Sport

Ja's female sprinting lacks depth

From the Sports Desk

With Hartley Anderson

Sunday, June 10, 2012    

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WEEKS before the staging of the JAAA/Supreme Ventures National Championships to select the team to the London Games, the Samsung Diamond League athletic series seems to be foreshadowing things to come.

Unfortunately, while from a Jamaican perspective, there are positives emanating from those early-season meets, there are areas of concern which, if not expeditiously addressed, could result in a disappointing Olympics for athletic fans.

As articulated previously, while the men's sprinting machinery appears set to deliver, the women — Veronica Campbell Brown and, to a lesser extent, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce apart — seem nowhere near their form of four years ago and could be clinically deposed this summer.

While conceding it's relatively early days, with the Games seven weeks away, pundits will agree it's never easy to rebound from the lukewarm start some medal hopefuls have displayed so far, and could have a tough task extricating themselves for the Trials.

Those who have flirted even fleetingly with sport will attest to the difficulty of shifting gear once the mind and body have adjusted to a pattern of performance. Consistent with this is the basketball parlance, "in the zone", which speaks to the momentum that renders a player virtually unstoppable during a game.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, is the dreaded slump — the bug with which Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson seem to have been drastically bitten for some time.

None of these quality sprinters has done anything of note since 2009 when Fraser-Pryce and Stewart finished one-two in the 100m in Berlin, and all three teamed up with Simone Facey for a gold medal in the sprint relay.

Against the background that only a year before that, the then unheralded trio created history by sweeping the medals in the short dash in Beijing, their indifferent form is not only cause for concern, but also a sign of stagnation and possible decline.

Considering that all three have, at various times within the past few years, been bothered by injuries, maybe it's not yet time to press the panic button, however.

Interestingly, in an era of celebrated sprinting dominance, Jamaica suddenly seems bereft of that depth among the women, as opposed to the general perception four years ago. Indeed, apart from the aforementioned quartet of VCB, Fraser-Pryce, Stewart and Simpson, one struggles to find others of comparable ilk, with Jura Levy, Sherri-Ann Brooks and Carrie Russell being next in line, though not of the requisite quality.

Based on their experience, the out-of-form trio is still expected to make the Jamaica team and could ultimately give creditable performances. However, from where I stand, the time to groom the next generation of female sprinters is certainly at hand.

Again, over the past weeks, we've seen the emergence of a likely 'spoiler' in the form of Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast, who beat a quality field, including the aforementioned Jamaicans, over 100m, and Stewart and Simpson over 200 on the circuit.

We've also witnessed a fine run by Allyson Felix over 100m in Doha, surprising VCB and company over a distance 'unfamiliar' to her, but which she admits to be pondering in light of her 10.92secs run and the desire to find another race to complement her pet event, the 200m, following her 200m-400m flop in Daegu.

In reverting to Ahoure, the African looked impressive, her form and strength, plus the motivation of smashing two national records in quick succession, positioning her as a contender in London, irrespective of her 'pedestrian' 11.0secs.

Further, Ahoure not only clocked personal bests over both distances, but also appears to have a lot left in the tank as far as the potential to improve is concerned.

What we, therefore, have is a possible line-up of Felix, Carmelita Jeter, Kelly-Ann Baptiste and Ahoure that will seriously test the mettle of the Jamaicans at the Games, with the possibility of landing more than one medal diminishing with every meet.

At the end of the day, though, it will come down to the quality and tenacity of the protagonists, with the fervent hope that the Jamaicans come to the party.

Among the men, the stage has been set for an electrifying showdown at both the National Trials and the Olympic Games. Led by the inimitable Usain Bolt, who has chalked up the two fastest times in the world this year, 9.76 and 9.79 seconds at Rome and Oslo, respectively, all the Jamaican contenders — including Asafa Powell and Yohan Blake — are enjoying a rich vein of form, with the latter two having already posted 9.85 and 9.84.

In being realistic, the aforementioned three are the 'real deal', despite the slew of other athletes who have dipped under 10 seconds and have combined to have the world talking about the sprinting riches at our disposal.

In fact, I believe Nikel Ashmeade, who came of age with a PR 9.93, is the only sprinter who could threaten the form book as outlined above, despite the expected presence of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Lerone Clarke and others at the Trials.

Interestingly Bolt, a proved student of the sport by his persistent utterances of becoming a legend, is aware of the magical appeal of the 100m, despite his natural affinity for the 200m, and is wisely concentrating some energy on this, as his three races so far would suggest.

Clearly ahead in the 200m, the Bolt camp has seen it fit to work on the Achilles heel start that will no doubt determine his fate in the shorter event, both at the Trials and at the Games.

Interestingly, Bolt is yet to contest a serious half-lap race this season, but is expected to so do in short order. When he does, it should be instructive.

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