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Russell, McPherson, Morrison, Jackson: The Emerging MVP Women

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While Racers Track Club has a lock for now on the top male sprinters in Jamaica and the world, its counterpart MVP, just a stone’s throw away, is reloading its cannon of the best female athletes in the island and in one case the world.

Racers is loaded with Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Warren Weir, Kemar Bailey-Cole, and Michael Frater who walked away from MVP. However, their coach Glen Mills is yet to prove himself as a producer of great female sprinters and quarter-milers. MVP, on the other hand, has the current queen of short sprints, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, and high-ranking 400m hurdler Kaliese Spencer in its ranks.

Gone are Olympic and World 400m hurdles champion Melaine Walker and the promising young 400m hurdler Ristannana Tracey, who both crossed over to Racers. Brigitte Foster-Hylton, the 2009 World 100m hurdles champion and winner of the World Athletics Final that year, has retired from the sport, and Shericka Williams, the 2008 Olympic 400m silver medalist, has not sparked in recent times. The last big female name to exit was the 2008 Olympic 100m silver medalist Sherone Simpson, who flew off to a high-tech training facility in Florida.

With that said, we should not be fooled that MVP, the club that started the train-at-home trend with Foster-Hylton, has lost power; they have a number of younger women who are serious and beyond promising. Prominent among them are Carrie Russell, Stephanie McPherson, Natasha Morrison and the fresh-out-of-high-school Shericka Jackson – all with a history of stellar performances. In addition, there’s Anneisha McLaughlin on whom fans have been waiting patiently to see her make that major breakthrough.

Carrie Russell

Russell, 23, was a talented high school star a few years ago at St. Thomas Technical, for which she carried the workload of an ox – from the island’s Eastern Athletics Championships (Eastern Champs) to the national Boys and Girls Athletics Championships (Champs).

In 2006, Russell ran away with the 100m bronze medal at the World Junior Games in Beijing, China, but in 2007 a hamstring injury put her out of competition for the most of that season.

A year later, the self-described easy-going but outspoken young lady transferred to The Queens High School for Girls that produced outstanding athletes such as Grace Jackson, the 1988 Olympic 200m silver medalist. At Queens, she pursued academic studies in Sixth Form for advance high school work. She favored communication studies and sociology.

By 2011, she was a student at the University of Technology (UTech) and had returned to full fitness. She then captured the FISU World University Games 100m title.

She also represented UTech at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, where she copped the College Women’s 100m Championship title in 2012. By then her exaggerated over-striding running style had begun to diminish slowly, and she was getting faster.

Just as questions and debates started emerging about who would step up to join top-tier seniors Fraser-Pryce, Campbell-Brown, Kerron Stewart and Simpson, Russell stood up and announced herself as a solid candidate with a post-2013 World Championships personal best (PB) of 10.98secs. With that she become the eighth fastest Jamaican woman over 100m and ninth to go under 11.00 seconds. Two years earlier, Russell clocked 11.05 in the heats at the 2011 World University Games in China and returned to win the final in the same time. In 2012, she snatched the Penn Relays College Women’s 100m dash Championship crown, and in April 2013, won the UTech Classic in Jamaica in 11.07, which up to that point in the season ranked the second fastest time in the world.

Her consistent times and her ability to leave the blocks quickly made her the perfect fit for lead-off on Jamaica’s sprint relay team that took gold in Moscow with a Games record and national record of 41.29. Russell has proven that she will be a serious individual medal contender in 2015.

Stephanie McPherson

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McPherson at the 2013 Penn Relays.

At the May 2013 Jamaica International Invitational in Kingston, McPherson produced an impressive run that lowered her PB to a world-leading 50.43secs in winning the women’s 400m over an impressive lineup, which included compatriot and Olympic finalist Novlene Williams-Mills and Great Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu. The former Mannings School star took command of the race early and maintained her momentum in the final stages as she went away from the field. After winning, she noted that she was aiming for 49.10 as the season progressed.

