home.

Novlene Williams-Mills, a four-time Olympic medallist and a six-time World Championship medallist, was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. She won the national 400m title in 2012 and 2013 and anchored Jamaica’s 4 x 400m team to gold at the 2015 World Championships. Just recently, she posed nude for ESPN’s Body magazine similar to other popular athletes with surnames Williams: Serena and Venus. However, Williams-Mills has the supreme distinction of being the first breast cancer survivor to pose for the ESPN Body Issue. Battling cancer is never easy and the scars, both mental and physical, after and during the cancer fight can be debilitating. Oftentimes, sports and your love for it can make the difficult moments easier.

Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills is the first breast cancer survivor featured in ESPN’s ‘Body Issue’
(Photo credit: Marcus Smith/Eric Lutzens/ESPN)

‘Some experiences, when you get to the other side, you get back to the person you want to be. You look in the mirror and you see all these scars. This is a body that you’re used to so much and then one day you have all these scars on your body,’ Williams-Mills remarked.

‘And, you know, that’s your story. I had to be like, “This is who I am now. These are the scars that make me up.”

“Cancer just wants to take control of everything. It didn’t ask permission.”

– Novlene Williams-Mills

‘Before cancer, I would think, “OK, to make me a lady, you have to have your breasts. You have to have this, you have to have that,’” Williams-Mills said. ‘Now I realise that what makes me a lady is this strong person that I look at every single day in the mirror.

‘It’s the courage; it’s the strength; it’s the fighter that I have in me that when I wake up every single day, I live to fight another day.’

My friend Victoria looks cancer in the face and smiles. She will not be defeated.
(Photo source: Facebook)

My friend Victoria, affectionately called Vickie found out last year she had cancer. Just last week she had surgery, this after doing extensive chemotherapy and radiotheraphy over the past year to become cancer-free.

Today, I want to salute all those who valiantly fight cancer and love sports. You guys are the true superstars and heroes. The famous basketball coach Jimmy Valvano, who too battled cancer, once said, “Don’t Give Up, Don’t Ever Give Up.”

Please watch Jimmy Valvano’s Inspiring Speech on Cancer – 1993 ESPY Awards
(click on video below)

Keep fighting my friends…

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

 He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on July 3, 2017.

Manchester Tragedy Fuels Friendship & Triumph

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published May 29, 2017

Ariana Grande
© Getty Images

A week ago, 23-year-old American pop singer and actress, Ariana Grande had just ended her concert performance in the packed out Manchester Arena in England. The patrons, many of them children, were heading for the exits, still in costume, with bunny ears attached to their heads. Several of their parents were outside awaiting them to bring them home. High school boyfriends and girlfriends held hands as they headed to the doors. Friends, filled with excitement – chuckled and laughed – still amazed that they had witnessed their idol in concert. Numerous parents, who had accompanied their kids to the concert, held their children’s hands – in a protective fashion – as they guided them through the crowded maze, thinking only of getting home and getting home quickly.

In one quick expansive bang, the left side of the Arena erupted in chaos, as Salman Abedi, a Libyan expat, had detonated an improvised explosive device, more commonly known as an IED. The explosion killed 22 individuals, several of them children and parents who attended the concert. Also killed in the blast were parents who came to pick up their kids to take them safely home. Ironically, Abedi, the alleged bomber, was only 22 years old.

“Skin, blood and faeces were everywhere”

Kiera Dawber told CNN, “There were just bodies scattered about everywhere … it was just chaos.”

A man being helped from the concert hall
(Photo credit: Unknown)

Abby Mullen, who attended the concert, wrote on her Facebook profile, “As we were leaving a bomb or explosion went off metres in front of me. People’s skin, blood and faeces were everywhere including in my hair”

Two nights later, Manchester United Football Club was due to tackle Ajax in the Europa League finals at the Friends Arena in Stockholm, Sweden. Manchester United and Manchester City football clubs are bitter rivals and are both coached by two coaches, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, who have had many battles over the years coaching other clubs, including Chelsea, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. For the most part, they are the antithesis of each other in football philosophy and approach and like oil and water, they are often immiscible. Mourinho, the frequently pragmatic coach, builds his teams on strong defence while Pep, the idealistic coach, builds his team on great offence, thinking the best defence is a strong offence.

