Spectators at the Olympic Stadium, in Berlin, Germany stood in awe at the end of the 2009 World Championship men’s 400 metres hurdles final. American Kerron Clement had successfully defended his title, but that was not the reason so many jaws dropped.
A 17-year-old from the small village of Maraval, in Trinidad and Tobago, had matched strides with the finest one-lap hurdlers in the world, and at the end of the race was within a whisker of climbing the rostrum.
Finishing fourth at the Worlds last August is Jehue Gordon’s biggest achievement on the track...so far. Eleven months later, he looks back fondly on the day he beat one of his idols, 2004 Olympic champion Felix Sanchez.
“I was shocked at first. After the race, I realised...’shucks, I beat Felix Sanchez’. It was a really nice experience, seeing that the training actually paid off.”
Gordon was not alone in his disbelief. The athletics world was shocked as well. In Moncton, Canada, however, he finds himself in an entirely different situation. Gordon is the overwhelming favourite for 400 metres hurdles gold at the World Junior Championships, the T&T athlete having produced the six fastest times in the world this year.
The next fastest under-20 athlete on the planet, Brazil’s Hederson Estefani, has a 50.44 seconds run to his name this season. The clocking is almost two seconds slower than Gordon’s best 2010 effort 48.47 in Puerto Rico in May.
The statistics suggest Gordon is in a class of his own and nothing but gold would be considered a Moncton success for the 18-year-old athlete.
“I’ve been dreaming about it for two years now.”
Gordon caught the golden vision after his elimination in the semi-final round, at the 2008 World Junior Championships, in Bydgoszcz, Poland.
“The first time I made World Juniors I had to come up against some rough guys - Johnny Dutch, [eventual champion] Jeshua Anderson, Amaurys Valle from Cuba. I’ve been watching back on the majority of World Juniors. Normally, people who just missed out on making the finals their first year, their second time around they normally come and attain the gold medal.”
Thoughts of silver are not being entertained by young Gordon.
“It would be very sad, knowing that I trained so hard and everything has been going good so far. The gold is the focus for me.”
Gordon’s confidence should not be mistaken for arrogance. Though taller than most adults around him, he’s respectful, calling the men “sir” and the women “miss”. And though he was the talk of the town in Berlin last year, Gordon remains humble. He’s just one of the boys following an arduous training session at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, enjoying some playful banter with sprinter Emmanuel Callender.
Gordon has nothing but praise for Callender, an Olympic and World Championship sprint relay silver medallist.
“He was my roommate in Berlin, and he brought all the positivity around me. Positive thoughts bring positive actions.”
Gordon has decided to pursue athletics as a full-time profession, opting to skip the American collegiate route. But though he is represented by HSInternational principal, Emanuel Hudson, the talented hurdler will continue to train in T&T under the watchful eyes of Dr Ian Hypolite and Edwin Skinner, his coaches at the Memphis Pioneers athletics club.
Gordon is also among the best juniors on the planet in the 110 metres hurdles. His 13.41 seconds PR (personal record) makes him the third fastest under-20 sprint hurdler in the world this year. It’s not an event, though, he plans to pay too much attention to.
“I see myself being a specialist in the 400 hurdles. I do 800 for strength and the 400 to get the speed for the 400 hurdles. The sprint hurdles? Maybe training, but not really competitive.”
When he’s not on the track wowing the world, Gordon is a regular teenager.
“I love to play video games,” he says, while munching on a pack of smoked almonds. “I love to play table tennis.”
Table tennis? Having played the sport competitively I feel comfortable throwing out a challenge to young Jehue Augustus Gordon. His response is full of humility.
“I don’t feel I could take you because I’m not professional. It’s just something that I like to do.”
But Gordon is so gifted that challenging him in any sport could prove to be folly.
In fact, had it not been for a clash of competitions, Gordon might well be a West Indies cricketer today, and not a world class one-lap hurdler.
The best young athletes in the Caribbean are on show every year at the Carifta Games. The Trinidad and Tobago team is selected after a two-day meet known as Carifta trials. In 2006, Gordon was entered in that meet, and was also among a group of young cricketers shortlisted for national duty at a regional age-group tournament.
“The cricket trial was in the afternoon and Carifta trials in the morning. I didn’t make at Carifta trials. That year I tried out for the long jump, I tried out for the 400 and the 800. I hurried to cricket trials in the afternoon but I was too late. I didn’t make any of the teams, and seeing that I was ranked in the top two in track and field but I just wasn’t running the times as yet I stayed on the path.”
Track and field’s gain was cricket’s loss, for Gordon was a budding allrounder with the physical attributes to excel.
“I used to go in the batting about three or four down. I was like the big-hitter in the game.”
And in the bowling department, he says he was “very fast”.
“Starting to lenghthen out, get much taller, and everyone was still much shorter. With the speed from track and field training on and off and the football, that helped me a lot in the cricket.”
Fans of athletics would be grateful that fate pushed Gordon away from cricket. Last year, they witnessed his fourth-place finish at the World Championships in a personal best 48.26 seconds. And now, they are watching closely, eager to witness the removal of the 26-year-old world junior record from the books. Yes, Gordon is capable of bettering the 48.02 standard, established way back in 1984 by American Danny Harris.
“Records were meant to be broken. You have to have the right race, the right conditions, and be at your best to break a world record. The world record is on my mind, but I don’t go into competition thinking about it. Once I execute my race properly, any race I could be entered in the record could be shattered.”
If everything comes together perfectly, Gordon could become the first junior to break the 48-second barrier.
“That would be astonishing.”
But while Gordon has the goods to do amazing things on the track, he remains level-headed, demonstrating a clear understanding of why he has been able to achieve excellence.
“First things first. God, for giving me the health and the strength, for giving me the talent. My parents [Vincent Gordon and Marcella Woods] for always being there in the times that I’ve been down, the times I’ve been injured. And my coaches for the good management and support they’ve given to me.”
In addition to the positive influences in his life, Gordon is driven from within, his determination to succeed fuelled by what he sees day in, day out in Papyia, Maraval.
“People in my area, they go astray easily. They’re always on the road, following friends, smoking…all the stuff that they shouldn’t be doing. For me, I basically stayed out of this from very young. I just continued to stay inside, do my work, train hard. From training, back home, rest. It just drives me to be seeing my friends and some of my family out on the road. They lose their life very easily. And I don’t want to make that mistake.”
Prepared by Kwame Laurence for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © 2010 IAAF
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