With the Commonwealth Games in the air, Statistician Charwayne Walker journey’s back to one of Guyana’s more notable athletes that have represented this country over the years, James Wren Gilkes.
The Year was 1953 the place was Georgetown Guyana. A woman, Joyce Gilkes, gave birth to a son whose father was Nathaniel. Some16 years later the boy fell off a bike and the career of a youngster who became World famed for his running began, the youngster was James Wren Gilkes who had his early learning at St. George’s and later transferred to Christ Church Secondary.
He was not an exceptional scholar and like many other youngsters participated in Sports in his spare time. But he wanted to be a cyclist. In the year 1965 he trained to a ‘T’ as he put it. He rode in a race for upright cycles and fell. He was laughed at by his schoolmates. Determined to do better next time Gilkes decided to train even more seriously and went to the National Park every afternoon in an effort to improve his riding.
Fate had it that athletics coach Ed Hartley was training a Squad of Nationals Runners at the same time and Gilkes asked to be allowed to join the Squad, something about Gilkes’ stride impressed Hartley and he encouraged the youngster to take up running.
In Gilkes first race he ran third in the 100 yards. Hartley was heartened by this. He told Gilkes then, son stick to running and one day you will become one of the best 220 yards runners in the World.
Three years later, 1969, an American Coach John Martin came to Guyana to make two Scholarships available to promising athletes. Ed Hartley recommended Gilkes as one of the selectees. The other one chosen was Robert Mc Kenzie. Gilkes entered Fish University and proceeded to stun the World with some electrifying times. He recorded 10.7 seconds in the 100 metres and 20.1 seconds in the 200 meters. A wind aided 19.8 seconds in the 200 metres was not ratified in 1974, this Christ Church Stalwart was among the top three runners in the World over 200 metres. By then too, Gilkes had more than running on his mind. He had to pursue an academic career for himself and so he entered the University of Southern California to do a Master’s in Public Administration. He had already gained his Bachelor’s Degree it was a U.S.C that he met the famous Jamaican athletic Coach, Leo Davis a former Jamaican National table Tennis Player and the transformation from a Natural Athlete to a perfectly trained human machine began. According to Gilkes it took three years for Davis to fully correct his faults. In October of 1975 Gilkes won Gold for the land of the Majestic Kaieteur Falls in the 100 metres at the Pan Americans Games in Mexico City.
In 1974 Gilkes placed second to Jamaican Don Quarry in the 200 metres at the A.A.U Championship in Los Angeles. Third was World Champion, American Steve Williams. Quarry’s time was 20.5 seconds, while Gilkes and Williams clocked 20.7 seconds. Fourth was American Reggie Jones of Tennessee.
He had warmed-up for his Mexico triumph with the following International performances in 1975. 1975 July, in Milan Italy old Arena, Crowd 25000, Milan’s International meet Gilkes placed third in 200 Metres finals. The race was won by Gilkes Arch Rival Jamaican Don Quarry in a time of 20.1 seconds, American Steve Williams was Second with time of 20.1 seconds, Gilkes’ Time was 20.5 seconds. Crystal Palace London Gilkes second to Quarry in 200 metres finals Quarry winning time was 20.2 secs, Gilkes time was 20.4 secs American Steve Williams was third with a time of 20.7 secs.
1975 Gilkes placed third at 100 metre at stock holm Sweden International meet. The race was won by Valery Barzov of the Soviet Union in a time of 10.29 seconds, American Steve Riddick was second with a time of 10.30 seconds, Gilkes’ Time was 10.30 seconds.
1975 Gilkes third at 100 metres in Viareggio Italy; the race was won by American Steve Williams in a time of 10.2 seconds, fellow American Steve Riddick placed second with a time of 10.3 seconds, Gilkes Time was 10.4 secs. American Steve Williams also won in the 200 metres. His winning time was 20.2 seconds, Gilkes placed second with a time of 20.3 seconds, while American Steve Riddick finished third with a time of 20.4 seconds; (1975) August, Gilkes placed third in 200 metres finals. Zurich, Switzerland the race was won by American Steve Williams in a time of 20.24 secs, Fellow American Steve Riddick placed second with a time of 20.30 secs, Gilkes’ time was 20.42 secs.
Gilkes placed Fourth at West Berlin 100 Metres finals. This race was won by American Steve Williams in a time of 9.93 seconds, Jamaican Don Quarry was second in a time of 10 seconds flat, American Steve Riddick finished third in a time of 10.3 seconds, Gilkes Fourth placed time was 10.4 seconds. 1975 October Gilkes won Gold Medal at the Pan Americans games in Mexico City in the 100 Metres finals.
His most disappointing moment in his International career was in 1976 August when Guyana Government Boycotted the Montreal Olympics. 1978 Gilkes won a Silver medal in the 200 metres final at the Commonwealth games in Edmonton, Canada. In (1979) May, Gilkes won the 100 metres finals at the Point a Pitre Guadeloupe International meet, Gilkes’ winning time was 10.35 secs, American Steve Riddick was second with a time of 10.38 sec, American Charles wells was third with a time of 10.46 secs, Jamaican Don Quarry was fourth with a time of 10.49 seconds.
In 1979 May, Gilkes won the 200 metres finals at Hampton Games, Arina Trinidad. He then teamed up with Thomas Bowman, Winston Alfred and Canadian based Trinidadian, A. Saunders to capture the 4 x 400 metres finals. 1979 April; Gilkes won the 200 metres finals at the Norman Manley International meet Kingston Jamaica. In 1979 we also won a Silver Medal at the Pan American Games in Puerto Rico.
Moment of truth 1980 Olympics in Moscow, Gilkes failed to gave Guyana a medal. He coasted to victory in the opening heat in the 100 metres but bowed out in the semifinals finishing fifth in heat two in time of 10.44 seconds. He also failed to qualify in the 200 metres. After the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Gilkes placed third at the London International meet in the 200 metres this race was won by Britain’s Allan Wells in 20.55 secs, Jamaican Don Quarry was second in a time if 20.84 secs, Gilkes Time was 20.97 secs.
Gilkes last showing at an International meet held in Trinidad was July 1982 at the New Mondo track at the Trinidad. Gilkes out ran World-rated American Steve Williams, Jamaican Don Quarry and Britain’s Allan Wells.
Gilkes placed second at the Tesoro games in Trinidad, this race a 100 metres event was won by Trinidadian Hasley Crawford in a time of 10.07 seconds. In 1980 May, Gilkes wins the 200 metres finals at the Hampton Games in Trinidad. Gilkes’ time was 20.01 secs, Trinidadian Alie St. Louis placed second. Also in 1980, Stanley Floyd of the U.S.A edged Gilkes in 100 metres at U.S. Track and field meet, while in June of the same year, in Wallnut California, both men were timed at 10.19 seconds at the National Stadium. He placed second in the 200 metres finals with a time of 21.12 secs. The race was won by Elliott Quow of the U.S.A in a time of 20.84 seconds.
Gilkes also qualified for the 100 metres finals but withdrew. That event was won by the legendary Carl Lewis of the U.S.A in a time of 9.83 seconds, fellow American Elliot Qnow finished second in a time of 10.2 seconds, Trinidadian A. Bruce was third time 10.3 seconds. Although this Christ Church disciple failed to win an Olympic Medal, his credentials on the International Circuit is unmatched by any Guyanese.
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