Roots of the Rivalry: When Calabar Crushed KC in 1976

This is Champs as Jamaica knows it. It is more than a competition, more than some games. Champs is our very own Olympics. It is legacy, dynasty, history … and rivalry. The rivalries are serious. They mean everything in the moment, and for many years to come. Schoolboys and girls work all year round for that one moment when they get to stamp their names into the minds and hearts of the entire nation. It goes way beyond schools, though. It’s a national obsession. It’s pride and hope and glory and triumph wrapped up in a medal and five seconds on a podium. And each year, Jamaican schools rise graciously to the occasion.

Here’s a dramatic retelling of Hubert Lawrence’s article ‘Calabar ends the KC streak’ in his book ‘Champs’, which clearly demonstrates the fever pitch rivalries of Champs day.

It was one of the most memorable days in Champs history. Excitement was palpable. The intensity of competition so staunch and rife that it arrested the atmosphere. It was rivalry the way rivalries were meant to be played out: with plenty brawn, good sportsmanship, and hard work paying off for the best of the best.

The year was 1976. Kingston College (KC) had dominated Champs, decimating their opponents every year for 14 years in a row. Calabar came to set the record straight, and to reclaim what they always felt was rightfully theirs. They came to wage war on the track – they came to launch a ‘track attack’. KC saw the fierceness of Calabar’s determination, but came to defend a 14-year winning legacy. They came to cement their place in Champs history and win the big 15.

The day started casually enough. Camperdown was leading with 28 points, KC tied with Wolmer’s Boys for second, and Calabar was a distant fourth on a humble 11 points.

It was a Champs of records:

  • St Andrew Technical High’s Everald Samuels shaved 0.1 second off the record in the Class One 200m, clocking 21.4 seconds
  • Camperdown’s Peter Hibbert became the first Class Two boy to break the 22-second barrier for the 200m when he ran 21.9 seconds
  • In the 1500 Open heats, St Jago’s Michael Fuertado and Camperdown’s Silvester Smith both clocked 3 minutes 57.4 seconds, becoming the first local schoolboys to break 4 minutes.
  • In the medley relay final, St Jago set a record time – 3:32.4

All day, all eyes remained on Calabar and KC. They were neck and neck. KC won the Class Three sprint double. Calabar replied by winning big in Class Two. They won the 100m. They won the 200m. KC hit back with a win in the 400m.

Class Three relays came up. KC won the 4×100 to amass a total of 95 points. Calabar took third in the same race and equalled 95 points as well. Class Two relays came and went. KC upped their score to 103. Calabar trailed two paces behind at 101. Class One relays came up. Calabar and KC gave it all they had and equalled scores again on 111 each.

Then came the game changer. KC did not have a team in the medley final, and the men in green and black ran to a second-place finish, reclaiming the top title, leaving KC in the wake of their dust. They went on to cement their win with points from the Class One discus, the Class Two and Three high jump, and the 4x400m relays.

The rejoicing and celebration afterward was unparalleled. As were the very real tears of a school that didn’t actually lose, but could not bear not to win. But much later in the day, here’s what any wise Champs-goer understood: all this was a perfect set-up for an even more amazing Champs year, because as time goes on, and upsets happen, resolve gets strengthened, training intensifies … and the rivalries live strong.