Perspective on Jamaica’s 2012 National Track and Field Championships

Is Bolt injured? That is the million dollar question on the minds of many Jamaican track and field fans at home and abroad following his performances, especially in the 100 metres finals at the National Track and field Championships that ran from June 28-July 1, 2012. What clearly emerged from those races was that the Jamaican superstar is not yet fit.  This was confirmed by his coach Glen Mills when interviewed by the media on Friday night following that eye-popping 100 metres finals in which the defending Olympic champion trailed his World Champion team-mate Yohan Blake. Mills was quoted as saying that “Bolt is not at 100 percent” and that Blake is in far better shape at this point in time.

In terms of its outcome, the 200 metres race followed the opening script with Blake leading the field in clocking his second best time 19.80 over this distance followed by Bolt (19.83) and 22-year-old sensation Waren Weir (20.03). There is no doubt that Bolt’s performance on Sunday night was not to be sneered at but the fact that he was beaten for the second time in two days and the first over this distance in about five years was clear indication that he is not in ‘Bolt form’.

The 200 metres was perhaps the less significant of his two losses, as it was the first time since this season that he has competed in this event. Hence, his fans perhaps should not have expected a sensational performance on the first outing.  Similar sentiments were expressed by Coach Mills who reminded the fans that Bolt’s 200 metres run was better than his first outing in 2011 when he did not break the 20 seconds barrier before opening the throttle in the finals at the World Championships in Daegu with a spanking 19.40, a time previously bettered only by himself. Hence, nobody should be writing off or even doubting his gold-medal chances at the London Olympics. However, for good or bad, Bolt himself has made track and field fans globally expect miracles every time he enters a race. It has certainly been that way since 2007. 

It was that knowledge of his potential that led many of the thousands who turned out for the meet to conclude that the ‘Big man’ was either recovering from or nursing some kind of niggling injury which resulted in his ‘cautious’ rather than explosive emergence from the starting blocks in the 100 metres. Despite his height, which many consider detrimental for sprinters, Bolt has consistently shown that he is capable of explosive starts. Hence, his extremely lethargic start in both the semis and the finals of the 100 metres suggested that he was operating under instructions.

Yohan Blake

This takes nothing away from the performance of ‘the Beast’ Yohan Blake. Even had Bolt produced a good start it would still be debatable whether he could have matched, let alone overcome the speed of the in-form Yohan Blake who was ‘hungry’ and in superb form.

 Assuming he has not peaked too early, which, considering the pedigree of the Glen Mills-led coaching team, is very unlikely, Blake should be in the pink of form for the Olympics. One could only assume that Bolt will also be fully fit, injury free and in top form, as Coach Mills predicts, by the time the track and field phase of the Olympics commences.

The performance of Bolt and Blake overshadowed some other truly amazing achievements at the Championships. First and foremost was the record-breaking run by Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 100 metres, which places her among the top four all-time best sprinters globally. Her 10.70 clocking to claim the 100 metres title was definitely THE performance of the meet. Spectators in the stadium would have been further awestruck by the electronic timer, which at first registered 10.65. Although subsequently adjusted to 10.70, that may have been a prophetic reading of just how fast this ‘pocket-rocket’ can really go at this stage in her career.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce went further by winning the 200 metres in a personal best of 22.10, trailed from post to post by a class team that included the defending Olympic Champion Veronica Campbell Brown (22.42). This was also VCB’s season’s best time over this distance. That Fraser-Pryce managed to do this with seeming ease showed that she is in perfect condition leading into the Olympic Games. Only Allison Felix (21.64) has produced a faster time so far this year. Although Felix seems now to be favoured for the event on the basis of having gone the fastest so far this season Fraser-Pryce has shown that she is a fast learner with tons of talent and anything Felix or any other sprinter can do, she is capable of the same and perhaps better.

Despite VCB’s obvious contentment with her 2nd place finish (10.98) that qualifies for selection on the 100 metres squad, she has a lot of work to do to catch up with Fraser-Pryce who is now in rarefied speed territory that VCB has yet to reach. However, it remains worthy of note that the top three women all clocked under the 11 seconds barrier with VCB picking up the silver in 10.82 followed by Kerron Stewart in 10.94. Contrary to some earlier predictions on the North American circuit, the US sprinters do not have this event in the bag and by now may have had their confidence in their gold-medal relay prospects shaken.

In the 200 metres the surprising performance of Sherone Simpson (22.37), in finishing ahead of VCB to snatch the silver medal on Sunday should be lauded by one and all. Sherone has not been in top form since the 2008 Olympics. Interestingly, it was just a few weeks ago that Simpson had to be defended by this writer from accusations elsewhere in the media of poor form and underperformance. Maybe she saves her best for Olympic performances as who can forget the way in which she blazed her 4×100 metres relay leg in Athens in 2004 to help the Jamaican women’s team to win its first Olympic relay gold medal and then in 2008 in Beijing when she bounced back from an injury plagued year to win a joint silver medal.

Hats off to 19-year old University of Technology (UTECH) student, formerly of Garvey Macedo High School, Rusheen McDonald for his sensational performance in the 400 metres in a personal best time of in 44.83 seconds to finish second thereby taking the big scalp of national record-holder Jermaine Gonzales who was 3rd   (45.18).. Clearly McDonald is one for the future.  The winner Dane Hyatt also showed that the Olympics provide tremendous motivation for our potential T&F stars and augurs well for the prospects of Jamaica’s 4×400 men’s relay team.

