Jaleel Roper is smashing UK age bests in the sprints, writes Steve Roe
A question which would not be out of place in the quiz section at the back of AW magazine: what have Linford Christie, Usain Bolt and Colin Jackson got in common? Answer: they were all born or have their roots in Jamaica.
Colin and Dionne Roper, too, started life on that sun-kissed island in the Caribbean, and they have a son, Jaleel, who like those legendary athletes mentioned is a sprinter – and quite clearly a most promising one.
He holds three UK all-time records; and though obviously not the first to do so it’s equally true that not many have achieved such a feat at the age of 12!
The UK under-13 60m indoor, 100m and 200m are the national marks that have all fallen to Jaleel this year. No wonder, then, that his coach, Paul Miller, and his club, Hercules Wimbledon, have high hopes for the Ilford-born athlete’s future.
Now based in Streatham, south London, Jaleel is particularly proud of his 23.35 200m PB, but it was over 60m indoors that he first attracted national attention.
Then, at Lee Valley, he lowered the UK under-13 record; and within the next month would better it twice.
It’s for certain Jaleel could never have imagined this when he began taking part in school races, for his first outings were in cross country.
He was not a winner yet it was clear to a watching teacher that the boy had a fast finish, so she in due course took him to an open track meeting to gauge just how quick Jaleel might be in track races.
The answer came with victories in the 100m, 200m and 800m, yet it wasn’t just the wins that impressed his future coach. “For an athlete to run those events all on the same day at that level was outstanding.” says Miller. “His recovery between the events was something else too.
“When it was suggested I might coach him there were two considerations: first that he was free to join my squad. That is, there was no other coach. Second was that his parents would be happy to make the commitments and sacrifices necessary for me to develop him.”
For Colin it means making sure his son has the right diet, good sleeping habits and carries out the extra draining drills given by Paul.
As for Dionne, she is tasked with ensuring that everything runs smoothly on what Paul refers to as “the admin side”. This means ensuring Jaleel has the right kit, the correct spikes, race numbers and so on.
It is Jaleel, of course, who has to do the real work. He trains three times per week – partners include Daniel Luke and Paul’s younger son, Chad – and being fast is comfortable with older athletes, who in turn are receptive of him.
His preference competition-wise is for the 200m with the justification being: “I get more time to open a gap.”
Considering Jaleel competed 40 times this year and only failed to win twice it’s clear that he is quite adept when it comes to opening gaps! Among his triumphs were a 100m/200m double at the South of England Championships. Both these wins, at Ashford, were achieved on the same day, and in each case with times among his fastest yet.
He also won Surrey titles in his three sprinting events and this was very satisfying for him considering the local pride always at stake in county championships.
Away from the track, Jaleel has, he says, a penchant for football, basketball, rap music and computer games. Idol-wise he looks up to Usain Bolt “because he does the same distances as me.”
Paul, who took a long break from athletics a few years ago but was later encouraged back to the sport by former AW contributors Tom Pollak and Pete Mulholland, closed this interview with reference to Jaleel’s future. “It will be interesting to see how he develops in the next two years (as an under-15).
“We will look for steady progress but the main goal is to make sure he does everything to ensure long-term success.
“There will be a need to focus heavily on injury prevention and him maintaining the right attitude.”
You can find further performance stats on Jaleel on Power of 10 here.
» Support young athletes via the Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, see rpmf.org.uk