It is no longer a secret that track and field is a national obsession on the island of Jamaica. There are far more Jamaican flags waving about in the stands at the Penn Relays than red, white and blue ones. And when I lived in New Jersey, I couldn’t catch the bus without running into a Jamaican track hero as former George Mason middle-distance star Simon Bowen was my neighbor and remains a close friend.
There hasn’t been a huge migration from the land of Marley to the Ivy League, but there have been some notable exceptions. Brown grad Mark Thompson represented the homeland in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1992 Barcelona Games while Harvard’s Nicky Grant has won several Jamaican hammer throw titles.
And the latest Jamaican looking to conquer Heps is Princeton freshman Damon McLean, who is the League’s top triple jumper this year. Paul Burrowes of the Jamaica Observer recently caught up with McLean, who said that he chose Princeton because he “watned to grow both intellectually and athletically.”
He reported that “academics take the forefront” in the Ivy League. “I eventually decided to enter the Ivy League, especially Princeton, because I found the coach to be a great one … that is capable of helping me better myself,” McLean told Burrowes. “I really want to establish myself on the national scene. I know this will take time, but with the experience of the coaching staff and my work ethics, I know I will continue the strong tradition of Jamaican jumpers in the NCAA.”
He will also look to continue a remarkable line of Ivy TJers, which include NCAA Champions Rayon Taylor and Muhammad Halim and world championship qualifier Samyr Laine.