Current national record holder, Jermaine Gonzales revealed in a post-race interview that he had suffered a hamstring injury some two weeks prior to the Championships and had spent a week in the pool doing rehabilitative exercises. Hence, he was more than happy to qualify for the team and is convinced that he will improve his form significantly in time for London.

It may be easy to indulge in disappointment about the form of the 2008 Olympic silver medallist Sherika Williams who finished 4thin the 400 metres, in 51.39. Jamaican fans instead, should be enthusiastic about the performances of Christine Day (51.0) and Rosemarie Whyte (50.78). Both finished tremendously in securing their place on the women’s 400 metres squad. Novlene Williams Mills was clearly the class of the field. Here again, Jamaica should have little difficulty in securing a medal in the 4×400 relay for women, especially if Sherika steps up her form as she did in 2008.

Brigitte Foster-Hylton

Brigitte Foster-Hylton again showed that on the big occasion she rises like cream to the top. This was in evidence as she produced an outstanding run in defeating a respectable field by a comfortable distance. Foster-Hylton who has been at the top of this event for over a decade, had been recovering from significant injures this season and up to two weeks ago was in serious doubt as to whether she would be able to perform well if at all at these Championships. However, she delivered like the Trojan she is when it counted.

A fond farewell to Berlin bronze medallist Dellorene Ennis London who failed to qualify and so will not be a part of the team to London.  ‘Dello’ has been a most valuable part of Jamaica’s hurdling team for many years and a hard act to follow.  She has not spoken of her plans for the future but one would not be surprised if she follows Foster-Hylton into retirement at the end of this season if not before.

Melaine Walker

Melaine Walker once again showed that she is the class of our 400 metres hurdlers. Any other 400 hurdler who wants the gold in London will have to run through Melaine. By contrast, her club mate Kaliese Spencer has been below par for most of the season, however she did manage to edge out Nickiesha Wilson for the 2nd place (55.04 to 55.50) behind Walker (54.77). Assuming she fulfils her potential Kaliese should at the very least be in the finals in London. In the meanwhile, Wilson’s challenging run showed that like several other results at these championships, the new generation of Jamaican track athletes are not content to play 2nd fiddle to anybody and so not afraid of reputation and past performances. They come to win.

Leford Green men’s 400 hurdles winner ran his best time by far this year (48.98) which was enough to suggest that he should be a finalist in London.  It is interesting to note that this victory resulted in his 3rd straight national championships title.

Not to be outdone, the top three finishers in the 110 metres hurdles all achieved distinctive times. Despite a slow start, Hansle Parchment underlined his potential in covering the field to clock a winning time of 13.18, closely followed by Andrew Riley 13.19, with Richard Phillips trailing in 13.43. Realistically, one expects that they will all make it through to at least the semi finals; indeed, any one or even two could make the final in London. While it may be foolish to predict a medal for any of these Jamaicans given the rarefied standard of the Americans, a resurging Liu Xiang of China, Dayron Robles of Cuba and others, the 110 metres hurdles is one of the most unpredictable events in track and field and a poor start or even one collision in clearing a hurdle could change the complexion of a race in a flash. Hence, although unlikely, a medal by any one of Jamaica’s sprint hurdlers should not be written off.

Dorian Scott

National Shot Put champion, Dorian Scott (20.72) has again qualified for a global competition and is in fact just as likely, as not, to reach the final pool in London. In the discus a record two athletes achieved the ‘A’ standard for the Games, Travis Smikle (67.12) and Jason Morgan (61.93). If either of these produces their best in London, he should be also in the final pool for those Games. If, as it appears, that the country is slowly but surely undergoing a revolution in the throws (discus and shotput), fuelled by the performances and coaching provided mainly at Calabar High School for the boys and Edwin Allen for the girls; this would be good news indeed.

Kimbley Williams leapt to 14.52m to win the triple jump, a personal best for her with the added benefit of achieving the ‘A’ standard and beating back the challenge of former World Champion Trecia Kaye Smith (13.94M).

Several of the top three finishers in their event will still be desperately seeking to achieve the elusive ‘A’ standard in the next couple of weeks, or, before the country hands in its entry list to the Olympic authorities.

Undoubtedly, the Championships itself lived up to expectations in terms of the quality of performances. News headlines in several countries are still ablaze with some of these results. Possibly because the meet was streamed live on the Internet as well as carried by a cable network in parts of North America, or the competition provided by the military tattoo 2012, the stadium crowd was less than expected, especially on Sunday evening when the cream of the country’s sprinters were again on show. There was no disappointment for the thousands who were there, however, and expectations remain high that Jamaica’s track and field superstars will again maintain their tradition of greatness at the Olympic.

The JAAA still has some ways to go, however, in terms of organizational standards.  One aspect that was especially noticeable was the absence of good high-tech electronic aids, including the electronic boards to show the standings in field events and electronic measuring devices to make the events move more swiftly.  This affected the ability of the crowd to fully enjoy the events, especially field events. Most of the times spectators were not updated on the standings, including information on which athlete was leading in the triple and long jumps as well as other field events. If these events are to be popularized and made attractive to potential athletes, then such information must be provided.

By Clare Forrester