Thousands of Jamaican high school athletes are currently making final preparations ahead of the start of the annual ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Athletics Championships (“Champs”), which is scheduled to get underway inside the National Stadium on Tuesday, March 25. As always, a slew of exciting events are on tap. Here’s a look at 14 events to follow very closely at Champs 2014.
Girls Class 1 100 Metres
Many of the top contenders from CARIFTA Trials are expected to figure prominently when the final of this event is contested on Friday evening. Wolmer’s Under-20 100-metre Trials champ Jonielle Smith and Holmwood’s Chanice Bonner should fancy their chances of claiming the gold. However, their respective ambitions could well be derailed by two Edwin Allen athletes who weren’t eligible for that event: the fast-starting Christania Williams and the fast-finishing Monique Spencer. It may require something in the 11.3x region to ultimately get the job done.
Girls Class 1 200 Metres
Saqukine Cameron’s impressive 23.34 second win in the final of the Girls Under-20 event at CARIFTA Trials indicates that she’s finally ready to deliver on the huge potential that saw her claim CARIFTA silver behind Shericka Jackson back in 2010, as a 13 year-old. She’s likely to start as at least co-favourite with her Edwin Allen teammate Spencer, who placed second in the event last year. Both will have to be at their respective bests to hold off the hard charges expected from the typically late-running Smith, Bonner, and Helps.
Girls Class 1 400 Metres
Balaclava High School sensation Dawnalee Loney has been generating a lot of buzz since the start of this season. The petite athlete’s stock kept on soaring skyward following a hard-fought CARIFTA Trials victory over the more decorated Yanique McNeil. Edwin Allen’s Camira Haughton and St. Jago’s Genekee Leith, who both posted personal bests in that race, should also be in the medal mix. Don’t see any records being broken here, but getting four under 53 seconds is a distinct possibility.
Girls Class 1 100-metre Hurdles
St. Jago’s Peta-Gaye Williams and Holmwood’s World Youth 100-metre hurdles champ Yanique Thompson have spent a few seasons cooking up one of the most sumptuous rivalries in local high school track and field. At CARIFTA Trials, Thompson just managed to get the better of her archrival with a well-timed surge over the last couple barriers. If both report fit, this could be one of the closest races at Champs 2014. I can’t see Melaine Walker’s current 13.68 second record mark surviving another year.
Girls Class 1 Discus
The Girls Under-20 Discus event was one of the deepest contested at the recently concluded CARIFTA Trials. The top-four were separated by a smidge over two metres. The Edwin Allen duo of Rochelle Frazer (47.44 metres) and Paul-Ann Gayle (46.46 metres) finished 1-2, with Hydel’s Shadae Lawrence (45.90 metres), and Ardenne’s Venique Harris (45.28 metres) back in third and fourth respectively. I’d expect to see some similarly close going between the CARIFTA Trials first-placer, second-placer, and fourth-placer at Champs. (Gayle is a second year Class 2 athlete.)
Boys Class 1 100 Metres
It’s been a while since a Jamaica-born athlete was crowned the fastest high schooler in the land at Champs. This year, Anguilla’s reigning CARIFTA Under-20 100-metre champion Zharnel Hughes, who’ll represent Kingston College, will be the man looking to extend the local lads recent gold medal drought. To accomplish his mission, however, he’ll have to get by some of the nation’s finest young sprint talents – including Calabar’s Michael O’Hara, who’s already logged a 10.29 second personal best effort in 2014; Bog Walk’s double CARIFTA Trials sprint champion Jevaughn Minzie; and the fast-starting Raheem Robinson. It’s not too hard to imagine that the winner of this one could come very close to Yohan Blake’s current record of 10.21 seconds.
Boys Class 1 200 Metres
Many of the leading lights in the “bills” should be back to play starring roles in the half-lap event as well. However, the likes of Hughes, current World Youth 200-metre champ O’Hara, and Minzie will have to contend with the phenomenal speed endurance of Javon Francis. If the “donkey breathed” one is within range heading into the last 50 metres, I get the feeling that it’ll take an extremely cool head to hold him off.
Boys Class 1 400 Metres
Prior to CARIFTA Trials, I had this event pencilled in as a two-horse race between Francis and World Youth 400-metre champion Martin Manley. However, after watching Nathan Allen glide his way to 46.11 second clocking, I’m starting to think that he might just throw his hat into the ring as well. It’s quite possible that we could see three under 46 seconds. With the likes of Allen’s St. Jago teammate Ivan Henry, the ever-improving Marco Doodnaughtsingh of Kemps Hill, and last year’s Class 2 winner and record-setter Devaughn Baker also in the mix, it’s definitely not outside the realms of possibility for us to see a further two or three young men going below the 47-second mark. There’s even been talk of erasing Usain Bolt’s existing 45.35 second standard. Could it really be?!
Boys Class 2 100 Metres
If Raheem Chambers gets a start like he did in the Boys Under-18 100 metres final at CARIFTA Trials, it’s hard to see any of his rivals getting back to him. I get the feeling that the likes of Kingston College’s Akeem Bloomfield and Jhevaughn Matherson will have to hope that he’s a bit sluggish away to entertain any realistic hope of reeling him in. Yohan Blake’s existing Class 2 100-metre record of 10.34 seconds appears to be in serious jeopardy.
