Preserving Jamaica's rich track legacy is no short sprint

Observer writer

Thursday, July 26, 2018

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Based on the evidence of last season and what has transpired so far this season, it is clear that Jamaica's reign as the sprinting powerhouse of track and field is near, if not, at its end.

The era that was marked by the supreme dominance of the legendary Usain Bolt is over, but what happens next is a story that is yet to unfold.

Yohan Blake, who was dubbed as the heir apparent by Bolt himself, has not lived up to expectations and the fear factor that athletes from other countries once had of the Jamaican sprinters has waned.

No longer are the world's best male sprinters afraid of their Jamaican counterparts and it is clear that the United States of America are on the comeback with the likes of Noah Lyles and Ronnie Baker.

While the recent struggles continues for Jamaica in the short sprints there is an emergence of talent in the 400m that is getting proper attention. Akeem Bloomfield and Nathon Allen, who both attended Auburn University until deciding to go professional virtually at the same time earlier this month, along with high school sensation Christopher Taylor, have been making waves in the one-lap event.

Bloomfield, with a personal best of 43.94, and Allen with a personal best of 44.13, are the two fastest Jamaicans over the quarter-mile run this season. Taylor recently went below the 45-second barrier for the first time on his way to owning the Jamaica national youth record over the distance when he won in 44.88 seconds at the National Senior Championships in June.

While these young men give hope to those who love Jamaica's track and field, it is success in the shorter sprints — the 100m and 200m — that has helped to underline the dominance of the Caribbean island in the world of track and field in the Bolt-led era.

Bloomfield has run two personal bests over the 200m in the past two weeks, dipping below the 20-second mark at the London Diamond League Meet on Sunday when he won in 19.81. Taylor has also had marked success in the half-lap event this season, defeating former 400m World and Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt at the Jamaica International Invitational meet in Kingston in May.

During the period of 2008-2016, and shortly before that as well, Jamaica's female sprinters also enjoyed a period of dominance through the efforts of Veronica Campbell Brown, Kerron Stewart, Sherone Simpson, the irrepressible Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the reigning Olympic double sprint champion Elaine Thompson.

After a below par performance at the ill-fated World Championships for Jamaica in London last year, Thompson began the 2018 campaign with another below-par performance at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in April and came in for a storm of criticism, especially from fans at home who questioned her efforts on the Gold Coast. Thompson was struggling with an Achilles tendon injury from then.

The 26-year-old has continued to struggle this term due to the niggling Achilles injury that forced her to pull the plug on her season following her third place Diamond League finish in Monaco at the weekend, while the return of Jamaica's sprint queen, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, has been greeted with much delight. Her 10.98s run in London on Saturday was the first time that the 2008 Olympic 100m champion had run below 11 seconds since giving birth to her son some nine months ago and certainly is a promise of even greater things to come.

There are athletes that make up the current cadre of Jamaican female sprinters, including, Sherone Simpson, who has also returned from having a child, Shasha Lee Forbes, Natasha Morrison, Christania Williams, among others. They are the ones that will now have to step up and be counted to support the efforts of Thompson and Fraser-Pryce.

It is important for Thompson's handlers and the athlete herself to ignore the comments that were and are, still being made about her this season. Physically, Thompson will have to deal with the pain of the Achilles injury, while mentally she will have to deal with the fear of returning to the track and reinjuring herself, while ignoring the fickle fans who mouth off incessantly on social media platforms. These platforms can make or break a career if responses to comments are not handled with utmost care.

There is an old Jamaican saying that goes: “Two Bull cyaan rule inna one pen.” At this juncture in Jamaica's track and field life, it is quite necessary for two “queens” to reign at once.

Both Thompson and Fraser-Pryce are proven world beaters, and with the World Championships looming large next year, the IAAF will be desperate to see the island that “saved the sport” continue to bring great joy to their legion of fans that span the globe.

It is brilliant for the sport when Jamaica wins, just ask the current President of the IAAF Lord Coe, who has insisted that Usain Bolt will have a part to play in the continued growth and development of the sport that they both served as athletes and thrilled the world at different distances in different eras.

Jamaica will need their two sprint queens to be at their best to challenge the two Ivorians Marie-Josee Ta Lou and Murielle Ahoure that have emerged as serious contenders as well as Daphne Schippers of the Netherlands, Shaunae Miller- Uibo of the Bahamas and Jenna Prandini of the USA.

Hopefully for Thompson, it won't be too painful to watch the rest of the season from the comfort of her living room couch, as her idol turned rival, continues on her comeback trail with gusto, because certainly Jamaica will need them both next year.

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