ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys & Girls Championships (‘Champs’) is upon us once again. As usual, the highly anticipated sprint clashes have monopolized most of the public’s attention on its eve. I, too, must admit that I’m waiting impatiently to see the likes of Nigel Ellis, Jhevaughn Matherson, and Raheem Chambers match strides down the National Stadium strip. However, there a number of less well-publicized showdowns in the hurdles and field events that could also be worth going many a mile to see. Here’s a preview.
Class II Girls 100-metre Hurdles
Stepping up in Class, against class, often leads to a very rough initiation for even the most talented of matriculants. Holmwood’s Shanette Allison, who romped to victory in last year’s CIII 80-metre hurdles final, will be looking to prove that she’s one of those rare talents who pays dues to no one – even if their name is Sidney Marshall, a 2015 World Youth rep and 13.46 second performer. She sounded a muted warning of her ambitions by pipping the Manchester High standout to gold at Digicel Central Athletics Championships.
Both Allison and Marshall will have most to fear from the latter’s teammate Daszay Freeman. The rangy Freeman has been flashing some pretty nifty ‘wheels’ over 200 metres this season. If she can control that speed between the barriers, an upset win isn’t outside her capability compass.
Class I Girls 100-metre Hurdles
Yanique Thompson’s thrilling victory over American Dior Hall in the final of the 100-metre hurdles was arguably the highlight of Jamaica’s table-topping performance at the 2013 World Youth Championships. Among the outstanding performances swallowed up in the wickedly foaming wake of the former Holmwood athlete’s record-setting run was the fourth-place finish of a then 15 year-old Rushelle Burton.
Burton, who has battled a slew of injuries in the intervening years, is now seemingly back somewhere close to her brilliant best. She re-advertised her credentials while scoring a good victory – in 13.74 seconds – over a solid field at CARIFTA Trials.
The Camperdown athlete, who came to national prominence while at St. Andrew High, will start favourite at Champs. Hurdles aside, the most imposing barriers in her way appear to be the Holmwood duo of Gabrielle McDonald and Nicolee Foster, and the St. Jago pair of Andrenette Knight and Safiya Thompson.
Girls 400-metre Hurdles (Open)
Earlier in the season, I was among those thinking that 2015 World Youth finalist Junelle Bromfield would have a pretty easy time corraling the gold medal in this one. That, however, now looks quite unlikely.
A number of credible challengers are definitely lining up to give the St. Elizabeth Technical High School starlet a run for her money. 53-low flat 400-metre performer Shannon Kalawan (Edwin Allen), who set a smart new personal best of 56.80 seconds over the sticks at CARIFTA Trials, appears the most potent threat. The added presence of 2015 runner-up Shiann Salmon (Hydel), Andrenette Knight, the rugged Sanique Walker (Vere), and CARIFTA Trials U-20 400mH second-placer Nicolee Foster could easily make this one of the races of the meet.
Class I Girls Shot Put
Last year’s Class II Girls SP event saw Buff Bay High’s Fiona Richards get the better of Devia Brown and Sahjay Stevens in a ding-dong battle. Champs 2016 could feature another three-way tussle for iron ball glory – but in Class I, on this occasion. The three likely protagonists are Excelsior’s Latifah Smith, St. Jago’s Janell Fullerton, and STETHS’ Sahjay Stevens.
At the Jamaica College/Pure Water meet in January, Smith got the better of the other two young ladies with a best of 14.24 metres. However, Fullerton and Stevens were only five and 15 centimetres down respectively. Fullerton can be inconsistent at times, but she also has the potential to go big. (Her seasonal-best of 14.78 metres at CARIFTA Trials heads the 2016 high school list.) Meanwhile, the long-levered Stevens may just have the most upside of the trio. This one could explode into a real firecracker.
Class I Girls Discus
This event is another glowing testament to the rounding out of Jamaica’s athletics programme. Excelsior High, which is rapidly emerging as a major force on the local high school scene, will likely be represented by two 50-metre performers: 2015 runner-up Shanice Love and Latifah Smith.
