During the last few years, Panamauntil then a relatively quiet nation in term of athletics – has made its presence felt in our sport, mostly thanks to the medals obtained by long jumper Irving Saladino, the 2007 World and 2008 Olympic champion. But now, the latest man to emerge from the South-Central American nation to shock to world is sprinter Alonso Edward.
The silver medal at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin, obtained by Edward in a South American record time of 19.81, has placed him among the best, bringing along a shocking stat: at age 19, he was faster than the fastest-ever: Jamaican Usain Bolt, who at 19 years of age could “only” ran 19.88.
“After the race in Berlin, I wasn't that surprised by the time because his training indicated it he was ready for it,” says Edward’s coach, Matt Kane. “But certainly the fact that he became the fastest 19-year-old-ever took a while for it to sink in.”
“But what was more important,” Kane added, “was the fact that he was able to produce the time when it mattered. I think that anytime you can be compared to Bolt is a good thing, and what’s best is that if Alonso can continue to get those comparisons throughout his career... his career is going be a successful one.”
“When I crossed the finish line in Berlin, what impacted me mostly was the second place, because I had worked very hard to obtain that medal,” Edward said. “Then, when I saw the time of 19.81, I felt even more touched, because the greatness of the time let me know that if I continue going in this direction, I can obtain even bigger things. Yet, when I found out about the value of the stats, it felt good to be faster than Bolt at some stage.”
“If I say that I was expecting a time like that before the beginning of the season, I would be a liar. But in April, Alonso ran a college race in 20.40,” continues Kane. “By the way he finished, and where he was at in his training, actually made me say to a colleague that I thought he would run 19.8 or 19.9. Of course he called me an idiot.”
Something about Jamaica
Edward was born in Ciudad de Panamá, on 8 December 1989. He is 1.80m tall, and weighs 75kg. “My mother is from Jamaica, and my father from Panama. Both ran at some stage of their lives, but they never reached an international level,” says Edward.
“Like many other athletes, I started in the sport in a very casual way. Being at school, at the end of 2005, beginning of 2006, my Physical Education teacher saw how fast I was, and invited me to a meet,” continues Edward.
2006 would be his first competitive year, and at the age of 16, Edward impressed all the experts at the South American Youth Championships in Caracas, by winning the 100 and 200m in 10.60 and 21.18.
In 2007 Edward would continued to improve and impress, bettering the 100m South American junior record to 10.28 on 30 June in São Paulo, and running 10.25w and 20.62 at the “Juegos del ALBA” in Caracas, in April. But an injury meant that the promising Panamanian couldn’t run at the Pan-American Junior Championships.
The influence of fellow Panamanian Irving Saladino, who has been training in São Paulo since 2003, brought Edward to Brazil in 2008, but after an impressive 200m race in 20.96 in March, the young Edward fell injured again, and with that setback, all his chances of competing at the Beijing Olympic Games simply evaporated.
Alonso meets Matt
While recovering from the injury suffered in Brazil, Edward went to the US in preparation to compete at the 2008 IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz. His experience in Poland would be negative – a very modest race in 10.91 in the first round of the 100m. Still, while in the US, Edward met Kane, and that would turn out to be a lucky moment for both of them.
“When we first met, Alonso had a nice quiet presence about him. Not flashy. That translated into his training as well. At first he was a bit timid. But you could tell he was actually holding himself back,” remembers Kane.
“Finding him was a blessing. Matt is the best coach in the US, and his knowledge has brought me to a point where I never thought I would be,” says Edward.
“My expectations heading into the 2009 season were simple. I just wanted to keep Alonso healthy. I knew that if I could do that, he would qualify for the World Championships in the 100 and 200m. And honestly that was the long term goal, just to qualify,” adds Kane. “Alonso’s mind sets him apart from the other 100/200 runners that I have had in past. I feel like his mind is what has put him in the position to a claim a silver medal. He is patient and determined, and those qualities didn’t change when the level of competition changed.”
“In 2010 we will go for both 100 and 200m. The goal is to be better in the 100m. To run consistently under 10 seconds and to continue to improve upon his first 40m of his 100m as well as his racing tactics in the 200m,” Kane explains. “To make him a better sprinter we must work on his overall general strength levels, and his understanding of the mechanics of the start; therefore we must physically put emphasis on the weight room and the explosive strength.”
The Bolt factor
“I believe that if I claim that Alonso can beat Bolt in the future, it’s going make me sound like an arrogant and petulant child,” Kane continues. “However, I think that anything can happen in the next 3 or 4 years. I do believe that Alonso has much more potential than what he has shown. If he can stay healthy and motivated, he could be the one to be close, and winning is the long term goal.”
“I honestly don’t know if I would be able to beat him, but I must trust my strength, my coach, and keep training hard to be as close as possible to him,” says Edward. “What makes Bolt special, besides all his qualities as a sprinter, is his height and his tremendous strength. “Some athletes may get bothered by his displays on the track, after and before the races. But they don’t bother me at all. Each athlete has its won ways of expressing himself, or celebrating, so nobody should be bothered by Usain’s acting.” Panamanian success
While Panama is a country in need of top training facilities, it keeps producing great athletes.
“The level of talent in Panama is probably much greater that what we know, and because of the lack of facilities... we don’t know more about what could be,” says Kane. “Panama outsources their training of high level athletes (Irving Saladino to Brazil, and Alonso to me) so that they can get top level training, but also so they can train in a quality environment. I know that work is nearly complete on the national stadium, and this is a big step in the process to make athletics a major sport in Panama.”
“I got a chance to travel to Panama and meet Alonso's family. It was a great experience and they are tremendous people. They are the reason that Alonso is so well grounded and ultimately that led to his success. While I was there I was able to watch Mateo (Alonso’s younger brother) train and he is a great talent. I think that he may end up a bit taller than Alonso...and that would certainly be a tremendous asset. I would love to get a chance to coach him sometime in the next few years,” remarks Kane.
“It feels good to be a positive influence to the kids in Panama, and of course to my younger brother. I was sad not to have a proper track in the country, but the fact that we are very close to get a new one at the National Stadium will be a very positive thing, and I hope it won’t be the only one,” comments Edward, who claims to have a good relationship with long jumper Irving Saladino. “We are friends. We speak a lot, and we give advice to each other, and we feel we have great support from all the people in Panama.”
2010 should be a very interesting year for Alonso Edward.
The now 20-year-old Panamanian will be based in Norman, Oklahoma, since his coach Matt Kane will work there at the University of Oklahoma. “I will not compete at the 2010 IAAF World Championships in Doha. My goals for the season are to run in the IAAF Diamond League, the best meets around the world, and to be the first South American under 10 seconds at 100m”, ands Edward. Eduardo Biscayart for the IAAF
Alonso Edward Ciudad de Panamá, 8 December 1989. 1.80m, 75Kg. Coach: Matt Kane.
Progression at 100/200m: 2006- 10.60/21.18; 2007- 10.28 AR-j/10.25w/20.62 NR-j; 2008- 10.63/20.96; 2009- 10.09 NR/9.97w/19.81 AR. Indoor pb: 200: 20.89 NR.
At major meets 100/200: WCh: ’09- -/2, WJ: ‘08- 6h2/-; SAm: ’09- 1/1; Won SAm-J 100m 2008.