‘Bolts of Lightning’ and their full-body suit

The head-turning image of four well-chiselled young men, running in full-body blue tights, executing slick, almost flawless baton-changing at high speed, made young girls swoon and men envious.

The “Bolts of Lightning”, as the CAST, College of Arts Science and Technology 4X100 men’s relay team was dubbed, remains a memorable part of the legacy of late coach, Dennis ‘DJ’ Johnson who was eulogised at a memorial service yesterday.

“We were pioneers too, as we were the first team to start running in full tights outfits. We became affectionately known as “Bolts of Lightening”, a team that was dominant around 1984-86,” said Atlanta-based Josh Allen in a tribute sent to the Jamaica Observer.

“It was all thanks to Dennis Johnson, the man we lovingly called ‘DJ’ and ‘Coach’,” recalled Allen, who ran the third leg in one of the most exciting relay teams to emerge from the inter-collegiate sports for tertiary athletes at the time.

Allen echoed the sentiments of the ‘Bolts’ – who included Rohan ‘Ernie’ Wade, Michael ‘Mealie’ Nevers and Orville ‘Skabba’ Greene – in a tribute to the beloved coach who died from complications of COVID-19 on April 22, 2021, aged 81.

“I am already missing him. He has touched and shaped so many lives as an extraordinary human being. One of the things I admired most about Coach was his humility and fair-mindedness towards people,” said Allen who, like many of Johnson’s former charges, migrated to the States in 1986.

Johnson was the first director of sports at CAST, now the University of Technology Jamaica (UTech) which said he had served the institution for 35 years and went on to make a “noteworthy contribution to athletics, coaching and sports administration in Jamaica”.

According to UTech, in 1995 Johnson forged a strategic partnership with fellow renowned coach, Stephen Francis, which later resulted in the establishment of a home for the acclaimed MVP Track and Field Club at its Papine, St Andrew campus.

“Another milestone achievement was Dennis Johnson’s instrumentality in the establishment of the IAAF High Performance Training Centre on the University’s Papine Campus in 2001, that saw the likes of Usain Bolt and Jermaine Gonzales training on the university’s back field under the guidance and expertise of the highly successful coach, Glen Mills,” UTech added.

Allen who has won many top sales trophies and awards throughout his career in the States, is now a clinical science associate for the southeast region at Horizon Therapeutics. He and some of the US-based former athletes hosted a function in Atlanta in 2019 to salute Johnson and reminisce about the time they spent together.

It was the last time Allen would see him alive.

Following are edited excerpts of Allen’s tribute to Johnson:

“My experience started with Coach right after high school at ‘The Cornwall College’. DJ was the coach at CAST then and I was competing at the Comet’s Relay track and field meet at my home field at Cornwall.

“I won the men’s 100m with a time of 10.5 seconds and apparently, he was impressed enough with my time and so he invited me to join his team and attend CAST. There, I spent three years under his tutelage, learned how to sprint and live with athletes from different backgrounds. This taught me so much and these experiences have shaped and provided me with the tools to be successful in life.

“Many of the athletes who were living at the famous Track House at that time were not from well to do families and were often in need of some basic amenities that their families could not afford to provide.

“Being the man he was, DJ found a way to get us the stuff we needed, whether it be a refrigerator of fish, clothing for some people and a place to stay. DJ, I could tell, really enjoyed life. He would come to the house and play dominoes or Ludo almost every day. We were his extended family and he liked being around us.

“The training was very arduous but it paid off for most of us through scholarships to various universities in the United States. Most of us were successful on the track in the US but also after college in our careers. I believe our success had a direct link to the discipline we developed from this work ethic instilled in us in Jamaica – credit again to my coach Dennis Johnson.

“One thing that DJ was not going to compromise was the work ethic of his athletes. I can remember getting up at 5:00am every morning except for the weekend; running from Papine to the National Stadium, which I think was about five to six miles. And that is when our training would begin!

“After practice, which was generally rough, people’s heads were still spinning to the extent you would stay lying on the grass until you could recover. Then we would have to run back to CAST to get prepared for classes.

“In retrospect, I wonder how we were able to do this. I think that is the reason we were so good as a track team and why the majority of us were rewarded with free education at colleges throughout the US.

“We were pioneers too, as we were the first team to start running in full tights outfits. We were affectionately known as ‘Bolts of Lightning’. The 4X100m team was dominant around 1984-86; we established records at various meets including inter-collegiate.

“Coach never lost touch with us even-though we were scattered all over the United States. He visited us on an annual basis and we were able to still have fun. From having barbecues to attending graduations of our kids, he never stopped being family to us…

“We were so lucky to have him in our lives and we will never forget him. He was one of a kind.”

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