The ultra-consistent Love’s seasonal best lies just shy of the 52-metre line. She threw 51.91 metres at the King of the Ring meet – only to be relegated to second by Smith. Smith’s best effort on the day showed up on the results sheet as a staggering 58.50 metres! (For perspective, the Champs record stands at 51.16 metres.) Is this a ‘phantom’ mark? Or, has a bonafide discus diamond been unearthed. Only time will tell.
St. Jago’s Janell Fullerton and Hydel’s 2015 World Youth representative Devia Brown are the potential spoilers here. They’ll both have to find a bit to threaten the gold medal, though.
Class II Boys 110-metre Hurdles
The sprint hurdles rivalry between Calabar’s Dejour Russell and JC’s Jordan Roberts has been one of Champs’ most intriguing over the past couple years. The smoother Roberts got the better of the C-bar juggernaut when both clashed in CIII. However, Russell emphatically turned the tables with a powerful 13.78 second performance – into a stiff 3.4 metre per second gust – at Champs 2015.
So far this season, Roberts has been MIA. Has he been nursing a niggle? Has he migrated? Will he show up at Champs? Only time will tell. However, even if he does, it will take a herculean effort to retard the runaway freight train-like momentum that Russell has built up.
History, specifically former Calabar phenom Michael O’Hara’s existing CII 110mH record of 13.45 seconds, seems a more formidable adversary for Russell this year. It’s all relative, though. After all, Russell has already breached the 13.40-second barrier this season. (He sped to a 13.38 second clocking at the Queen’s/Grace Jackson meeting in late January.) With the adrenaline pumping in front of a vociferous Champs crowd, don’t be surprised to see one of the meet’s most respectable marks get firmly confined to the pages of history.
Class I Boys Long Jump
The charismatic Obrien Wasome lit up last year’s staging of Champs with absolute pyrotechnics in this event. His series of jumps featured a couple behemoths ( by Jamaican junior standards) beyond 7.60 metres.
Leading into CARIFTA Trials, Wasome hadn’t really shown his hand all season. However, he reaffirmed his favourite’s tag by booming out to 7.59 metres to seal a facile victory and book his ticket to the 2016 CARIFTA Games.
The likes of teammate and last year’s Class 2 LJ winner Paketo Dudley will have to bring their ‘A+’ games to stand any chance of dethroning Jamaica’s junior horizontal jumps king.
Class I Boys Triple Jump
Jamaica College’s Clayton Brown and Obrien Wasome delighted fans with a distance-defying duel at last year’s staging of Champs. While Brown eventually walked away with an impressive new meet record of 16.04 metres, it was his teammate who rode off with the coveted gold medal around his neck. Can fans expect an encore performance in 2016?
Live threats to the widely anticipated JC one-two include last year’s bronze medalist Jordan Scott (Campion), who edged Wasome by a centimetre – 15.66 metres to 15.65 metres – at the CARIFTA Trials; and the seasoned Alrick Ottey.
Class I Boys High Jump
The breadth and depth of the quality on display in this event has been one of the most pleasing things to witness this season. Two-metre jumpers have literally been popping up all over the place. However, when the dust finally settles, I fully expect the last three standing to be defending champion Romario Douglas, multitalented 2014 World Junior finalist Clayton Brown, and the fast-rising 2015 World Youth finalist Lushane Wilson. The CARIFTA Trials clash between Douglas and Wilson saw the more senior of the St. Jago boys leaping 2.10 metres to come out on top. With Brown in the mix and better conditions, 2.10 metres shouldn’t be good enough to carry the day at Champs.
Class I Boys Shot Put
The contest between the big boys throwing the 6-kilogramme shot should also make for fascinating viewing. Calabar’s Warren Barrett Jnr., who finished second to Demar Gayle last year, solidified his status as the pre-event favourite by going all the way out to 19.89 metres at CARIFTA Trials. His series there also included two other throws which travelled at least 19.50 metres.
Barrett’s sternest test should be administered by ace Petersfield strongman Sanjae Lawrence who, despite throwing a personal best 19.06 metres, had to settle for silver behind his archrival at CARIFTA Trials. Meanwhile, the expected bronze medal battle should see the likes of Kyle Mitchell (Calabar), Vashon McCarthy (Jamaica College), and Lawrence’s teammate and national Youth record holder Kevin Nedrick throwing their hats into the ring.