Down for the Count in London Town? (Part II)

sashalee_forbesNo, Jamaican sprintdom’s roof isn’t caving in. Yes, it is sporting a few gaping holes. Yes, we do have the raw materials to fix it. Yes, the refurbishing work will take a little while. No, we won’t have to live in the outhouse until it’s patched up.

Baby steps on the big stage

There’s a whole lot of potentially special sprint talent in the pipeline that just needs a little time to mature and truly come to the fore. Sashalee Forbes and Michael Campbell are just two of the promising youngsters who, largely owing to the enforced absences of some seasoned campaigners, were afforded the golden opportunity to strut their stuff in London on the sport’s biggest stage.

Twenty-one year-old Forbes, who earlier made it to the semifinals of the 200-metre event, returned to anchor the women’s 4×100-metre relay team to a satisfying bronze. Meanwhile, twenty year-old Campbell, who ran third leg in the prelims of the men’s 4×100-metre relay, was in line to earn at least a bronze himself until tragedy struck on anchor in the final. This early exposure will surely stand them in good stead as they move forward.

Primed to break out

There are quite a few other early twenty-something sprint talents whose steady progress since transitioning to the senior ranks suggests that much grander things are in the offing. To my mind, one of the most impressive performers — irrespective of age or experience — at June’s National Senior Championships was twenty year-old Chad Walker.

The University of Technology man looked odds-on to punch his ticket to London after an impressive 20.35 second personal best romp in the semis of the 200m. Unfortunately, he was bitten by the injury bug with less than one hundred metres standing between him and a probable World Championships berth in the final. If all goes as well as hoped, he could soon be a major player on the global stage over both short sprint distances.

An optimistic eye can also be cast in the direction of someone like former World Junior Championships 100m bronze medallist Odean Skeen, who went sub-10 for the first time back in April. The physical tools (and the confidence) required to be a dominant 100m man have never been in question. If the hoped for break from injuries materializes, he could also be right in the global 100m medal mix within a year or two.

High school standouts champing at the bit

Then, of course, there are the unrelenting waves of prodigious short sprinting talent churned out by Jamaica’s humming high school athletics machinery annually. Standout junior speedsters like Kevona Davis, Christopher Taylor, De’Jour Russell, Tyreke Wilson, Michael Stephens, the wing-footed Jhevaughn Matherson, and Jalani Walker are already knocking on the door of senior world-class. Even though the cautionary tales are numerous, the law of averages does suggest that at least some of these starlets will eventually blossom into full-blown stars.

Conquering the sprint hurdling domain

The shifting global short sprinting landscape alluded to in Down for the Count…Part I could prove a boon for local 100- and 110-metre hurdling. The recent exploits of reigning world and Olympic champion Omar McLeod, 2015 world 100-metre hurdles champion Danielle Williams, and 2015 World Championship silver medallist Hansle Parchment should serve as an inspiration for this generation.

Here, too, the talent is abundant. Twenty-four year-old Ronald Levy looks a good bet to secure a place on a World Championship or Olympic podium sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, seventeen year-old World Under-18 champ De’Jour Russell, twenty-one year-old Tyler Mason, who copped World Junior silver in 2014, and eighteen year-old Louisiana State University signee Damion Thomas also appear to have particularly bright futures ahead of them.

The women, believe it or not, boast even greater depth — if not, quite yet, better quality. London 2017 semifinalists Megan Simmonds, Rushelle Burton, and Yanique Thompson are twenty-three, nineteen, and twenty-one years old, respectively. It’s imaginable that they’ll be battling it out with the likes of twenty-one year-old Shimayra Williams, who still appears to be only scratching the surface of her potential, for years to come. The other two exciting Williamses — twenty-one year-old Peta-Gaye and twenty year-old Jeanine — should also be squarely in the mix.

A deeper dive turns up even more talent to be optimistic about. Outgoing high school seniors Gabrielle McDonald, whose range and physique reminds me so much of Kendra Harrison, and Janeek Brown are on the verge of breaking the 13-second barrier that demarcates “good” from “very good”.

Meanwhile, World Under-18 champion Britany Anderson and third-placer Daszay Freeman already possess the physical attributes and technical proficiency required to make a successful transition to the senior height hurdles. There’s also accomplished Commonwealth Youth Games titlist Shanette Allison waiting in the wings.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games — breeding ground of future champions?

The next edition of the old “British Empire Games” comes at the perfect time in the Olympic cycle — if not the year — for many of these youngsters to test their mettle against the best that the rest of the Commonwealth has to offer. April will probably be a tad too early for many of them to be in peak competitive condition. However, creditable performances here will boost confidence and stand them in good stead for the much sterner tests that lie ahead.

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