APPROXIMATELY 157 athletes and officials from nine countries have been entered for the ninth North America, Central America and Caribbean Cross Country Championships (NACAC), which will be held at the Manchester Golf Club in Mandeville on Saturday.
Organised by the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) and the NACAC Local Organising Committee, the event includes the 4K junior women, set to start at 2:15 pm; the 6K junior men scheduled for 3:00 pm; the 6K women at 3:45 pm and the 8K men at 4:30 pm on the 2K challenging course, reported to be in good condition.
Participants are expected from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, Bermuda, Aruba, The Bahamas, and Jamaica. There will also be team events, with a minimum of four athletes and a maximum of six per team.
Awards will be presented to the first three finishers of each race, as well as to the top teams in each race, and for the first time in a regional or international event in the Caribbean, each participant will wear his/her name on the front and back of his/her shirt, as well as the assigned number.
The NACAC, as a cross country event, was originated in the USA in 2005 where it was held annually until 2009 when it moved to Trinidad and Tobago.
The USA team will include notable distance athletes such as Craig Forys, Estevan De La Rosa, Mary Kate Champagne, Bobbi Burgess, Arya Bahreini, Stephanie Price, Meghan McGovern, as well as Samantha George.
The Jamaican team includes Tanice Barnett, Stephanie Barrett, Rushae Burrell, Danielle James, Damion Bent, Ainsworth Daley, Romar Mundle and Wayne Beckford.
Chairman of the Local Organising Committee, Afred 'Frano' Francis, is looking forward to a successful staging of the event, especially in the absence of the ill NACAC president, Jamaica's Neville 'Teddy' McCook.
"We are pleased to welcome the Championships to Jamaica and believe that our being selected to host this important regional event speaks volumes about our standing in the world of athletics," he said.
JAAA president Dr Warren Blake said the hosting of the event falls in line with his administration's strategic plan to improve distance running in the sport.
And sport minister Natalie Neita Headley also weighed in on the subject.
She said: "Clearly, there are issues with our distance running programmes, despite the hard wok of institutions like the Jamdammers Running Club and the success of events like the Reggae Marathon. We have not developed a culture of distance running.
"Part of the blame must go on the coaches and their focus, part of the blame must go to our facilities to train athletes for distance running. Another part of the blame goes to the fact that distance running is not glamourised like sprinting and therefore appears less attractive to young athletes, but mainly we simply have not developed a culture of expectations for these events."
The minister claimed that when Winthrop Graham became world-class over the 400m hurdles, it sparked a revolution in that event for both genders, which eventually produced two female Olympic gold medallists, Deon Hemmings and Melaine Walker. "
We desperately need a Winthrop Graham of distance running and a coach who will do the same for distance running," she said.
"I look to the day when we establish special distance training programmes at facilities in places like Sligoville, Mandeville, Newcastle and Claremont where the elevation and terrain would best assist in the development of our young athletes."