Back on track!
New-look Champs runs off todayTuesday, May 11, 2021
BY PAUL A REID
At 9:00am today the starter's pistol will signal the start of the 2021 Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships and for the next five days, 85 sets of medals will be handed out and countless memories made.
It could be the first time in the history of the meet, at least in living memory, that the championships will start with two finals, both steeplechase events and in another departure from the norm, 16 finals will be decided today.
This will be the first Champs since Kingston College and Edwin Allen lifted the respective boys' and girls' titles in March 2019, 25 months ago, but it feels like a lifetime, a lot longer, after last year's edition was cancelled, two weeks before the scheduled start, and a day before the official launch due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
This week 970 young people will get the chance to show off their athletic prowess to the world, some for the very last time, and while Champs 2021 will help to launch some careers, those going on to college or to the professional ranks, it will be the final time some will get to compete, at any level.
Despite the less than half of the 2,700 athletes who usually participate at Champs, this edition promises to be no less competitive with Kingston College expected to be pushed all the way by Jamaica College and traditional rivals Calabar High School, and Edwin Allen High hoping to ward off the persistent challenge of Hydel High and St Jago schools.
Western champions St Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) are expected to challenge in both sections and while they are not a top five threat this year with just 12 athletes, Rusea's High out of Lucea, Hanover, could hurt some of the bigger teams' hopes.
Champs this year will be different in more ways than one, in addition to starting with two finals, the qualification system was changed to reduce the numbers taking part due to COVID-19 protocols hammered out with the Government and its agencies.
One of the protocols that will be in effect demands that all athletes and officials taking part in the championships will be required to show a negative COVID-19 test result or will be barred, a ruling from ISSA also said.
Athletes from all areas were tested over the weekend with one report suggesting that no positive results were returned from tests done in the western and eastern parts of the country.
ISSA also set up a qualification by ranking system for this year only, and 32 athletes, two each from the regional championships and the next best 24, will qualify in the 100m, 200m and 400m in each of the seven classes three for boys and four for girls.
Twenty-four will contest the 800m races in each class, as well as the top 15 in the 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m and steeplechase and the top 12 in the throwing and jumping events.
At last week's media launch, Champs Committee chairman Richard 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.
The new schedule that will be used this year will see competition from today to Friday being held between 9:00 am and 5:45 pm, and on Saturday's final day, it will start at 10:00 am and end at 3:30 pm, in keeping with the all-island curfew that was put in place by the Government to slow down the spread of the coronavirus.
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