“March Madness” & Heady Times at CARIFTA Trials

Fans of American college basketball are quite familiar with the term “March Madness”. This catchy alliterative phrase refers to the delirium-inducing period in the month of March that sees both the men’s and women’s collegiate basketball championships being contested. (Go Duke!) However, one could be forgiven for thinking that the “Madness” had migrated to Jamaica based on some of the crazy times and distances that were turned in at the recently concluded LIME Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) CARIFTA Trials. Here are the top four things that caught my eye after all the smoke produced by the athletes’ pyrotechnic displays had cleared.

Photograph by: Gladstone Taylor

Photograph by: Gladstone Taylor

Raheem Chambers’ 10.28 blitz

It’s hard to look beyond Raheem Chambers’ scintillating 10.28 second run in the final of the Under-18 Boys 100-metre event when evaluating the contenders for the performance of the meet title. The compact St. Jago sprinter stole the show with the joint second-fastest time ever run by a Jamaican youth athlete over the distance. (He’s now tied on the all-time list with Jevaughn Minzie – just 1/100th of a second behind Jazeel Murphy.) The way he bolted from the blocks and quickly disconnected himself from a classy field that also included the likes of Akeem Bloomfield, Jhevaughn Matherson, and Chad Walker was something to behold. However, what was even more impressive was the way he maintained his form all the way through the line. Heading into the event, many people were of the view that he might struggle to live with the likes of Bloomfield and Matherson. Chambers, however, again showed why he’s one of the brightest prospects in the local sprint pipeline. Once again, he demonstrated that his relatively small stature belies the enormity of his competitive desire.

The blinding glare of Chambers’ heroics may have caused some folks to overlook the outstanding quality and depth that was on display in this race. Here’s what a quick look at the results sheet shows. All eight of the 15, 16 and 17 year old athletes in the race ran at least as fast as 10.80 seconds. This included Bloomfield (10.42), Walker (10.45), Matherson (10.50), and Waseem Williams (10.66). These times almost beggar belief.

St. Jago’s dominance of the sprints

There were a total of 12 sprint races (100, 200, and 400 metres) contested during the two-day meet. Athletes from St. Jago breasted the tape first in exactly half of them. Chambers was joined in the winner’s lounge by Kimone Shaw (Under-18 Girls 100m), Natalliah Whyte (Under-18 Girls 200m), Chad Walker (Under-18 Boys 200m), World Youth 400-metre champion Martin Manley (Under-18 Boys 400m), and Nathan Allen (Under-20 Boys 400m). The school also accumulated podium finishes through Shanice Reid (2nd; Under-18 Girls 100m), Walker (3rd; Under-18 Boys 100m), Jordan Chin (3rd; Under-20 Boys 100m), and Ivan Henry (2nd; Under-20 Boys 400m). Kudos to the coaching staff at St. Jago! Maybe it’s time that the coveted title of “The Sprint Factory” is formally transferred from Camperdown High School to the Spanish Town-based institution, which is also the alma mater of 2011 100-metre World Champion Yohan Blake, 2008 Olympic 100-metre silver medalist Kerron Stewart, and 1983 400-metre World Champion Bertland Cameron.

Male triple jumpers showing up and showing out

Athletics fans in countries such as Cuba and China routinely have the pleasure of seeing their male junior triple jumpers bounding out to distances well in excess of 16 metres. In Jamaica, such pleasures are decidedly rare. None of the hop, skip, and jump specialists on show at the recent CARIFTA Trials managed to do so either. Nonetheless, it was quite heartening to see three of them post best efforts well north of 15.50 metres. Obrien Wasome won the Under-18 Boys event with a mark of 15.72 metres, and both Odaine Lewis (15.86 metres) and Clayton Brown (15.77 metres) came within 25 centimetres of doing so. Within the next few months, all three will be provided with numerous other opportunities to breach the mark that separates the world’s best juniors from those who aren’t quite as accomplished against high quality competition.

Despite the performances turned in by this talented trio, there still remains an obvious need for more of the nation’s young triple jumpers – both male and female – to come under the tutelage of more seasoned horizontal jumping coaches. Cuba, which has produced some of the best triple jumpers in history, is merely 90 miles away. How about tapping into some of the coaching expertise that’s moulded global medallists such as Yargelis Savigne, Mabel Gay, Aliecer Urrutia, Yoelbi Quesada, David Giralt, Alexis Copello, Pedro Pichardo, and Ernesto Revé? Yeah, I’ll continue to flog this dying (or dead) horse.

The emergence of new faces

It was truly refreshing to see a number of “new” faces emerge over the two-day event.

  • Dawnalee Loney of Balaclava High School won the Under-20 Girls 400-metre event in a smart 52.87 seconds. In the process, she upset the more fancied Yanique McNeil and firmly placed her school on the track and field map. (Prior to now, most references to the word “balaclava” were often included in a story about something unsavoury. Yep, like man wearing a “balaclava” hits bank and makes off with people’s hard-earned money unsavoury.)

  • Alpha’s Kiara Grant, who’ll be competing in Class 4 at the upcoming ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys and Girls Championships (“Champs”), tried to steal a march on many of her more seasoned (and much older) rivals in the final of the Under-18 Girls 100-metre event. She battled gallantly to hold them off for over half the race, but was slowly reeled in as the likes of Kimone Shaw and Shanice Reid kicked it into overdrive. Her reward, however, was an outstanding new personal best time of 11.84 seconds and a third-place finish. Former Class 3 100-metre champion Shellece Clarke was among those left in her wake. It’ll be very interesting to see just how close she’ll be able to get to Shaw’s existing Class 4 100-metre record of 11.75 seconds, which was done only last year.

  • Young Lamara Destin, who represents Rusea’s High School, finished fifth in the Class 4 Girls high jump event at the 2013 edition of Champs. A year on, she’s the freshly minted CARIFTA Trials Under-18 Girls high jump champion after validating her pre-event favouritism with a 1.73m personal best effort. This youngster seems to have tremendous upside. She definitely looks like one to watch.

The road to Champs

With about two weeks remaining until Champs (and a further month until the CARIFTA Games), many of the nation’s top high school athletes have clearly demonstrated that they are in tip-top physical condition. If all the “injured” stars who missed CARIFTA Trials recover in time, we look set for another epically record-breaking Champs.

The Benchwarmer’s Point of View

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce again confirmed that she’s one of the most “clutch” performers in the history of track and field with another gold medal-winning performance at the recently concluded IAAF World Indoor Championships. Her win complemented a silver medal-winning effort from Kaliese Spencer (400m), Kimberly Williams (bronze – triple jump), the Women’s 4×400-metre relay team (silver), and the Men’s 4×400-metre relay team (bronze). Their respective exploits contributed to Jamaica finishing fifth on the medal table. However, even while basking in the warm afterglow of another hot championship effort, the powers that be shouldn’t lose focus on the need to formulate an official World Indoor Championships selection policy. Here’s what I propose:

1)      In the events in which we have more than two qualifiers, the athlete who’s most highly placed in the world rankings goes as an automatic pick.

2)      Meanwhile, the second pick in the event is placed on the team at the discretion of the JAAA’s selection panel.

A selection policy such as this would potentially eliminate any recurrence of the muted pre-event wrangling that surrounded the exclusion of certain female sprinters, who thought they had legitimate inclusion claims, from the team.

(By the way, thanks to my bredrin Leo Campbell for being so generous with his time and ideas while helping me to formulate the abovementioned proposed selection policy. I can see a run at the JAAA’s presidency on the horizon, bro.)

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