Years from now, track and field fans in Jamaica will still be talking about the Inter-Schools Athletics Championships (Champs) 2013 as arguably the best ever. The unprecedented number of records; fierceness of the competition almost down to the wire, especially in determining the overall winner for the girls' trophy; and crowd participation, all combined to this being unofficially dubbed "Super Champs 2013".
Good broadcast coverage generally. TVJ's Ricardo Chambers certainly came into his own and was a refreshing addition to the station's team of commentators. In terms of quality of information, delivery and style he was right up there with the best. World champion hurdler Brigitte Foster-Hylton also held her own and we expect that she will be even better if given more opportunities on the track and field team of commentators.
Interestingly, many of our media pundits called it wrong in terms of the final outcome. Nearly every commentator predicted that Edwin Allen High School would walk away with the girls' title and a tight contest between Calabar and Kingston College for the boys. The script was however somewhat different and this made for a far more exciting Champs than one could reasonably have anticipated at the start of the competition.
Those of us who have followed the development of this sport have repeatedly contented that there are three main reasons for Jamaica's prowess; our phenomenal tradition dating back to the London 1948 Olympics; the GC Foster College of Physical Education and Sport, and Champs. While these explanations were very much in evidence this year, GC Foster College's impact, from my perspective was especially striking. Who could help not being impressed with the obvious technical level of preparation of these amazing junior athletes? Almost every athlete came to the meet professionally prepared. From the 12 to the 19-year-old athletes, Class 4 to Class 1, from both the traditional as well as the non-traditional schools; how they emerged from the blocks, their running style, all showed a high standard of preparation. These could not have come by chance. Clearly the spread of top class coaches especially from the GC Foster College has permeated into every section of Jamaica's education environment from primary to junior and senior high schools and not only the big, traditional schools.
Performances aside, there were three incidents that resonated with me. The first was in the boys Class three 1,500 metres finals on Friday when the Calabar athlete in the lead for some strange reason misjudged the second to last lap as the final and so missed out on what seemed a sure medal, at the very least, eventually not scoring even a single point, which at the time seemed important to his school given the fact that his school's two main rivals - Kingston College and Jamaica College were "chawing" fire. That young man could not have slept easily that night even if he went to bed exhausted. I certainly don't know what would have happened to him had Calabar lost by a few points. Luckily for him and his school this was not the case. The second incident was the most unusual site of the Class two girls 1,500 metres gold and silver medallists Shanieke Watson and Lisa Buchanan of Holmwood Technical crossing the finish line while hugging each other. They seemed less concerned with who would be accredited with the gold medal, only that they were responsible for a 1-2 quineila and the bounty of points that flowed as a result. They certainly did not appear to give a thought to the possibility of a disqualification.
The third was a YouTube posted occurrence of an incident at one of the official entry points into the stadium where the security guard failed at first to recognise Usain Bolt and closed the gate when the mega star was seeking to enter the stadium. Fortunately for all concerned, the guard was quickly apprised of Bolt's identity and almost genuflected in reverence while apologising repeatedly as he re-opened the gate.
By now, much would have been written and said about Champs 2013, while there was a great deal to celebrate from my perspective an analysis will show that some of the performances deserve special recognition. The overall event certainly deserves a new and exclusive book.
The 110 metres hurdles Class 1 record set by 18-year-old Omar McLeod of Kingston College in the final (13.24) was to me even more sensational than his barrier-breaking achievement in the longer event. His 13.24 seconds clocking over the shorter distance makes him the joint fifth fastest junior (alongside Roy Smith of the US) and behind Wayne Davis (13.08) and Eddie Lovett (13.14) both also of the United States, Yordan O'Farrill (13.18) of Cuba and Artur Noga of Poland (13.23). His time is the seventh fastest ever run by a junior. By comparison, his 400 hurdles record of 49.98 interestingly, does not put him in the top 20 for the event.
His younger teammate, 13-year-old Jevaughn Matherson was another standout. Matherson set a new Class three 100 metres record (10.85). Incredibly, he still has four years in the youth ranks, during which time he can challenge the World Youth record (10.19) set by 16-year-old Yoshihide Kiryu of Japan last November and the Jamaican record of 10.27 set by 17-year-old Jazeel Murphy in 2011. Another budding 100 metres sensation was Calabar's 15-year-old Michael O'Hara who clocked 10.49 seconds to win the Class two event. O'Hara still has two years in the youth ranks to challenge those same records.
Munro College's 18-year-old Delano Williams, who hails from the Turks and Caicos Islands, continued to show impressive form. His fantastic 200 meters run of 20.27, just two hundredth of a second behind Usain Bolt's Champs record makes him the 13th fastest junior athlete over 200 meters of all time, but still a ways behind the World Junior record (19.93) set by 17-year-old Usain Bolt in 2004. He may eventually emerge as a threat in the 100 metres wearing the colours of Turks and Caicos Islands much as he professes to love Jamaica. At this point in time, however, he appears much less threatening in the 100 metres at the senior level; but who knows?
On the girls' side, 15-year-old Shauna Helps of Wolmer's, despite losing out to her 16-year-old team-mate Jonielle Smith in the Class two 100 meters final, clocked a fantastic 11.56 seconds in her semi-final round and still has two years in the youth ranks, during which time she can challenge the World Youth record (11.13) set by 17-year-old Chandra Cheeseborough of the US in 1976, also the Jamaican record of 11.36 set by 17-year-old Nadine Palmer in 2000. But Helps will have to share the youth spotlight with the amazing 12-year-old Kimone Shaw of St Jago High School who ran 11.75 to win the class four event and has a whopping five years in which to challenge those same records. Shaw's performance was mind-blowing, and from my perspective the most incredible performance of the meet. Nothing about her bearing suggests 12 years old. Her rhythm, drive and acceleration phases, all are already at a high level. In addition, her time would have won her the class two event and a strong place in class one.
The other observation, which for me made these championships especially memorable, was the apparent camaraderie among the athletes. Sure there were some bragging displays, especially between Kingston College and Calabar athletes, but I was certainly pleased to see several from competing schools congratulating each other at the end of their events. That to my mind is what the Champs spirit should be all about and that we can still celebrate its existence after more than 100 years is another cause to give thanks.