'Champs' with a difference officially launchedFriday, May 07, 2021
BY PAUL A REID
The highly anticipated Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships will be back this year after being cancelled last year, but it will be a “Champs” with a difference as the organisers battle to keep the five-day event safe for all stakeholders as the country continues to grapple with the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Champs 2021 will be held at National Stadium from Tuesday, May 11 to Saturday, May 15, but with several changes that were hammered out as ISSA sought to present a product that was safe and in keeping with the Government's guidelines.
Speaking at a virtual launch ISSA President Keith Wellington said that Champs, which had been recognised by World Athletics in 2020 with the Heritage Plaque, a designation which honours the event for its contribution to global track and field, “is not a simple gathering of high school athletes competing for medals and trophies”.
“The ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' [Athletics] Championships is an international event which has brought success, honour and glory to many individuals, schools, communities and this nation, it is therefore befitting that come May 11, Champs will return after the 2020 cancellation due to the onset of COVID-19,” said Wellington.
After being cancelled just two weeks before last year's staging, several adjustments have been made to satisfy the Government with a number of protocols being put in place, the launch event was told.
Richard Thompson, chairman of the Champs planning committee, outlined a number of changes that, he said, were part of the agreement that were arrived at during negotiations with the Government and various state agencies.
From a high of over 2,700 athletes, just around 970 of the country's top high school athletes will strut their stuff at this year's event that will see an “adjusted” competition schedule as the qualification structure was also modified for this staging.
ISSA had put a cap on the number of athletes that could take part, allowing for the top two from each of the four regional championships in three events — the 100m, 200m and 400m – in each of the seven classes, three for boys and four for girls, being automatic qualifiers and will be joined by the next 24 on times, with each school allowed just two athletes per event.
The top 24 in each class in the 800m would qualify as well as the top 15 in the 1500m, 3,000m, 5,000m and steeplechase and the top 12 in the throwing and jumping events.
Thompson said about half of the 80 schools that had entered teams had 10 or less athletes and there were 68 boys teams with 502 athletes and 61 girls teams with 464 athletes.
Thompson pointed out that from Tuesday to Friday competition will be held between 9:00 am and 5:45 pm and on Saturday, the final day, competition will start at 10:00 am and end at 3:30 pm, in keeping with the all-island curfew that was imposed by the Government to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Unlike previous years when very few finals would be held on the first few days, there will be 16 finals on the first day of the championships — five on Wednesday, 11 on Thursday, 17 on Friday and 36 on Saturday.
At the launch, Wellington also thanked sponsors who, he said, had “once again shown their commitment to nation-building through their unwavering support for boys' and girl's championships, even in a time of doubt and even crisis, the commitment has not gone unnoticed and our young student athletes will forever be grateful for your continues support”.
The ISSA boss also thanked the Government for its part.
“Without the blessing and confidence of the Government of Jamaica along with the relevant state agencies, this event would not become a reality. We are pleased with the continuing support from these entities and wish to express our gratitude on behalf of our participating schools and the track and field enthusiasts who craved the return of boys' and girls' championships,” Wellington ended.
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