A champion has run his last race
Ivor Burnette who lives in New York who phoned to say that George Payton died in the week ending 3 April 2021. Those who were around track and field athletics in the late 1960s would remember George as Guyana’s top sprinter. This was the time when McPherson’s “Rocky” days as our ace sprinter were over. Rocky was short and slim – by the looks of it, no one would have connected him to the speed, which he produced. George represented a new era of sprinters. Modeled after American sprinter Bob Haynes, who won the 100 meters at the 1964 Olympics.
Haynes was a powerful man – over six feet tall with swollen muscles. Payton was about 5 feet 10 inches, wide and thick at his shoulders, with legs as strong as our green tree.
The 1960s led in the era of power sprinters, men who spent as much time in the gym as they did on the track, and George was among the earliest of such sprinters to Guyana.
Somewhere in the late 1960s, I remember many of us traveling to Suriname to take part in that country meeting held every year, during August.
The official Guyana team was led by George Payton, Ivor Burnette and Moses Dawarka. Many of us junior athletes (mostly from High School Tutorial) paid our way intending to participate in the under-19 events.
Guyana excelled in those games. We easily won almost everything in sight. I have said almost since Trinidad had a strong team in the games.
Their team was led by a young sprinter whose name I can’t remember, but to this day you think it was a young Hasely Crawford, who went on to win the 100 meters at the 1976 Olympics.
Looking at the sprinters at the starting line for the 100 meters, one could easily guess that the race would be between George and this tall, strapping young Trinidadian.
And so it was. At gunpoint, the two men quickly separated themselves from the rest of the field.
Neither seemed to improve on the other as if united on their hip, they fell on the tape together, with the Trinidadian ruled as the winner.
That was our first loss in those games. And George and we all wanted revenge in the 200 meters.
As Suriname had no runners under 19 who could provide any meaningful challenge to our 19s, the organizers asked us to run at the (open) international events. This explains why I was involved in what happened next.
At the 200-meter line, we were drawn a lot to decide our lane.
I pulled the lane right behind the tall Trinidadian, while George pulled a lane just ahead of him.
Thus making George a comfortable target for the Trini to measure his progress during the race.
Something had to be done quickly, to place George just behind him, making him George’s target. George and I quickly changed a lot.
Now the race was set up in favor of George. And he didn’t disappoint.
He won comfortably. Guyana had regained its winning ways. Our guys left those games with just one loss – the 100 meters.
But in the week ending 3rd April 2021, George was to taste defeat one last time.
Only this time, he knew a loss that we will all experience someday. Easy big brother rest.