Jamaica Trials Will Reveal New Guards after Bolt, Powell, et al

Some years ago, Asafa Powell was Jamaica’s flag bearer in the flat 100m; that was after Raymond Stewart was the top male sprinter the country had. Fans lamented that Powell needed help so the country could have a competitive relay team, one that challenged the world again after Errol Stewart, Michael Fray, Clifton Forbes and Lennox Miller clocked 38.33secs for a world record, in the semifinal of the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. That record lasted for one day. The Jamaican team finished fourth in that final.

Then one Usain Bolt arrived on the scene and ran 10.03 in Kingston in March 2008 after striking a deal with his coach Glen Mills. The athlete and coach had predetermined that a great result would help them decide whether Usain continued in the 400m or transitioned to the shorter sprints.

His next stop was the New York Diamond League, and he produced a world record on a wet track, as he ran away from Tyson Gay, the USA’s top gun. Suddenly, Asafa Powell had more than the help he needed in the world of relay records. Emerging also were Nesta Carter and Michael Frater before him, and then Yohan Blake who aspired to be better than Powell, among others.

In 2017, Bolt, seemingly jaded and not fully fit, stayed away from the 200m at the London World Championships in Athletics and managed only bronze in the 100m, much to the disappointment of fans who wanted him to go out on top. As the meet inched to closing, Bolt ended his career on the track in a way that wasn’t befitting a star athlete who had ruled Olympic sprinting for eight years and had the world at his beck and call.

In the men’s 4x100m relay, Bolt’s final race before retirement, he took the baton as the anchorman and soon went down on the track grimacing in pain from what preliminary diagnosis said was an acute muscle cramp in his left hamstring.

Jamaica’s male sprinting has not been the same since Bolt’s exit, especially since the country’s and world’s number-two man, Yohan Blake, suffered two major hamstring injuries and has yet to return to any semblance of his glory days.

Sleek Oblique Seville

So here we were again at a place where Jamaican men struggled to go under ten seconds in the 100m and under 20 in the 200m. The prospects looked bleak. Suddenly, four weeks before the country’s national trials, a 21-yr-old named Oblique Seville in Bolt’s former track club Racers and trained by Bolt’s former coach Glen Mills rocketed to Number Two in the world in 100m with a 9.86 (almost still wind) run in Kingston. Based on his coach’s assessment of him, he’s no one-run wonder.

Seville tasted the Olympic experience at the 2020 Games in Tokyo, getting more than his feet wet in the 100m prelims and the 4×1 relay final in which he anchored in fifth place but was moved up to fourth after Great Britain lost their silver medal. What a baptism it was for the 20-yr-old whose best time was 10.04, which he did in the Tokyo 100m preliminary rounds but didn’t reach the final!

His first and only sub-10 run recently has ignited talks that he, like Powell in 2006-2007, needed help for a strong relay team.

Blake battles Coleman in New York.
Photo: Kelvin Campbell/TrackLife International.

Like the 21-yr-old Bolt did, running 10.03 in early season 2008, a fresh-faced 20-yr-old from Merlene Ottey High School in western Jamaica named Akeem Blake (left in photo), who trains at the relatively new Titans Club, ran 10.08 in Kingston and then 9.92 and 9.95 in the US in the space of one week. He recently took on World Champion Christian Coleman in New York and gave him a run for his money.

Given that he is quite inexperienced and must put into effect that which he is being taught, it is evident that Jamaican men are running their way back into conversations about good sprinting, and I foresee that it may not be long before they dominate those conversations.

Oblique Seville and Akeem Blake are highly talented, dedicated to training, are focused on succeeding at a high level, and are not afraid of big competition. Like any other process their sprinting perfection (or as close as they can get to it) will come through repetition and determination.

Not Enough

Now that Seville has help, enthusiastic Jamaicans are saying they both need the assistance of at least one more person for a relay team that will challenge the world. That third person seemed like overseas-based Devonte Burnett, a US college student, who clocked a season opener 9.99secs at the Mt. Sac Relays in April, but the two-time outdoor All-American in 2021 injured his left hamstring over the final 15 meters in the 100m dash finals at the Pac-12 Championships in May and missed the remainder of the season.

Now to whom do we look? Could the smooth striding 30-yr-old four-time sub-10 Kemar Bailey-Cole (formerly of Racers, now at Titans and on his way back to fitness), Nigel Ellis or Conroy Jones of Elite Performance Track Club, and veteran Yohan Blake of Titans come forward for relay duties? As Shericka Jackson said last year when she stepped down to the shorter sprints, “expect the unexpected.”

The unknown will be revealed at the Jamaica Nationals tonight. One thing is sure, the tide is turning again, and more “help” should emerge the way Frater, Carter, and the senior Blake did to join Powell and Bolt to form formidable teams that stunned the world. Just one spark could start a blaze.

Be patient, as the younger Blake says he is being in the process. Help is on the way.

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