Athletics

Owayne Owens' ordeal

Everything that could go wrong did leading

BY PAUL A REID
Observer Writer
reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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Two foul jumps and then 14.79m in the preliminaries of the men's triple jump by Jamaica's Owayne Owens at the recent IAAF World Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland, meant an early exit as he finished well down the ladder, far from the top 12 athletes that would advance to the final.

The 14.79m jump was almost a metre shy of the personal best 15.70m the former Cornwall College athlete posted at the JAAA National Junior Championships to win his second national title and to qualify for his second IAAF championships, and sparked a series of incidents leading to a busy week prior to the event.

Owens, who won the triple jump at the Penn Relays in April after placing fourth at the Inter-Secondary Schools Sport Association Boys' Champs and missing a medal, had committed to attending the University of Virginia on a track and field scholarship, but had to sort out his travel papers for both the World Under-20 and his US student visa. And given he had to start summer school on July 16, a day after the end of the championships in Finland, things got crazy.

The 18-year-old travelled by himself from Kingston to Helsinki through Miami and London before getting on a bus for the two-hour ride to Tampere, arriving just after midnight Wednesday after a trip lasting over 30 hours. He was in action less than 48 hours in the country, in a pair of spikes borrowed from the Finnish national team.

A day after his brief appearance in the competition, Owens told the Jamaica Observer he was still hoping he would have beaten the odds and qualified for the final on Sunday.

“It has been a very difficult week leading up to leaving for Finland... I had to make several trips to Kingston to sort out different visas, and as such, I had no time for training and that was evident in the triple jump as I was feeling rusty,” he said.

Owens, who had placed fifth in the IAAF World Under-18 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya, last year, said he was advised to forego the trip to Finland and go straight to Virginia instead.

“That would have been a very hard decision for me,” he said. “I had worked so hard to qualify for the World Under-20 and I think I deserved to get the experience as I won't ever get it again... so I really wanted to go and would make the sacrifice,” Owens shared.

Originally he was due to report to the University of Virginia on July 11, but winning the triple jump at the JAAA National Junior Championships and being selected to the trip as the only male triple jumper, forced some adjustments and things had to be done in a very short window.

The school pushed back his arrival date by a week, but it also meant that when he left Finland he would go directly to Virginia, instead of coming back to Jamaica.

After going to Kingston on Wednesday, June 27 to make the application for the Shengen visa to facilitate travel to Finland, Owens had to return about six days later, Tuesday, July 3, to meet a coach from Virginia who flew to Kingston with the I-20 form — the document that was addressed to the American Embassy in Kingston advising them that he had been awarded a place in the school and an F1 (student) visa should be issued.

He was unable to get an appointment that day, but returned on Friday, July 6, two days later, hoping he would be able to get a same-day service and would be able to leave the next day.

There was to be more delays as, despite requests from highly placed JAAA officials, he was told he had to return on Monday, July 9 to collect his passport with the visa and eventually flew out on July 10, the day the championships started in Finland.

It would not be smooth sailing all the way.

Apart from an eight-hour stay in the airport in London, his bags were left behind and he would not see them again until he was leaving on Sunday, July 15.

So, without his clothes or equipment, he had less than 24 hours to prepare for the biggest competition of his life, but he was philosophical afterwards.

“This was a lesson for me. It was a challenge, but I think I will grow from this and learn moving forward,” he said, just hours before he had to make another long trek — another two-hour bus ride to Helsinki, flying to London, then to Philadelphia, eventually getting into Virginia after 10:00 pm Sunday night — just in time to start classes at 10:00 am the following day.

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