The hardworking McPherson didn’t get there, but more importantly, lowered her time to 50.28 at the Jamaica National Senior Trials and further to 49.92 in Monaco in July, just ahead of the Moscow World Championships. In August, she finished just outside of the medals at Worlds, but dipped below the 50-seconds mark with 49.99, behind winner Ohuruogu, Amantle Montsho of Botswana and Antonina Krivoshapka of Russia.

This season, she has already clocked 51.59 to win at the February 22 Gibson Relays in Kingston and looked on track to resume her 2013 breakout-year performance. In a post-race television broadcast interview, McPherson talked about how much she learnt from competing on the European circuit last year and how much she had been feeling the pressure of maintaining her standard in 2014. “But I am working hard,” she said. “I missed two weeks of training due to a knee injury.”

Missing from her itinerary last year were sufficient Diamond League races early enough to give her more experience in always running with the best in the world. But to be included in good meets comes with the resume of what an athlete has achieved at global meets.

Until the Moscow Worlds last year, she was unknown outside of her country; however, her fourth place finish in the 400m final, in which she defeated some US big names, should now put her on the list for meet organizers to consider.
With the World Indoors out of the way, McPherson is now looking to compete at the Commonwealth Games this summer. She will be primed to be dangerous as the season kicks into top gear.

This quarter-miler is fearless of experienced competition and is able to relax when it comes down to the big occasion. She continues to display that strength; just look at her superb anchor leg against Ohuruogu et al at the recent World Indoor Championships.

Natasha Morrison

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Morrison at the 2014 Penn Relays.

While not much has been written about Morrison, some of us recall that she ran for Glengoffe High School and dominated the sprint double at Eastern Athletics Champs in 2007. She was only 15. The following year, she teamed up with Yanique Ellington, Sandrae Farquharson and Petra Fanty to take the CARIFTA Games Under-17 4x100m gold (46.51secs.) in St. Kitts.

Early in 2010, she captured the girls’ Class Two 200-400 double at Eastern Champs in record times and later qualified for CARIFTA. Soon thereafter, she sustained a hamstring injury at Champs, her next big assignment before CARIFTA and had to be pulled from that team.

The 21-year-old UTech student has made some post-high-school splash, especially during last year, and owns PB’s of 11.17 and 23.08 for the sprint double. She has competed at big meets such as Pan-Am Juniors, Penn Relays and the Diamond League, and was a member of the 4×1 relay pool on the national squad to the 2013 Moscow World Championships. Just after the Championships she joined Carrie Russell, Kerron Stewart, and Fraser-Pryce in Zurich for second to the US in the sprint relay. She ran a splendid third leg between two fine exchanges and clocked 11.19 for second to Russell over 100m at the Kamila Skolimowska Memorial meet in Warsaw, Poland.

If Morrison picks up where she left off last year, 2014 could see her rising significantly for 2015.

Shericka Jackson

Enter the former Vere Technical High School express called Shericka Jackson; she’s 19 with PBs of 22.84 and 51.60 over 200m and 400m, respectively. The legendary Merlene Ottey has been watching her and expects her to break through to the senior ranks soon and continue the line of Vere women – of whom Ottey is one – who have gone on to represent Jamaica well at the senior level.

Fraser-Pryce has described her new club mate – the 200m bronze medalist at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships – as “another great addition to MVP Track Club.”

Jackson has known for her strength over the 200m and 400m distances as well as for her closing speed in the both sprint and mile relays, a display we saw again at the recent Gibson Relays. We are, therefore, left to speculate which of the two will she focus on or whether she will take on the tough, hardly done double like France’s Marie-Jose Perec did. Time is the answer.

She has decided to stay home and train with a Coach Stephen Francis, who prefers to mold young athletes who have no star chip on their shoulder and who are serious and hungry to succeed. There’s no doubt that Francis will decide what’s best for her and have her ready for Worlds in 2015.

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