Stephen Francis: Where is the Legendary Jamaican Coach Now?

‘Sprint: The World’s Fastest Humans’ delves into the journeys of various track and field athletes as they dash to the 2023 World Championships, vying for the coveted title of the fastest man or fastest woman alive. The Netflix sports documentary series mentions the long-standing rivalry between the US and Jamaican athletics teams. On the Jamaican side, Stephen Francis is introduced as the legendary coach and founder of the MVP Track Club, which single-handedly propelled the country to become the top contender in the sport. Stephen and his brother Paul possessed a deliberate and cool demeanor as their athletes navigated the ups and downs of the season, which bespoke decades of experience.

Stephen Francis Created Systems for Jamaican Athletes

Stephen Francis began coaching adults in Track and Field in 2000. He had completed a BSC in management studies from the University of the West Indies and an MBA in finance from the University of Michigan but chose to forgo a well-paying nine-to-five job in favor of pursuing coaching. He quickly discovered he had a knack for training athletes when Asafa Powell joined his camp in 2001 and improved his sprint times from 10.81 seconds to 9.77 seconds. Powell’s meteoric rise to the top of the men’s 100m event did wonders for the MVP (Maximising Velocity and Power) Club’s reputation. The coach became known for smart approaches to training, including long-to-short, which has athletes run at low speeds but high volume early in the season and increase intensity while lowering volume as the competitions near.

As a large number of athletes flourished under Francis, he turned his attention to upgrading the club’s facilities. Unlike in developed nations, Jamaica lacked professionals in the field of sports medicine. The MVP head coach recognized this and began investing substantial funds into creating the infrastructure necessary for the athletes to recover from rigorous training faster. Additionally, Francis gained a reputation for taking underdog athletes under his wing and helping them achieve their full potential. Over the years, he and his team have produced stars like Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, and Elaine Thompson-Herah.

Stephen Francis is Dissatisfied With Jamaica’s Preparations for the Olympics

With over two decades of experience in coaching some of the best athletes the world has seen, Stephen Francis is not an easy man to impress. Even though he stepped down from being the head coach of MVP in 2017 and handed the reins to his brother, the club founder still commands tremendous influence and respect. Despite Shericka Jackson becoming the 2023 World Champion in 200m, he was disappointed that she could not break the 36-year-old world record of the event set by Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988. The coach was also ticked off by the JAAA’s (Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association) decisions regarding the men’s 4x400m relay team, which failed to qualify for the 2024 Olympics.

Image Credit: SportsMax TV/YouTube

He believes that the senior management at the government body is not appointed based on their merits in sports management and hurt the team by selecting members based on seasonal times when the players weren’t in peak condition. “That is rubbish…unheard of, and only people who know nothing about senior athletics would ever even suggest that,” said Francis in an interview. (Those with proper knowledge) know that in April, nobody starts to run because people are more peaking for the summer, so what they should have done for the world relays is to run the teams you expect to run down in June… They need to get rid of Mr Riley, Mr Wellington, all the people of the committee for seniors and get people on there, whose lives are about senior athletics, and who know the sport and then we will stop having these problems.”

Stephen Francis Presented Suggestions and a Ray of Hope

Despite the scathing criticisms Stephen Francis has made about the JAAA and his country’s Olympic-bound athletes, he has also given productive feedback and positive observations. When it came to the athletes underperforming in the trials phase, he reasoned that experienced runners are geared towards competing from June onwards and will likely perform better when the time comes. For the JAAA, he said that the situation with the men’s relay team could still be salvaged within the window to qualify for the remaining spots.

However, due to the unavailability of key athletes and some measures being too late, the Jamaican 4×100 men’s relay team failed to qualify for the 2024 Olympics. This marks the second time since 1948 that the country will not have a 4×100 men’s relay team competing in the Olympics. Regarding the overall women’s track and field team representing Jamaica at the Olympics, Stephen Francis firmly believes that it is exceptional, even compared with the data of his previous Olympic teams.

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