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TrackLife International

Second-Tier Jamaican Sprinters Making Big Waves

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With Usain Bolt’s promise to retire after Rio, some followers of Jamaican track and field are already wondering who will emerge to understudy Yohan Blake, the heir apparent of the sprint double after 2016. Put another way: who will be the “next big thing.” The recent Gibson-McCook Relays in Kingston has given more than a hint in answering that question, and we might just see that person come into full light by the National Trials at the end of June.

At this point in time though, a look at the clubs and institutions men’s sprint relay has made some revelations. That the University of Technology’s (UTech) quartet of Andrew Fisher, Julian Forte, Kimarly Brown and Tyquendo Tracey – in that running order – defeated a strong Racers Lions team of Mario Forsythe, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Warren Weir and Usain Bolt, 38.23. to 38.29, has confirmed the next tier of sprinting talents being primed at the MVP Track Club and who have become ferocious, fearless and confident. They seem to have little or no qualms about running against the best in the world.

Anchorman Tracey was placed in the “hot seat” again this year, this time to run against Bolt, the double world record holder. His experience of being caught by double Olympic silver medalist Yohan Blake at last year’s Relays taught him how to hold off a charging Bolt: “Last year I got the lead but tightened up, and Blake caught me. I told myself I was not going to let lightning strike twice,” he told the Jamaica Observer newspaper, noting that he felt Bolt closing in on him but reminded himself to “just relax and run.”

But before Tracey collected the baton, the fast-starting Andrew Fisher, who gave Justin Gatlin a run for his money at last year’s Jamaica International Invitational, took things serious on lead-off, when he passed to Forte ahead of the field in a swift, sleek exchange. Up against Bailey-Cole, the Commonwealth champion, the pumped-up Forte stormed away to dismiss him and was well clear ahead of the field at the midway point. The 22-year-old seems power-packed with something extra in this a World Championships year, as he bolted down the backstretch to hand over to Kimarley Brown, on the bend.

Incidentally, Forte epitomized team player and, like Tracey, showed no fear of the competition. He later played down his pivotal leg, when he told the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper that he didn’t feel the need to be singled out because the performance was a total team effort. “When I got the baton on the second leg I was already in first position, and I did what I could to extend that. The team knew we had to give our anchor a good lead and I did the best I could to do that.”

He also said running against Weir and Bolt was not scary because he had run with them before. His performance, he pointed, was partially driven by his desire for good competition.

Brown, 23, you may recall, scorched the track last season and became Jamaica’s 13th sub-10 sprinter with 9.93secs (1.8 m/s) while competing for Merritt College in Oakland, California. He seemed headed to Texas Christian University in the US after completing his junior college career, but he opted to return home to train at the MVP.

Rewind to the Jamaica Invitational and you will find Fisher giving Justin Gatlin a run for his money in the 100m. He also got huge international experience when he anchored the 4×1 team to victory in the preliminary round at the World Relays. That was before injury came his way. Now he is back, looking as smooth and ready as he was last year.

You may also recall that Fisher, Forte, Brown and Tracey were fierce sprinters at Champs.

Enter the women’s edition, and UTech struck again. Former Edwin Allen High School speedball Christania Williams (in photo above), who now trains at MVP alongside World and Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, is a force that Fraser-Pryce herself has acknowledged. Now seemingly a bit trimmed, Williams, the number one Jamaican schoolgirl sprinter in 2014, has maintained her blazing start out of the blocks – as displayed in the 100m at the Relays – which always made her a shoe-in for the lead-off position on a relay team. She was out like a bullet and quickly covered the field on the stagger.

Then it was Elaine Thompson against Olympic and World silver medalist Kerron Stewart of Racers Track Club that had the crowd talking. Like her male counterpart Forte, she dominated Stewart to pass first to Shimarya Williams, who held off Schillonie Calvert on the curve. Racers anchorwoman and Christania’s former teammate Monique Spencer was no match for Chanice Bonner, who has been running well and who has held off Fraser-Pryce on anchor at a previous meet. Her composure and confidence were obvious as she streaked away through the line without fanfare to clock 43.13 and erase their old mark of 43.28.

Another UTech/MVP star on the horizon at Gibson-McCook was former Vere Technical standout Shericka Jackson. She looked a powerhouse, fearless quarter-miler as she fought off the challenge from Anastasia Leroy in the mile relay.

As a schoolgirl, Jackson was known for her burst closing speed on the glory leg of the sprint relay as well as her tenacity in the 200m. Something tells me her coach Stephen Francis is prepping her with the 400m for strength to unleash her in the 100m-200m double in 2016.

Some may speculate that elite athletes are on a later training schedule as opposed to that of college athletes, who are gearing up for Intercollegiate and Penn Relays next month before their big peak for Trials. Be that as it may, that argument does not negate that they seem on the verge of breaking out, based on the rumblings they are making.

For me, this recent Gibson-McCook Relays was more about Forte and Williams over other individuals. Forte showed us what he was made of in 2012, when he was on his way to 200m gold at the World Junior Games in Barcelona, Spain but was brought down by a terrible attack on his hamstring muscle in the homestretch. At the 2014 World Relays, he ran the third leg on the sprint relay team that won gold. Williams was about to strike gold in the 100m at the 2011 World Youth Games in Lille, France when, after a blistering start, she lost her balance and form near the end and barely held on for bronze. She was lead-off on school’s relay team that set a high school girls sprint relay world record last year.

Both sprinters have returned, and with personal bests of 10.03 (+1.5m/s) and 11.19 (-0.6m/s), respectively, in 2014, they are clearly ready go faster. Coach Francis could spring a surprise or two in Rio, reminiscent of what he did in Beijing. The only difference is that Jamaicans are more aware of this pair, unlike when Fraser-Pryce took the world by storm in 2008. This year’s National Trials will reveal much more than Gibson-McCook did.

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