Part 12: Jehue copes with pro athlete/student demands

Jehue Gordon was on top of the world in August last year, his 47.69 seconds run at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia earning him the 400 metres hurdles world title.

But with every success—at the local, regional, and indeed international level—celebrations come to an end. Then, it’s back to the grind, oftentimes working even harder than before. Staying at the top can be a more onerous task than the initial rise.

For Gordon, the task was doubly difficult. In addition to his labour on the track and in the gym, the Trinidad and Tobago athlete had to resume his studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), where he is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Sports Management.

Gordon’s schedule is very demanding. Well, that’s actually an understatement, for there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for a full-time professional athlete and a full-time university student to comfortably co-exist in one human body.

“It’s very difficult,” says Gordon, “because the Caribbean system is a lot different to the American system. The school has been trying their best to accommodate me as much as possible, especially when it comes to exams.

“I don’t get enough rest,” he continues. “It’s challenging to catch up with the notes especially when you start school two or three weeks late coming in from the Diamond League. My friends pull me out a lot when it comes to taking notes in class, getting tips, studying in groups. My friends play a crucial role.”

The pattern of Gordon’s performances is a reflection of his challenges.

The Maraval hurdler opened his 2012 campaign during UWI’s second semester, clocking 51.13 seconds on March 31. On August 4 — during the school holidays – he ran a then personal best 47.96 in the semifinal round at the London Olympics.

And in 2013, Gordon’s 49.65 seconds opener on March 23 was almost two seconds slower than the 47.69 national record run that earned him the world title on August 15.

Dr Ian Hypolite is Gordon’s coach, and understands what his 22-year-old charge has to cope with.

“He is very, very ambitions as a student. He’s not the type to sit back and rely on gratuities, he’s not the type who is searching for an easy way out. He is as competitive in the classroom as he is on the track, and that makes it difficult because you then have to contend with late hours. He doesn’t complain, though, when he gets the workout.

“Fortunately,” Hypolite continues, “when you look at the record, he always runs his fastest down at the end of the season, or at a major competition when it really really matters. So, it has worked out, but it has been a major challenge nonetheless.”

What has also been challenging for Gordon is the additional attention since his golden Moscow effort.

“When I go to the malls, if I go shopping, if I do anything outside of my normal environment, people recognise me a lot more. They want autographs, pictures, they want me to give their kids advice. I guess now people expect a lot more of Jehue Gordon, compared to before.”

Following his success at the 2013 World Championships, Gordon was showered with gifts, including a house. Yet, when visited by a group of international journalists in April, he was living at Milner Hall—a hall of residence at the St Augustine Campus of UWI.

Like all the students on hall, Gordon does his own laundry. After putting a load of clothes to wash, he explains why he has chosen this simple lifestyle.

“I like to come back into a grounded situation. When you’re out there too much in the public light, you tend to position yourself to be who they expect you to be. And I don’t like anybody shaping my character. That’s why I came back into the school setting, trying to be a normal student, fitting in as a normal person…just being Jehue Gordon.”

With laundry out of the way, Gordon plays a game of table tennis with one of his hallmates. His choice of brain-cooler is no different from the average university student’s. And that’s the way the world champion likes it as he continues to strive for normalcy.