The track and field competition opened yesterday and produced overall satisfying results for Jamaica.
All my predictions are on target with qualifications for advancing to round two achieved in all events on the track. The performance of our women's 400 metres athletes was, in my view, the most impressive; although Kimberly Williams did make a most emphatic statement in producing the second best jump in advancing to the triple jump final and Trecia-Kaye Smith, although not surprisingly, also rose to the occasion in that same event despite a long lay-off due to injury.
In my first visit to the track and field mix zone (where journalists get a chance to button-hole the athletes immediately after their races), I sought to get the attention of Novlene Williams-Mills, our national 400 metres champion, after her controlled performance in winning the first round of this event.
I attempted to ask her a question that I know a lot of her strongest fans have been asking for years, but moreso now that she is poised to compete in her third Olympic games. Has she determined the best time to challenge for the lead? Is she ready and confident in the strategy to employ? I wanted to know and asked her thus when I eventually got my question in.
Maybe because she had just responded to a barrage of questions from my other colleagues and would have been understandably weary, whatever the reason, her response was terse following which she abruptly retreated to the Athletes' Village, or wherever it is that they go after their races.
I was a bit disappointed by her response though and did my best to play it down when another journalist with a UK accent wanted to know what was her problem. I prefer to think that she simply found my question a distraction. If by not answering helped her to retain her focus on the semis, then I can live with that.
Later when I read her post-race quotes, I am still left wondering. These quotes published, usually by the main contestants, or winners, are helpful in filling out space when one is trying to beat deadlines in writing and submitting stories, but they don't give much away. Maybe because the questions tend to be so inane, such as: "Are you feeling OK?" "How do you feel going into the next round?" If you are lucky someone asks a probing question on which you can build a story, but it seems to me that probing questions are usually reserved for one-on-one interviews, possibly for scoop purposes.
Although Novlene may have shrugged off my question for reasons best known to her, I still maintain my faith in her 400 metres medal potential.
Who can forget the way in which she handled World Champion Amantle Montsho of Botswana in Shanghai early in the season; also Sanya Richards-Ross at the Jamaica Invitational? Following those performances, however, she again trailed both those runners at subsequent Grand Prix meets, although finishing strongly in the process.
I would think that Novlene and her coach should know the strategy that works best for them, but to us less informed fans her up and down performances do not appear entirely convincing and may be the reason why few sports pundits, besides myself, name her in their medal predictions for these games.
I read where Hubert Lawrence, in his most recent set of predictions published elsewhere, states that "many tip her to intercept the last two World champions, Sanya Richards-Ross and Amantle Monstho, and fast Russian Antonina Krivoshapka". Noticeable, however, although predicting 14 medals for Jamaica (one less than me) he appears reluctant to name her in this category.
As I said in an article published in the Jamaica Observer Olympic supplement recently, "Williams-Mills is in the form of her life and could challenge for a minor medal. I am hesitant about naming her among the medallists, despite her obvious talent and form, she tends to under-perform on the big day when it counts most. However, she again has a great chance to show the world that she is right up there with the very best."
Although the US' Deedee Trotter edged out Rosemarie Whyte in their heat, it was clear to me that Whyte had already covered the field and was coasting home, her place secured. Trotter should not get the better of her when they next meet. Christine Day also gave a good account of herself. Hence, my early prediction that Jamaica should get at least two finalists in this event remains on the cards. Further, assuming that Williams-Mills and her coach have found the formula for taming Monthso, Richard-Ross and Christine Ohuruogu, the bronze, at least should be hers.