Track and Field Resets Clock with World Records and More

After one long year of no Olympics, no New York Millrose Games, no Caribbean regional CARIFTA Games, no Jamaica Boys and Girls Championships that the world has come to know about, track and field has stepped up its speed to full return amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Just over two weeks ago, Jamaica was given the green light to resume meets for the first time since junior athletes were allowed to compete on the weekend of December 12 and then prohibited again. Europe and the US have been pushing the return of the sport, doing so with masked spectators in some cases and no spectators in others.

The American Track League three-part meet series that ended February 21 showcased Americans Allyson Felix, Grant Holloway, Ronnie Baker, and Trayvon Bromell; Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare; Britain’s Tiffany Porter; Jamaica’s Britany Anderson, and Omar McLeod, among others.

US College Indoor Season Ends

Indoor track and field championships for colleges and other conferences of its kind in the US have ended. The University of Texas (Longhorns) won the Big 12 men’s and women’s titles, the University of Minnesota won the Big 10 women’s title while Iowa won the men’s; the University of Arkansas took the South-Eastern Conference (SEC); Iowa Western won the women’s title and South Plains the men’s crown at the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) indoor championships.

The collegiate indoor season staged its grand finale: the NCAA Divisions I Championships, March 11-13 in Fayetteville, Arkansas with the University of Arkansas taking the women’s title and Oregon Ducks, the men’s. Division II had its championships in Birmingham, Alabama simultaneously. Grand Valley State University won the women’s title, and Ashland University took home the men’s title.

Jamaican athletes competing for these institutions, notably Division I, played a big part in contributing valuable points for their schools in the battle for championship titles.

Athletes have been hungry to get back on track as Covid-19 starved them of the competition they so badly needed. And though some who were carrying injuries before Covid saw the break as a blessing in disguise that allowed them more time to return to full fitness or close to it, professional athletes need to earn a living. That hunger might have driven many to a new high of fierce determination once they were freed to compete.

Stellar Performances

Let’s start with Britain’s defending World 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith, one of the first big names out the blocks when she registered consecutive wins in January at the World Indoor Athletics Tour in Germany. Having run only three low-key club races in coronavirus-hit 2020, she was racing internationally for the first time since 2019 and clocked 7.08secs that equaled her personal best, just 0.02secs off the British record held by Asha Philip. Asher-Smith subsequently withdrew from another World Indoor Tour event in France as a precautionary measure against a tight quad she experienced.


Crouser spinning to a world record.

Next is the American 2019 World Championships gold medalist Grant Holloway. After coming within a whisker of the 27-yr-old indoor 60m hurdles world record recently, the 23-yr-old Holloway removed Britain’s Colin Jackson’s name as the record holder and replaced it with his at a February 24 Meet in Madrid with 7.29secs, one-hundredth of a second faster than Jackson’s.

But it’s not only on the track that world records set; Olympic champion Ryan Crouser broke the world indoor shotput record at an American Track League meet in Fayetteville, Arkansas, on Sunday, January 25 by tossing the 16lb shot put 22.82 meters (74 feet, 10½ inches) on his first attempt to break the mark of 22.66 (74-4¼) set by Randy Barnes in 1989.

Some 18-yr-olds came to the forefront, too, and showed the force they are on the track.

One such teenager is Texas A&M University first-year student Athing Mu who became the first female athlete to go faster than 1:59.00 over 800 meters in a collegiate season, indoors or outdoors. At the February 27 SEC Indoor Championships, she won the 800m in 1:58.40, more than two seconds faster than the previous record of 2:00.69, set by Jazmine Fray in 2017. Mu’s time also broke the world Under-20 record.

At the just-concluded National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championships (March 11-13), the Sudanese American looked like a gazelle in full flight as she anchored her team to a decisive victory in the 4x400m relay in a meet record 3:26.28. Her leg was a blazing sub-50secs.

Jamaican sprint hurdler 18-yr-old Ackera Nugent, a Baylor University (US) freshman, equaled the women’s Under-20 world record in 60m hurdles when she clocked 7.91secs in the preliminary round of the BIG 12 indoor championships. She lost in the final to a 21-yr-old but went on to win at the NCAA Championships in 7.92secs a week later. Prior to that event, she was announced as the Big 12 Conference’s Women’s Outstanding Freshman of the Year.

Nugent’s performance is only a continuation from where she left off in February 2019. As a 16-yr-old, she clocked a stunning 12.89 (+1.5mps) for the World Youth (Under 18) 100m hurdles record in her season-opener in Jamaica.

Another 18-yr-old high performer this season is Italian Larissa Iapichino. She broke the world Under-20 indoor record in the long jump with 6.91m at the February 20 Italian Indoor Championships.


Nelson: “It was Crazy.”

Iapichino added three centimeters to the mark set by Heike Drechsler in 1983 and equaled her country’s senior national indoor record set by her mother, Fiona May, which led her to the 1998 European indoor title. Iapichino’s record leap also bettered her outdoor career-best of 6.80m set last year and is the farthest jump in the world so far in 2021.

Jamaica’s Kemba Nelson turned 21 last month. The Oregon University (US) junior ran a meet record, collegiate record, and personal best of 7.05secs. in the 60m, all at once, as the curtain came down on the NCAA championships.

Tokyo on Their Minds

Big guns in colder climes face outdoor competition in two weeks. Unlike when indoors, they’ll contend with wind and rain that could determine their performance, but with no indoor situation, Jamaica began its restart outdoor February 27 with some senior athletes competing. There was no Shelly-Ann-Fraser-Pryce or Elaine Thompson-Herah, but stalwarts Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, and Yohan Blake turned out with what some might view as soft performances. Thompson-Herah, et al came out for the second meet a week later, and Fraser-Pryce competed at the third.

Blake, 31, has said he would rather miss Tokyo, which is likely to be his last Olympics, than take the Covid-19 vaccine. Powell, on the other hand, has said that he himself may not have a choice but to get vaccinated, suggesting that if he declined the vaccine he would probably have to retire. He is 38.

Encouragement to take the vaccine came from a fellow athlete outside the track and field fraternity. After taking his first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, national swimmer Michael Gunning, who lives in England and owns Jamaica’s national 200m freestyle and 200m butterfly records, is encouraging other athletes to take the vaccine to combat the pandemic.

Time will tell if they are hungry enough and willing to do it.

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