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Identifying The Most Memorable Champs Performance

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Just over a week ago, the 104th edition of the Jamaica Boys and Girls Athletics Championships, known simply as Champs, ended in a blaze of glory – literally and figuratively – with a mile relay record and subsequent fireworks that lit up the Kingston night sky over a dark stadium, packed with patrons from home and overseas.

Five days of intense competition among Jamaican high school athletes, unmatched globally, saw camaraderie and rivalry, pressure and pain, unbridled joy and painful disappointment, and the breaking of 20 records that left onlookers amazed.

After being without a point for the first two days, followed by the loss of crucial points along the way (which they had factored in) and a penultimate day of utter performance woes, the 2013 defending champions Calabar High School found the drive and composure they needed that was jumpstarted by a call to battle from team captain Romario McKenzie and former-teammate-turned-Olympic-and-World-Championships-medalist Warren Weir.

McKenzie recalled his concern after the scoreless first two days of the championship, revealing that “I was worried, but as a leader you can’t show signs of weakness. So I kept them motivated.” With a renewed attitude, the team launched a full-scale assault that earned them many points, –even where they didn’t win – that put them in the lead.

Race to The Top

Dubbed the Rabalac Lions, the many time champions raced to the top of the Boys point standing with 305, just shy of 100 points more than closest finishers Kingston College (KC) on 208.5. Jamaica College/JC (190), St. Jago (158.5), St. Elizabeth Technical High School/STETHS (123) and Wolmer’s 97.5 completed the top six. It was Calabar’s third straight successive title.

On the girls side, Edwin Allen High School (winners for the first time in 2012), surged to a massive pile-up of 337.5 points over St. Jago High School (263), Hydel High (229), 2013 champions Holmwood Technical (211), Vere Technical High (141), Wolmer’s Girls (89). Their overall victory was topped off by their final race of the meet, a no-contest win in the 4x400m open relay. This display of power and confidence was in contrast to last year’s performance when, after entering the final day in the lead, they fell apart and were relegated to second by many-time champions Holmwood.

But while these two schools basked in their euphoria, I was still trying to decide the most memorable performance, as I reflected on some stunning achievements that highlighted the Championships.

The Class 1 boys (ages 16 to 19) 100m dash will be in my head for a long time. This was a race billed as a clash of the Titans of big-boy sprinting led by Zharnel Hughes, an Anguillan national representing KC; World Youth 200m champion Michael O’Hara of Calabar; and Bog Walk High’s Jevaughn Minzie, who has come with a whisker of winning a CARIFTA title. Coming into the Championships, O’Hara sounded warning with a word-leading 10.29 at a development meet some weeks ago and Minzie responded within minutes with 10.31 at a separate meet. But the two had to get by Hughes, the reigning Pan-Am Juniors and CARIFTA champion who had a 10.36 clocking going in. And many believed they would. But by the end of the preliminary rounds, pundits were already shuffling around their thoughts and made Hughes the clear favorite to win and break the record.

One to Watch

And so he did by storming Yohan Blake’s 2007 Champs record of 10.21secs with a 10.12 run in superb form that became the subject of the night. Adding to the amazement was the revelation by coach Glen Mills, head of the Racers Track Club where Hughes trains, that Hughes was at about 80% of where he wanted him to be and that he was running with an injury. “We are actually working towards preparing him for the World Juniors, so this is just a test,” he said, adding that “he is one Jamaica will have to deal with in the future.”

Mills also noted that Hughes could have run 10.00 flat, pointing out that while he executes efficiently, is start can improve and his first 20 meters isn’t very good.

The protégé was also touted to return to take down Usain Bolt’s record in the 200m but was pulled from the race because of injury concerns.

Hughes is being conditioned by Patrick Dawson and not Mills as is assumed.

While the tall 18-year-old Hughes was soaking up the reaction from the raucous vuvuzela-blowing crowd, Minzie came in for big commendation. After knocking at the winner’s door for a while, which makes him ready for a major title, Minzie left the blocks with an excellent start ahead of Hughes, who was forced to call on overdrive. It was only Hughes’ superb late power that enabled him to separate himself from Minzie some five meters from home. Minzie also broke the old mark with 10.16.

One of Three

Then there was Calabar’s workhorse Javon Francis, who smashed Usain Bolt’s 11-year-old Class 1 400m record of 45.35secs with a blowout 45.00 flat. He became the third athlete at Champs 2014 to erase schoolboy times set by two of Jamaica’s top sprinters.

Minutes earlier, Raheem Chambers of St. Jago (Yohan Blake’s old school) smashed Blake’s Class 2 100m meet record of 10.34 by registering an amazing 10.29secs. that confirmed his recent PB coming into Champs was no fluke. He got the better of the highly talented and much-talked-about 15-year-old Jhevaughn Matherson of KC (10.37).

Wolmer’s Boys Jaheel Hyde was as impressive and stunning as he was when he copped victory in the sprint hurdles at the 2013 World Youth Games when he was in Class 2. Having stepped up in class, the versatile athlete who is also a soccer wiz, produced a super performance on the penultimate day to set a new national junior record in the Boys’ 400m hurdles in 49.49secs and become the second Jamaican junior athlete to go under 50 seconds in the event.