Boys Class 2 200 Metres
The half-lap event in Class 2 figures to be a much different “kettle of fish” from the 100 metres. If Chambers does compete, it’s almost a given that he’ll look to get out and establish some type of advantage on his major rivals – Bloomfield and Matherson – heading into the home straight. However, the KC duo’s body types and backgrounds suggest that they’ll be much better equipped to get back on terms in this event than if they’re faced with the same scenario in the shorter sprint. Expect something quick – very quick.
Boys Class 3 200 Metres
There are very few matchups that get athletics fans salivating more than one which pits a 100-metre specialist against a 400-metre specialist over 200 metres. Two of Jamaica’s (and Calabar’s) most exciting sprint prospects – Tyreke Wilson and Christopher Taylor – are likely to serve up this tantalizing treat in the final of the Class 3 half-lap event. (This assumes that they both make it, of course.) Wilson’s 21.95 second effort at the inaugural Corporate Area Athletics Games suggests that Matherson’s one year-old record of 21.87 seconds might just be living on borrowed time. However, so too does Christopher Taylor’s scintillating 48.54 second performance to highlight the same meet. Will speed prevail over strength? Only time will tell.
Boys Class 1 Triple Jump
Since CARIFTA Trials concluded, I’ve been dreaming of seeing a Boys Class 1 Triple Jump final at Champs with at least one competitor over 16 metres. When I wear rose-tinted glasses in these dreams, I sometimes see three jumpers breaking through that barrier. After waking up, I start hoping that the likes of Odaine Lewis, Clayton Brown, and Obrien Wasome, who all came within 30 centimetres of the “mythical” mark at Trials, will be able to push each other to make some major Champs history. I’d settle for a resetting of Clive Pullen’s 15.83 metre mark from 2013 though.
Boys Open 400-metre Hurdles
St. Elizabeth Technical’s dynamic hurdling duo of Marvin Williams and Okeen Williams were locked in a royal scrap for the gold at last year’s IAAF World Youth Championships before the later fell in the final stages of the event, clearing the way for the former to romp home. A few days ago at CARIFTA Trials, Okeen got the better of Marvin by the slimmest of margins – 51.79 seconds to 51.84 seconds – over the junior hurdles height of 0.99 metres. These two friendly combatants are expected to feature in another titanic struggle at Champs 2014. However, they’ll both have to keep a close eye on the super-talented Jaheel Hyde of Wolmer’s, who was last year’s 110-metre hurdles World Youth champion. Hyde has the speed, strength, and technical proficiency required to make this into a thrilling three-horse race.
Boys Class 4×400-metre Relay
Both Calabar and St. Jago seem set to blow Munro’s existing (and hitherto outstanding) record time of 3:09.21 to smithereens. St. Jago’s overall squad depth gives them the edge on paper. They’ll likely be able to pencil in at least three sub-46 second splits by the time Champs rolls around. Calabar will counter with what they’ve already done on the track this season, which includes the Jamaican high school record mark of 3:07-flat to get the better of their St. Catherine-based archrivals at Gibson Relays 2014. Another Javon Francis versus Martin Manley anchor leg showdown should be worth journeying miles to see.
The Benchwarmer’s Point of View
West Indies stronger for title defense
West Indies became world champions in the T20 format with a surprisingly facile victory over hosts Sri Lanka in the final of the last tournament in 2012. After bludgeoning their way through the competition with the bat, it was a sterling bowling effort that eventually won them the coveted title. Based on what I’ve seen over recent months, they seem to be heading into this year’s ICC World Twenty20 tournament with a better – and slightly more varied – bowling attack. This format of the game is obviously a crapshoot. However, I think that the West Indies team has as good a shot as any to win the competition and become the first outfit to win the event back-to-back. Leh we go, Windies!!!
Packers bolster defense
The Green Bay Packers did a lot of very good things during the 2013-14 National Football League (NFL) season. Despite star quarterback (QB) Aaron Rodgers missing just about half of the campaign with an injury, the Pack still managed to make the playoffs. Once there, they gave the uber-talented San Francisco 49ers all they could handle in a very close game that was ultimately decided by a last-second Phil Dawson field goal. Eddie Lacey racked up almost 1,200 (1,178) rushing yards in his rookie season and walked away with Offensive Rookie of the Year honours. Meanwhile, wide receiver Jordy Nelson had career highs in both catches (85) and yards (1,314). Not a bad campaign at all then, huh? Well, not quite. Green Bay’s defense was close to the back of the pack in most of the major categories – including total yards allowed per game (372.2), rush yards allowed per game (125.0), and pass yards allowed per game (247.2). These statistics from last season are the main reasons why this offseason has been so important. Here’s what the Packers have done to shore up their leaky defense:
- Sign 8-time Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers
I’ll be the first to admit that at age 34 Peppers is no spring chicken. What he is, however, is a proven producer at the defensive end position. 118.5 sacks over a 12-year career with the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears attest to that fact. If he’s motivated, Peppers could be just the pass rusher Green Bay needs to take some pressure off of all-world outside linebacker Clay Matthews. The agile Peppers, who played a mean power forward at the University of North Carolina, should definitely be athletic enough to take a fair amount of snaps opposite Matthews. Goodbye double teams!
- Sign defensive end Letroy Guion
The mention of the name Letroy Guion isn’t likely to drive fear into the hearts of opposing offensive linemen. However, Guion, who was signed from division rival Minnesota Vikings, will provide another active body to plug into the frontline of Green Bay’s 3-4 defense.
The Packers have also re-signed outside linebacker Mike Neal and big nose tackle B.J. Raji. In addition, they signed ace cornerback Sam Shields, who was poised to become a free agent, prior to the start of free agency. All in all, these moves should translate into much better performance on the defensive end.