Athletics

Third staging of JN Racers Grand Prix set to sizzle

Saturday, June 09, 2018

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The third staging of the JN Racers Grand Prix is set to produce some scintillating performances with the stars all promising outstanding displays, but more importantly, they all want to have fun inside the National Stadium.

The event, dubbed “Stars, The Next Generation”, runs off at 6:15 pm with the women's 400m “A” race followed by the men's 400m “A” race. A scheduled 10-minute opening ceremony will occur at 6:30 pm with the men's 100m event bringing down the curtains at 9:30 pm.

At yesterday's press briefing at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel where the media got to greet and meet some of the stars during a forum, the eight athletes on show all promised to thrill the fans.

Olympic 400m champions Kirani James of Grenada, Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas; 100m world champion Yohan Blake; Jamaica's Commonwealth Games shot put champion Danniel Thomas-Dodd; American prodigies Fred Kerley and Noah Lyes; 16-year-old Jamaican rising star Briana Williams and 800m Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Natoya Goule were the panellists.

There will be several high-class duels both on the track and in the field which will see the return to competitive action of the 400m Olympic champion of 2012, Kirani James, who is recovering from Graves' disease.

James, who has a personal best of 43.74 seconds, will line up in the 400m against American upstarts Fred Kerley (43.70) and Josephus Lyes (45.09); Jamaica's Demish Gaye (44.50) and Javon Francis (44.55). Also in the line-up will be James' compatriot Bralon Taplin (44.38), Trinidad and Tobago's Renny Quow (44.53) and Britain's Matthew Hudson-Smith (44.48).

“For me, the more guys are doing well in the event the better, and for me it's just a blessing to be amongst them and I am just happy to be a part of it,” said James.

Kerley, who has the seventh-fastest 400m time of all time, said he just wants to lower his personal best. “My goal is to get under 43 seconds.”

When quizzed on how he will deal with the top-class competition in the 400m this year, his response was terse: “I am Fred Kerley.”

The tall Miller-Uibo, who struck gold in the 400m at the Rio Olympics, is down for the 200m, an event she has been dominating all year with times of 22.06 seconds and 22.09 seconds — the second and third fastest in the world this year. She will match strides with Jamaica's Shericka Jackson, who has been getting closer to her with a personal best of 22.18 seconds.

Miller-Uibo said she was happy to be back in Jamaica, which is one of her favourite places.

“My season started very well for me so it is really exciting to open with 22 seconds and hoping for some 21s and looking forward to have a good time and compete well on the track,” said Miller-Uibo.

The 100-metre is always the blue ribbon event at the meets and patrons should be in for a treat in both men's and women's events.

Despite the absence of Usain Bolt for the first time from the event, the race should be of great interest as the pretender to his throne, Yohan Blake, is looking to step up to the plate.

He will have to contend with his club mate and favourite entering this race, Zharnel Hughes of Great Britain, Julian Forte of MVP and American Noah Lyles, who ran 19.69 seconds over 200 metres recently.

Blake, who was questioned about his mental readiness since recovering from injury, said: “Just want to be injury-free and have fun. At first, when I started running back, it played on my mind, I am human. If you pinch me I will feel it. But it's behind me now and looking forward to just running,” said Blake.

The 20-year-old Lyles, who has a 10.14-second clocking for the 100m, which he hardly runs, is champing at the bit to match strides with the big guns in his lesser-favoured event.

“My 100m PR is from my junior years at high school, so it's two to three years since I actually ran the event because I have been focusing on my 200m, that's why it's getting better and better,” he explained.

“I actually ran nine seconds but it was wind-aided, so I am hoping to get my first legal nine seconds,” Nyles added.

The women's 100m will see the return of Jamaica's two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, while American world champion Tori Bowie has withdrawn because of injury.

Fraser-Pryce, who will be competing in her third 100m since giving birth last August, will line up against Americans Candice Hill and Jenna Prandini and Jamaica's most promising 16-year-old, Briana Williams.

Williams, who ran 11.13 seconds as a 15-year-old earlier this year, before copping three gold medals at the Carifta Games in April, is brimming with confidence.

“Yes, I am ready. I am just excited. It's my first time against the pros and hopefully they will help me to run a faster time. So I am really glad to be here,” said Williams.

Jamaica's premier female shot putter Danniel Thomas-Dodd will be severely tested by six Americans and a Cuban as she tries to defend her home turf.

Olympic gold medallist and American record holder Michelle Carter will be making her seasonal debut, while Jeneva Stevens, who defeated Thomas-Dodd at the Jamaica Invitational on May 19, is back. Monique Riddick, Raven Saunders, Tina Brooks and Erin Farmer complete the American invasion. Yaniuvis Lopez of Cuba will also be in the mix.

Thomas-Dodd said her hunger for success is what drives her and provides the motivation as she looks to improve her personal best, which is the national record of 19.36m. “I don't really set specific numbers for myself. I just work with the technique and try to stay consistent and once I stick with the technique, then the distances will improve,” Thomas-Dodd explained.

Fresh from her first international medal at the Commonwealth Games and first 800-metre run under 1 minute and 59 seconds, Jamaica's Natoya Goule will be aiming for further improvement as she matches strides with Americans Ajee Wilson, Charlene Lipsey and Raevyn Rogers, Kaela Edwards and Laura Roessler, Priscilla Morales of Puerto Rico, Alena Brooks of Trinidad and Tobago and her countrywoman Simoya Campbell.

“I normally doubt myself whenever I go amongst the other girls, saying they are better than me. But then this year I prayed and ask God to give me that confidence and whenever I go out there on the track I just block out all the negative thoughts and just run,” said Goule.

Just as pulsating should be the 110-metre hurdles with Jamaica's Commonwealth Games champion Ronald Levy, Olympic bronze medallist Hansle Parchment, fellow countrymen Deuce Carter and Andrew Riley, Americans Devon Allen, Eaton Jarrett, Cuba's Yordon O'Farrill and Shane Brathwaite of Barbados.

Not to be outdone for high-quality competition should be the men's high jump. Here the field includes six men who have jumped 2.27 metres or better, including Commonwealth Games silver medallist Jamal Wilson of the Bahamas — a 2.30 metres jumper.

The field is completed by Kyle Landon, James Harris and Jeron Robinson of the USA; David Smith of Puerto Rico, Panama's Alexander Bowen, Cuba's Luis Zayas, along with Jamaica's Carlington Moulton.

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