Pursuit of glory
Boys' & Girls' Champs run off today
CALABAR High and Edwin Allen girls are highly favoured to win the 104th staging of the five-day Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships which starts today at the National Stadium.
Defending champions Calabar are expected to turn back what is expected to be another spirited effort from fierce rivals Kingston College (KC) and secure their 24th lien on the Mortimer Geddes Trophy, while last year's girls' runners-up, Edwin Allen, look a good bet to dethrone champions Holmwood Technical High School and secure only their second title and avenge last year's painful five-point loss.
The prestigious track and field championships, which started in 1910, will see 205 schools and approximately 2,500 athletes participating in what is arguably the greatest high school event in the world.
Calabar, who won by 41 points last year, are touted to retain their title easily, but it will be much, much closer with KC breathing down their necks and quietly confident of capturing their first title since 2009.
Calabar's head coach Michael Clarke is happy that people are predicting an easy win for his school and he hopes that is so. But he believes his team is well-prepared and raring to go and he is "cautiously confident".
Calabar, formed in 1912, first won the title in 1930 and have since won it 23 times and based on the results at early season development meets, they should secure win number 24.
"It should be an interesting Champs as usual and should be exciting and adventurous," Clarke told the Jamaica Observer.
"I don't see any Champs that comes easy. It is always hard fought. But even though the end might appear to be an easy one with the points difference, it's always a very tedious, exhausting and demanding championship," added the man who was head coach of Jamaica's senior team to the 2013 Moscow World Championships.
The "Calabar Lions" or "Rabalac" as they are known, will be depending on an extremely strong Class Three team led by Christopher Taylor, Tyreke Wilson and Dejour Russell and are expected to sweep all the sprints, long jump and hurdle events.
Not only are they expected to win the 100m, 200m, 400m, 100m hurdles and long jump, but they are expected to occupy the top two spots and are also expected to smash the records in the process.
Their Class One might not be that dominant, but in Michael O'Hara, Javon Francis, Basil Bingham and Jorel Bellafonte, they are expected to lead the way to garnering enough points.
However, there are rumours of injuries to World Youth 200m champion O'Hara, who missed the Carifta trials, as well as Francis, the World Championships mile relay silver medallist. If true, that could seriously derail Calabar's winning effort.
But coach Clarke, who has won numerous championships with his alma mater Calabar, as well as Jamaica College, declared that all is well. "Yes they will be Ok. We have done the necessary due diligence and they are responding."
Meanwhile, KC are considered the main challengers to Calabar once again, and having not won since 2009, are eager to return to winning ways.
The famed 'Purples' from North Street are the most successful school with 31 titles, eight more than Calabar, and the Orville Byfield-coached boys are confident they will be victorious this year after finishing third last year.
Byfield, who took charge of KC this season, said contrary to the belief that Calabar will be easy winners, this year's edition of Champs will be very close.
"I think that it will be a ding-dong battle to the very end, and I think that our boys are ready for that challenge," added Byfield, who won the Class One shot put for KC in 2000.
KC's strength will be in Class Two with the likes of first-year Class Two star Jevaughn Matherson, along with Nathaniel Bann, new find Akeem Bloomfield, Donte Williams, Shammari Wellington and Kristoff Darby who should garner the bulk of KC's points.
Zharnel Hughes will lead the KC charge in the Class One sprints, and he is expected to really lay down the marker in what is expected to be some enthralling battles with O'Hara and Francis in the sprints and relays.
"We have a superb Class Two and we know Calabar has a good Class Three, but our Class Three guys are still as good. It all boils down to performance on the day," noted Byfield.
"We have a strong presence in the jumps and in the throws we are getting there. Champs we will see what we will see. The guys are ready," he added.
Although Boys' Champs is expected to be a two-horse race, the likes of St Jago, last year's runners-up Jamaica College and Wolmer's Boys will make their mark.
In the girls' section, defending champions Holmwood Technical will find it extremely difficult to retain their title, but head coach Kirk Brown is very confident they will.
"Preparations have been going on good. The girls are healthy and motivated and ready to go. We believe that all the girls will do their best to score and ensure that Edwin Allen do not come out victorious," said Brown
Last year, Holmwood scored 310.5 points and won by five points in securing their 10th title in the last 11 years, but will be hard-pressed to win this year's edition.
Meanwhile, World Youth 100m hurdles world record holder Yanique Thompson will again lead the Holmwood Technical charge in their bid to defend their title with the likes of Lisa Buchanan, Shantae Greave and Latavia Coombs.
Edwin Allen are overwhelming favourites yet again to secure only their second lien on the trophy, and despite a penchant of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, the Michael Dyke-coached girls should make no mistake this year.
"I think we are very hungry for the title because we were disappointed last year and based on that it, has motivated them tremendously to work hard to reclaim it," said Dyke.
The Light Blues from Frankfield, Clarendon, were highly fancied to win the last five years from 2009 to 2013, but were only able to do so in 2012.
But based on their depth and their dominant showing this year, it will be hard for them to lose, despite their recent history at Girls' Championships.
A lot is expected from Rochelle Frazer, Janelle Fullerton in the throws in classes one and two, respectively, while on the track Monique Spencer, Saqukine Cameron and Marleena Eubanks in the middle distance should score heavily in Class One. In the lower classes, Edwin Allen are very strong, and despite teams like Vere Technical, St Jago and Hydel, Edwin Allen should run out easy winners.
At Central Champs, Edwin Allen scored 378 points and were well clear of Holmwood with 262, and Hydel, 259, and based on that, they should win easily. But that was just a precursor to the big event and not much should be read into it.
However, at the end of five gruelling days at Champs, the green and black boys from Red Hills Road should be celebrating their third consecutive win, while it should be a joyous moment for Edwin Allen, too.
Action will start today at 2:00 pm with the boys' javelin and long jump preliminaries, and concludes with the steeplechase open at 7:20 pm. No finals will be contested on the opening day.