Top acts set to light up one of the world’s great cathedrals of athletics prowess

FOR track and field's sons and daughters of the soil there is nowhere quite like home, and for the galaxy of international stars that have descended on the National Stadium for the return of the Racers Grand Prix, Jamaica — sprint's Mecca — carries a very special pull.

The oval-shaped walls at Jamaica's sporting headquarters have flanked some of the sport's most impressive performances and have witnessed the nurturing and testing of many iconic figures of the past and present, such as local headliners Shericka Jackson, Hansle Parchment, Tajay Gayle, Shaniecka Ricketts, Fedrick Dacres and Megan Tapper — who will all look to play the part of unwelcoming hosts at tonight's spectacle.

As American poster boy and headline act Noah Lyles puts it, there is track and field 'magic' in the Jamaican air, and like many of his fellow visitors the 25-year-old sees his presence at the Grand Prix as homage to the island's athletics legacy.

Lyles, the suit-wearing, tough-talking fast man will bring the curtains down in the men's 200m event in which he will meet the likes of Zharnel Hughes and sub-20 seconds men Rasheed Dwyer, Brendon Rodney and Alonso Edwards, with the reigning world champion looking to turn what's only his second 200m run this season into a statement race ahead of his title defence in Budapest in August.

Jamaica sprinter Charokee Young goes through her pre-meet workout. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

Other big-name visitors include 100m hurdles world record-holder Tobi Amusan and 2017 World 100m champion Christian Coleman.

They aren't the only ones.

Quarter-mile world record-holder Wayde Van Niekerk, no stranger to Jamaica's shores, has been to injury hell and back since his world 300m record run at the 2017 installment of the Grand Prix.

However, with a swift 44.17-second clocking already under his belt it will take a brave man to bet against the South African delivering the first-ever sub-44 seconds clocking inside the National Stadium today.

American poster boy and headline act Noah Lyles in full stride during training at the National Stadium on Friday. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

Van Niekerk, the 2016 Olympic champion and two-time World champion, will likely have little to no company to the line but American Trevor Stewart (44.92 seconds) has also dipped below 45 seconds already this season, so too Jamaica's national record holder Rusheen McDonald who has gone 44.97 this year.

"It's always special for any athlete to be out here in Jamaica. I heard a good phrase earlier, 'Kingston is the city of speed,' so it's nice to be in the city of speed and I hope it can work in my favour," Van Niekerk told the Jamaica Observer during a wet training session yesterday.

"It's an honour to grace the track and the soil of great athletes who have inspired me and who have played a big role in motivating me, as well as moulding and shaping me, so I am excited to be here and [to] honour all the greats that Jamaica has created — and hopefully I can leave a piece of myself behind," said Van Niekerk.

His coach, Lance Brauman, a long-time visitor to the island, is also excited to return to Jamaica.

Jamaican headliner World Championships 200m gold medallist, Shericka Jackson. (Photo: Observer file)

"I always enjoy coming to Jamaica — I have been coming here for 25 years or so — I think it's good for the sport. People in Jamaica understand the sport, the crowd gets involved, athletes tend to always run well because they are excited to be in front of the crowd here," said Brauman.

Jackson will certainly enjoy the support of the crowd when she lines up in the women's 100m event.

The World 200m champion and Olympic 100m bronze medallist has posted times of 10.85 seconds and 10.82 in her last two 100m starts and will be pushing for another strong performance here after coming off a loss in her last outing and winning just three of her previous seven 100m races.

Teahna Daniels as well as experienced campaigners Natasha Morrison and Shashalee Forbes, along with Tia and Tina Clayton, Kemba Nelson, Anthonique Strachan and Ashanti Moore, will hope to keep things interesting for Jackson.

Young American sprinter Celera Barnes is not oblivious to the huge challenge that awaits her today but is hoping that a strong performance here will push her along as she takes her first steps in her professional career.

"I am excited to be here! I love the competition in Jamaica, have never been to Jamaica but I do have a lot of friends from here. I want to get a good time. I have heard that this is a really good track; it's a fast track so I want to get a good time to set me up for the rest of the year," Barnes said. "I am truly honoured to be here. Jamaica has some of the best sprinters and I too want to be a great sprinter so to be here is going to elevate my performance."

In the male equivalent,the eleventh-hour withdrawal of Jamaican standouts Oblique Seville and Ackeem Blake has rubbed off some of the shine, with Coleman expected to strut to a comfortable win having already clocked 9.91 seconds this season.

"I'm looking forward to running a fast time and feeling the energy from the Jamaican supporters. Jamaica really loves track and field so I'm excited to feel the energy and hopefully put on a show for them," Coleman said.

Before he takes the track, though, Ricketts will feature in the first event of the day, the triple jump for women, with the Jamaican trio of Janieve Russell (Commonwealth Games champion), Shiann Salmon, and Ronda Whyte facing Cassandra Tate — the 2015 World Championships bronze medal winner — in the first track event, the women's 400m hurdles.

Gayle, the 2019 long jump world champion, is the best in the field with an 8.12m mark so far this year, signalling that he is nearing his best. He will welcome the challenge from American Jarrion Lawson who has registered 8.09m this year, and Bahamian LaQuan Nairn who has an 8.10m mark to his name.

Olympic champion Parchment and Commonwealth Games champion Rasheed Broadbell are set for an almighty clash in the 110m hurdles, with the latter eager to extend his dominance over his more-experienced countryman, having finished in front in their last six meetings.

Broadbell, fresh off a Rabat Diamond League victory, has won five of his last six races and is favoured in a field that also includes Ronald Levy and surprise package Robert Anthony Dunning, who has clocked a personal best 13.09 seconds already this season.

Amusan's 12.12 seconds world record run in the 100m hurdles still sends track and field hearts racing, and spectators will be looking for another special showing when the Nigerian world champion lines up against Olympic bronze medal winner Tapper and a field that also includes Jamaican promise Kerrica Hill and American Tia Jones.

Racers Grand Prix
BY ANDRE LOWE Sports and entertainment content manager

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