Yohan Blake at crossroads of career as young guns take aim
Respected Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake as he won his heat of the men’s 100m at the JAAA National Championships at the National Stadium on Thursday evening. Blake looked in good nick in winning in a season-best 9.93 seconds clocking. (Photo: Collin Reid)

Once the prince, then the great hope, now, Jamaican sprinting star Yohan Blake enters Decision Day for the men’s 100m at the National Senior Championships far from the spotlight and under threat from the newest cohort of Jamaican male sprinters.

The challenge, ironically, comes from both within his own Titans Track Club camp and his former stomping ground at Racers Track Club, where 20-year-old Ackeem Blake and Oblique Seville have emerged, banners waving, promising to reignite Jamaica’s standing within the global male sprinting space.

Seville, 21, represents the future of Jamaica’s male sprinting and will face the starter with the confidence of a man who has gone 9.86 seconds with speed to spare — his time, the second-fastest this season. It also lists him as the sixth-fastest Jamaican in history.

Ackeem Blake, the former Merlene Ottey High School athlete who was recruited by the older Blake and brought into the care of Gregory Little and Michael Frater at Titans, has also enjoyed a meteoric rise this season.

The youngster has a 9.95 seconds clocking to his credit and is expected to push for the national title and continue his improvements this season.

The pair sit at the other end of the spectrum with Yohan Blake — the 2011 world champion, 2012 Olympics double sprint silver-medal winner, and second-fastest man in history — for the first time in a long time, arriving at the championships with huge question signs over his ability to make the team.

Yohan Blake (centre) on his way to victory in one semi-final heat of the men’s 100m at the JAAA Senior and Junior Championships at the National Stadium on Thursday night. Also pictured are Nigel Ellis (left) and Kemar Bailey-Cole. (Photo: Collin Reid)

Track and field analysts and Sportsmax personality Leighton Levy describes Yohan Blake’s assignment as critical to his future, but believes he still has an important role to play in Jamaica’s male sprinting push.

“I think these Trials represent a crossroads in what has been a remarkable but injury-plagued career for one of the best sprinters in history. I think since Yohan’s major injuries he hasn’t lived up — not necessarily to public expectation, but to his own expectations as being the second-fastest man in history,” Levy told the Jamaica Observer.

Yohan Blake looked in good shape Thursday night, winning his first-round assignment with a season-best 9.93 seconds clocking.

“Being at these championships with a new crop of sprinters on the horizon, Oblique Seville, of course Ackeen Blake, Conroy Jones, etc I think this is an opportunity, perhaps the final one, for Yohan Blake to leave a marker to say that I’m still in the game and I still can be a contributor to the Jamaican track and field environment in terms of leadership and probably helping to guide the youngsters forward, because he is still an active sprinter and so he has an opportunity to be an influence, not necessarily on the track in terms of his accomplishments, but certainly in terms of his influence over the new crop of sprinters coming through,” Levy added.

Blake suffered back-to-back hamstring injuries in 2013 and 2014, which threatened to end his career.

“From a personal ambition standpoint, I think it is very critical that he makes this team — not only makes the team, but he runs a time that is in line with what the world has come to expect of him. We are not expecting him to get back to 9.69 seconds, but most certainly something in the region of 9.9 seconds would tell the world that Yohan Blake is still around and ready to be competitive,” said Levy.

Noted announcer and athletics insider Donald Smith credits Blake for his persistence, and while he acknowledges the challenges faced by the experienced sprinter, believes he still has something to offer.

“I, for one, think that Yohan running is a miracle, given the severity of his first injury. I think Yohan knows that many people have concluded that his time has passed and he should make way for the next generation.

“I’m sure he also knows that at 32, it is not as easy for most people to keep the body at an optimum and be competitive, especially with his injuries of yesteryear which have seen him only being able to clock times in the 100m above 9.90s and only once under 20.00s in the 200m since his outstanding 2012 season where he had that 9.69s run in the 100m and 19.44s in the 200m,” Smith noted.

“So yes, this is a significant championships for him, as I’m sure he is thinking that he has not achieved what he is seen to be capable of, having lived in Usain Bolt’s shadow for such a long time. But he can always take a page from Bolt’s nemesis in Justin Gatlin who only recently called time on his career at 40, or even another American Mike Rogers who is still going at 37, even though the latter has not had a sub-10 clocking since 2019,” Smith added.

With Seville and Ackeem Blake hogging the headlines and shouldering the expectations, Levy and Smith agree that the senior Blake could benefit from the minimal attention he is receiving.

“After Bolt retired in 2017, I think Blake felt that he perhaps had to carry the Jamaican mantle forward and because of those injuries, those debilitating injuries; injuries that would have ended other athletes’ careers [he hasn’t been able to do that]. Now that there is a new crop of quality, elite sprinters emerging, it perhaps will take a lot of the pressure off him, but again it comes down to what his own mind is telling him because what we’re seeing from Yohan Blake so far this season is that he is still potentially capable of breaking 10 seconds or running consistently fast. I do think that his own mind is holding him back, either from the fear of not trusting his body because of the kind of injuries that he suffered,” Levy reasoned.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say pressure has been lifted from Yohan’s shoulders. As a matter of fact, there may be added pressure on him to prove that he still has what it takes to remain a relevant part of the sprinting conversation, not just in Jamaica, but on the world stage as well, especially with the emerging talent that has shot onto the scene. So that pressure is still there, in my mind. One could also argue that with attention being placed on Oblique and Ackeem, he may be able to operate more freely [without the spotlight], which could work in his favour,” said Smith.

Both agree that Seville and Ackeem Blake should dominate tonight’s men’s 100m final, which is scheduled for 8:35, but also expect Yohan Blake and others to figure.

“I think it’s Oblique Seville’s to lose. Ackeem Blake, I think, will be right in there as well and it’s down between I believe Yohan Blake and Kemar Bailey-Cole for that third and final spot. I do give Yohan Blake the advantage, primarily because he’s raced a lot more and I think there is an indication that he’s getting closer to the kind of mentality that will allow him to finally break 10 seconds this season,” said Levy.

“This will be one of the most competitive men’s 100m since Bolt retired. The youngsters are expected to come to the party and Oblique and Ackeem, by virtue of being the only two Jamaicans below 10.00 seconds this season, are definitely front runners. But nothing is written in stone, so expect Yohan, Nigel Ellis, Tyquendo Tracey, Julian Forte, and Kemar Bailey-Cole to keep everyone honest. In terms of times, I think a sub 9.90s clocking should win it. I’m not much into predicting placings, but expect the pair of Oblique and Ackeem to be there,” Smith offered.

Seville qualified for today’s semi-finals at 6:15 pm, after winning his first-round contest in 9.98 seconds Thursday night. Jones also booked his lane with a personal best 10 seconds flat clocking while Ackeem Blake was second with 10.01.


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