‘I think he can go a lot faster’: Canadian sprinter Jerome Blake realizes world-class potential


Aaron Brown first noticed a change in Jerome Blake after his Star Athletics teammate became the fifth-fastest man ever over 200 meters on a straight track.

Blake achieved the feat on May 23, surprising world-famous runners from the United States, South Africa and Great Britain to win in 19.89 seconds at the Adidas Boost Boston Games, the first under-20 of the Canadian over the distance.

“After that race he was a very confident guy, almost too much,” Brown recalled ahead of Saturday’s Diamond League meeting in Birmingham, England, where he will team up with Blake in the 4×100 relay. The event begins at 9 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

“He kept saying, ‘I’m going to run 19 [seconds] to this race and race. He didn’t let it come naturally and started expecting himself.”

Blake was posting world-class times in practice, but they didn’t translate to competing on a 400-meter oval track. He was also not focused for the races at the start of the season and was not present, mentally, on the starting line. The added pressure eventually cost him a spot as a 100m or 200m runner on the 2020 Canadian Olympic team.

Watching a 100 final in Tokyo without Blake infuriated his coach Dennis Mitchell, the 1992 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist. He scratched his athlete as they watched the race, five days before Blake and Brown help Canada relay bronze.

“I didn’t know what I was doing. It was new [training system] and I had a hard time trusting anything new,” said Blake, who left coach Tara Self in Coquitlam, B.C., after the 2020 season to train with Brown and Mitchell in Florida. . [Mitchell] told me.

“But it was more that I didn’t believe in myself. He threw a stern curse at me and sometimes that helps push you.”

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Growing up in Jamaica, Blake joked that he would run for Canada one day. After moving to Kelowna, BC, he was spotted by a coach who encouraged him to take sprinting seriously.

Blake, who was born in Buff Bay, Jamaica, shot 10.06 and 20.20 in the 100 and 200 respectively at the end of the 2021 campaign and Mitchell told him he was “leaving a lot on the table”.

The six-foot-three, 198-pound sprinter told CBC Sports he spent the offseason improving his hip and core strength and is now stronger and more comfortable when he’s standing up and running. Blake has also spent time working on his mental toughness with a sports psychologist and continues to refine the technical elements to get faster out of the starting block and over the first 10-20 yards.

“I have confidence in the work I put into training”

“I stopped putting pressure on myself,” said Blake, who was a hurdler, high jumper and long jumper before moving with his family to the Okanagan region of British Columbia during his last year of high school.

“I trust the work I’ve put into training and understand that for every race I’m going to give what I have, do what I have to, and the results will be the results.”

“He covers a lot of ground with his stride, has a good work ethic and lives up to the potential he’s shown,” added Brown, the three-time defending Canadian 200m champion who mentored Blake. at the RBC Training Ground in 2017. . “This year he believes he belongs and can compete with the people he lines up against.

“I think he can go a lot faster and off the track I’ve seen him do a lot of things to make him a world class athlete. ‘he takes.”

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Blake delivered early this season.

He opened his outdoor 200m season with a personal best 20.04 on April 16 at the USATF Golden Games. Two weeks later, the 26-year-old went flat 10 in the 100 for another PB at a local meet after taking a few days off to visit his mother in Kelowna, BC.

Blake will also race the 100m on Saturday at 9:29 a.m. ET, facing defending Olympic bronze medalist Andre De Grasse of Markham, Ont., and his cousin Yohan Blake, who won silver at the 2012 Games in London. . Jerome also beat 32-year-old Yohan six weeks ago, along with American stars Noah Lyles and Erriyon Knighton, at the Bermuda Games.

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Retired Canadian sprinter Glenroy Gilbert remembers a young Blake who caught his eye in 2017 “running on absolute talent with no strength or development” at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg.

“I always thought Jerome could be a good sprinter,” said Gilbert, now head coach of Athletics Canada. “[He] finally did what he had to, training in an environment with world-class athletes that would allow him to run fast. It’s hard to say where the ceiling is for him.”

Olympic Relay Medal Upgrade for Canada

Blake’s marked improvement can only benefit Canada’s relay team in a world championship year. Brendon Rodney, Blake, Brown and De Grasse will reunite in Birmingham and race the 100 at 11:05 a.m. ET for the first time since the Olympics after getting wet in the Florida relays in April.

They received great news when the International Olympic Committee approved their Olympic silver upgrade at Thursday’s executive board meeting. Great Britain, who finished 1 hundredth of a second behind Italy for a gold medal, were disqualified following the doping violation of CJ Ujah.

Brown, who runs the first leg on Saturday, expects Canada to go under 38 seconds if the team post clean transfers, his fall nine months ago in Tokyo, where Italy crossed the line finish in 37.70 ahead of Great Britain (37.51).

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Andre De Grasse led Canada to a third-place finish in the 4x100m relay at the Tokyo Olympics, before Great Britain lost their silver medal due to a positive test from British sprinter Chijindu Ujah.

“It was the difference between bronze and gold,” Brown said over the phone from Birmingham. “We have the leg speed to rival anyone in the world. It’s about finding our spacing [with the handoff] and be more consistent with it. The relay is like a dance and every step is crucial. If you step out of place, it disrupts the whole routine and it is difficult to recover.

“I would like us to run a clean race where we are not conservative with our steps. If we play conservative now, we will play conservative [at worlds in July] and be afraid to take a chance.”

Middle-distance runners Marco Arop (9:37 a.m. ET) and Lindsey Butterworth (10:51 a.m.) and high jumper Django Lovett (8:24 a.m.) are the other Canadians competing in Birmingham.

Arop, 23, finished third in his outdoor season opener in the 800 meters, clocking 1:49.51 a week ago in a slow men’s race in the Diamond League opener of 2022 in Doha. Butterworth, 29, returns to the Diamond League in the women’s 800m for the first time since her debut in 2018 at the Prefontaine Classic. She ran 1:59.59 – 9-100th in the women’s world standard – on May 6 in California.

Lovett, who won her first Canadian title last summer, placed third in Doha with a clearance of 2.27 meters after finishing eighth (2.30) at the Tokyo Olympics.

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For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(Radio Canada)