The following day, Hyde grabbed a second gold medal when he narrowly defeated JC’s Tyler Mason in the Boys’ Class 1 110m high hurdles after a close battle to the line. He clocked 13.53 to Mason’s 13.55.

Triumphant Return

It was great to see Edwin Allen’s star Christania Williams making a triumphant return from injury to claim the Class 1 100m title in 11.19. No other Jamaican schoolgirl has come even close to that mark since record holder Veronica Campbell-Brown. Williams’ fast start and awesome top-end speed could soon put her in line for a place on the senior team with lead-off duties on the sprint relay squad.

She got her team’s 4×1 relay party started with a flying first leg that gave Edwin Allen a huge lead on their way to a 44.17 record that erased the old mark of 44.26 held by Holmwood. They left St. Jago a long way behind in 46.05.

And on the subject of the relays, Calabar’s new 4×1 record was simply stunning and showed the team’s depth. With their 200m-400m ace and backstretch runner Javon Francis out of the final, Calabar shuffled around whom they had and brought in a replacement to get the job done in no ordinary time. Their speedy 39.35 clocking is nothing to scuff at, and it’s mindboggling to think of how much faster they could go with their top four firing off all cylinders, given the right conditions.

The heart and soul of what Champs is about was exemplified by St. Jago’s Peta-Gaye Williams who competed in the girls Class 1 sprint hurdles with her right forearm in cast and defeated the ferocious World Youth star Yanique Thompson. Hurdlers must get their rhythm right, and their arms are crucial to their balance as the cheetah’s tail is to the predator in a high-speed chase. Despite being at a disadvantage, Thompson, who fell in the 400m hurdles but finished the race, managed to maintain that balance and speed to the line.

Her teammate Martin Manley, the World Youth 400m defending champion, learned that he had to run the 200m only days before the Champs final, in an effort to garner maximum points for his school. He copped the silver medal.

The darling of Saturday’s crowd could easily be the diminutive Kiara Grant of Alpha Academy who was not fazed by her taller, bigger rivals in the 100m for Class 4 girls (11 and 12 years old) for she had the rapid strides and big heart to match them. She bolted from the blocks, challenging them to catch her, and ran away from the pack to a record breaking 11.98secs over

Equally compelling to watch was Calabar’s Christopher Taylor, who produced yet another scintillating run to stop the clock at 48.72 in the 400m heats for under-14 boys. Having gotten the record out of the way, Taylor returned to win the final in 48.80.
Both Grant and Taylor went into Champs heavily favored to win, based on their PBs posted at a development meet.

Then there is 16-year-old Cornwall College’s Warren Barrett Jr, who threw 18.18m to smash the five-year Class 2 boys shot put record (17.41m) on the Thursday night and then completed the double with victory in the discus on Saturday. He holds a PB of 54.94m. Though he dominated his class leading up to Champs, his scoliosis problem over the past few weeks left him uncertain about how well he would perform.

Barrett’s female counterpart Rochelle Fraser had her own party going on; she broke the class 1 Girls shot put record three times in the competition on her way to taking the gold medal, improving the old mark of 13 meters to 13.31 to 13.53 to 13.70.

While the former sprint factory Camperdown was not a factor, the ever-rising Hydel High was impressive but not surprising. The writing has been on the wall for a few years. Track expert and commentator Hubert Lawrence hit the nail on the head in a February article: “Hydel High School has moved from being Champs debutantes [some fours ago] to being a Champs powerhouse.” Having finished fifth last year, the Ferry, St. Catherine-based school really gave St. Jago a run for their money for that second spot. I can’t wait to see what they’ll do next year.

Chambers’ Bravado

Ok, so there had to be a negative incident. On a day when no murder was reported in Jamaica, Chambers, the St. Jago star got carried away by his own excitement. Having crossed the finish line ahead of KC’s Matherson in the 100m in record time at that, his show of bravado took the form of simulated gun shooting directed at KC supporters. As innocent a display of bragging right as it may seem, the action is uncalled for and hopefully has been addressed by coaches.

On the flipside, a display of camaraderie at its best was Vere’s Sasha-Gaye White with her arms around Junelle Bromfield of STETHS after Bromfield won the final of the Girls’ Class 2 800m over her teammate Lisa Buchanan (2nd) and White (3rd). To the credit of the young athletes, the White-Bromfield scenario as not the only one of its kind.

After revisiting each of the foregoing performances as well as several others, it is Minzie’s 100m run that has stood out the most for me. He was up against Hughes, a star with two regional titles, who has benefited from professional training at the High Performance Center in Jamaica and who trains alongside the world’s top sprinters Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir. Yet Minzie showed that he was no push-over before Hughes got the edge.

Like Hughes, he is being prepared with the summer World Juniors in mind. Nonetheless, he too managed to break the previous record. I couldn’t agree more with his coach: Jevaughn Minzie deserves much more respect.

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