Jose Mourinho (r) and Pep Guardiola have been rival coaches in the Champions League, Spanish La Liga and now city-rivals in the English Premier League.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

However, despite the adversarial relationship between the fans and the polarising philosophy of the coaches, last Wednesday, several Manchester City fans were supporting and cheering on their arch-rival Manchester United against Ajax in the Europa final.  In the depths of tragedy, sworn enemies can emerge as friends.

During the match, one Manchester United fan raised a poster over his head which read, “Come on United, do it for Manchester.” The Manchester the fan was referring to was not Manchester United the club. The objective of the night was not winning another cup or title, adding to their prestigious lot, in order to indulge in bragging rights against their city rivals. No! The Manchester the fan was referring to was the city of Manchester, which was broken and desperately in need of a triumph and a ray of happiness, to bring them together after a Monday of mourning.

A Manchester United fan beckons his team to win the final for the citizens of Manchester
(Photo: Rex Features)

Manchester City and Manchester United have donated a combined £1 million to a ‘We Love Manchester Emergency Fund’, set up for the victims of the Manchester bomb attack.

According to ESPNFC, City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak said: “We have all been humbled by the strength and solidarity shown by the people of Manchester in the days since the attack.

“The hope of both our clubs is that our donation will go some small way to alleviate the daunting challenges faced by those directly affected and that our acting together will serve as a symbol to the world of the unbreakable strength of the spirit of Manchester.”

Since the retirement of long-time coach Alex Ferguson in 2013, Manchester United have not tasted League or European success. In four years since, they are on their third manager, having disposed of David Moyes and Louis van Gaal in short order. This was United’s first opportunity to taste European success, albeit in the less-favoured Europa League, and end a practically lost season in the Premier League, which saw them finish sixth and out of a top-4 Champions League spot. United’s only hope of Champions League qualification lied in them beating Ajax in this final. Nevertheless, the hearts and minds of the United players and coach were on the people of their fellow city, Manchester.

Before the match commenced, Manchester United players were all donned in black armbands and the moment of silence at the beginning of the match, in memory of those killed or injured in the catastrophic attack on Monday, eventually became a moment of applause and was indicative of resulting triumph.

Manchester United (pictured) and Ajax linked arms before the game as a minute’s silence swiftly turned into a rousing applause.
(Photo credit: Michael Sohn/AP/Press Association Images)

Manchester United beat Ajax in the final 2-0 on the back of goals from last summer’s signings, Paul Pogba, the most expensive footballer in the world, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, another luxurious signing, whose jersey number just happens to be 22.

With the people of Manchester in mind, Mourinho declared after the match, “If we could, we would obviously change the people’s lives for this cup, immediately. We wouldn’t think twice. Does this cup make the city of Manchester a little bit happier? Maybe. But we just came to do our job.

Jose Mourinho celebrates Europa League success.
(Photo: REUTERS)

“We came without happiness we should bring with us because when you come for these big matches you come happy, you come proud(ly). And we didn’t. We just came to do our job.”

Pogba was on the pitch two years ago in a match against Germany when Paris suffered one of Europe’s deadliest terrorist attacks, which resulted in 130 persons being killed. After the Europa League final and in reference to terrorist bombings, Pogba remarked to BT Sport, “These things are terrible all over the world, in London and in Paris. We went out focused [on winning] and we won for Manchester and the country”. He added, “We played for the people who died [in Manchester].”

“We played for the people who died.” – Paul Pogba

In moments of unspeakable tragedy, persons often divided by race; gender; religion; philosophy; political views; and even football clubs, can find commonality, can cheer for each other’s success and can share each other’s pain. These moments when what separates us are minuscule to those things than bind us, marks the hallmark of the human spirit. A spirit, always triumphant.


Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on May 29, 2017.