MOSCOW, Russia — Eighteen-year-old Calabar High schoolboy Javon Francis announced to the world what track and field fans in Jamaica knew all along, a new relay monster has been born.
After a series of outstanding anchor legs for high school and national junior teams, the fearless Francis took his show to the bright lights of the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow, Russia, on last night's seventh day of the 14th IAAF World Championships with a dazzling run that quieted the spirited home fans, snatching the silver medal from the Russian team in 2:59.88 behind the United States who won in 2:58.71.
Rusheen McDonald led off the team, handing over to Edino Steele in fifth place. Steele ran a strong leg and managed to close the gap on the leaders, while Omar Johnson, who was a late replacement for the injured Javere Bell, managed to maintain the position before stepping aside for Francis to close the day's track and field with some fireworks.
He immediately went to work, passing Great Britain, Belgium and Russia by the time they got to the back stretch, opened up a three metres lead over the Russian before staving off a late charge, just beating the Russian anchor man to the tape.
The medal was a triumph over adversity as earlier in the day there was news that Javere Bell, the national champion and one of the strongest runners on the team, was forced to withdraw due to a hip injury and there were doubts whether the team was still medal contenders.
A jubilant Francis told reporters afterwards that the victory was a team effort, but added that the night before in a team meeting he told the other team members, "I really, really, really want a medal to take back to Jamaica".
At the CARIFTA Games in The Bahamas in April, Francis took the Jamaica Under-20 team from third place on the final leg to victory, and a month later at the Penn Relays, he took Calabar High again from third place to beat Munro College, anchored by Delano Williams, on the line.
The run drew plaudits from several members of the Jamaican delegation and Maurice Wilson, the technical leader, described the leg as "one of the most fantastic legs I have ever seen in a 4x400m race".
Wilson told the Jamaica Observer that "what was fascinating about the leg was that we were behind and what he did was to make up ground and continued to go away from those behind him".
The decision to hand the anchor leg duties to Francis was not difficult, Wilson said, as he had shown the qualities before. "It's the qualities we saw in him, not about age or experience at this level, but the maturity in terms of athletics and having looked at the personalities that were involved in the relays and decided that he was the best man," said Wilson.
Team captain Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who completed the sprint double, was full of praises for them in her post-race comments. "I am excited for them, especially Javon Francis, he ran a hell of a closing leg and I am just so excited for them, they are very young and it's the first time we have had a 4x400m team with so many young athletes on it, and it speaks to the level of work and development that goes into our 400-m programme," she said.
Johnson said words could not explain the run of his team. "It's amazing, but I knew he could do it, he is strong and I was just hoping he would hold on for the medal."
Steele said he had to just run and hug Francis after his effort: "This boy fantastic, he will be someone to be reckoned with and he is just having fun."