Sport

The Jamaican in me

Anguillan sprinter Zharnel Hughes says mom is daughter of the soil

BY HOWARD WALKER Observer senior reporter walkerh@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, May 12, 2014    

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ALL things being equal, in sprinter Zharnel Hughes lies a future Olympic champion and a pilot. In pursuit of both dreams, he has showed the aptitude to achieve them, having been deemed the consummate hard worker, technically gifted individual, one who listens and executes well.

That's a lot, it seems, to say about one young man still in bloom. But for those who know him well, or for those who have followed his exploits closely, Hughes's plaudits are justified.

The Aguillan is regarded as one of, if not the best, young sprinter in the Americas. Already, he is the 2013 Carifta and Pan American Junior champion. And according to watchers of the sport, there is more to come from him. Much more.

But what a lot of people didn't know is that Hughes of Anguilla has a Jamaican connection — his mother.

Just a day before Mothers' Day was celebrated in Jamaica, Hughes, who has lived in Jamaica for the past two years, revealed to the Jamaica Observer on Saturday, that he missed his mother Zarnalyn Ebanks "everyday".

"Living in Jamaica for a while is a great experience and I missed home a lot not seeing my mother and brother as often. But besides that, school is going great, track is going awesome. I like Jamaica and I have no complains about it," said Hughes as he sits quietly watching his Racers teammates compete at the JAAA All Comers Meet at the National Stadium on Saturday.

But only a few weeks back, Hughes had set the Stadium alight by running the fastest time for a schoolboy at the fabled Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championship, clocking 10.12 seconds, and in the process, erasing Yohan Blake's record of 10.21 seconds done in 2007.

He did that as a Kingston College student.

But for some strange reason, he was never truly embraced and revered by local fans, who felt more or less slighted by a foreigner stealing the thunder from home bred talent. And that's something he has been doing for two years now.

People were saying Jevaughn Minzie of Bog Walk High should have won and broken the 100m record. They wanted a local hero to follow in the footsteps of the great Usain Bolt, and Yohan Blake.

But 18-year-old Hughes, as many will now come to know, is a son of the soil. His mother Zarnalyn is from St Elizabeth and his father Howell Hughes is from Anguilla. Zharnel's name is an amalgamation of parts of both his parents' names.

"She is from St Elizabeth and has been living in Anguilla for nearly 19 years. My mother is mostly the big supporter. My father does support me, but my mother is the biggest one. Not only them, but my other family members also supports me," said Hughes, who revealed that he has a cousin in the Jamaican army.

"My mother wasn't an athlete, but a few of her family members were track and field athletes. My father's side are runners, most of everyone on my father side are athletes. It's just that most of them quit and I decided that I won't go down that road," he noted.

But with his birth country Anguilla not having an Olympic association and being a British territory, the sprinting prodigy looks set to choose Great Britain over his mother's country of Jamaica for the 2016 Rio Games.

"The options are there, it's just that I haven't decided which one I want to do as yet," said Hughes, who wants to be a pilot when his track career is over.

"I have them all in consideration, but it's a possibility that team GB just might be the team because Anguilla is a British territory and most likely we have to join them since we don't have an Olympic status. It's most likely Team GB, but like I said, it's under consideration," he reiterated.

The supremely talented athlete who is currently sitting his CAPE exams, explains the difficulty in balancing schoolwork and training.

"It is hard to come home and study, but you have to make the sacrifices in order to do well in school and on the track. So, like I said, it's hard sometimes but that's how it is," he noted.

"To be honest, it is quite difficult especially coming from training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My coach call them 'Drop Dead Tuesdays' and 'Killer Diller Thursdays'," smiled Hughes, as his coach Patrick Dawson nods his head in approval.

"He is a very disciplined athlete. Very manageable, basically he is a coach's dream. He is a coachable athlete and that's the kind of athlete that coaches look for. Outside of that, he is very talented, and when you put all those components together, he is an excellent athlete," said Dawson.

"With his potential and talent, I see no reason why he can't go on to become an Olympic or World Champion. He trains among the professionals and he realised that when you get to that level, the training is even harder," Dawson explained.

In July, Hughes will be participating in the World Junior Championship in Oregon, USA, before embarking on the Commonwealth Games in Scotland.

"I am looking forward to that for sure. Preparations for that is coming great. I started back training and everything is going good so far. Thank God for that. I am looking forward to World Juniors," he pointed out.

Hughes has fond memories about his first experience at Champs, considered the best of its kind in the world.

"Champs was an awesome experience. I am very much sorry that I won't be taking part again. I should have come here earlier," he said laughing.

"But it's awesome. I loved the participation... everybody was taking part and the atmosphere was just amazing. It was the biggest (championship) I ever been to thus far. But I look forward to come back next year. I won't be running but supporting this time.

"I do love the crowd, the athletes, I can tell you that Jamaica is the promised land for sprinters," said Hughes.

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