Title-holders Edwin Allen brace for challengers' onslaught
Edwin Allen High's Serena Cole competes in the triple jump Open during the 2022 Boys' and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

After months of preparation, victories and setbacks the 2023 Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Athletics Championships (Champs) will get underway this morning at the National Stadium, with the first gun set to go off at 9:00.

Despite being beaten by the slimmest of margins by Hydel High in the Central Champs less than a month ago, defending girls' champions Edwin Allen High are confident they will win a ninth-straight and 10th overall title come Saturday night when the five-day spectacle comes to a close.

Hydel, who finished just seven points behind Edwin Allen in 2019, as well as former winners Holmwood Technical and St Jago High, are expected to compete for the spots in the top three.

Additionally, teams such as Immaculate Conception, Wolmer's Girls' and St Elizabeth Technical High School are expected to score heavily and could help to decide the eventual winners.

Petersfield High's Alexis James competes in the Girls' Class 1 100m hurdles during the Western Champs at St Elizabeth Technical in Santa Cruz on February 18, 2023. (Photo: Paul Reid)

A lot is expected to unfold between this morning and Saturday night, and this year's staging can be seen as the start of a new era with the return to a complete Champs programme run in accordance with the first major revision of the schedule.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic Champs 2021 was held without fans and last year a limited number of spectators were allowed, when the schedule saw a major overhaul which the organisers said was done "with the welfare of the athletes" in mind.

There were some minor tweaks to the schedule as no medals will be awarded today. And while, as the cliché goes, "Champs cannot be lost on the first day," the main protagonists could set themselves up for later in the week.

Among the events down to be contested today are the first round of the 100m, 400m, 400m hurdles and a number of field events.

Alana Reid of Hydel High competes in the 200m final during the National Junior Championships at the National Stadium on Sunday, June 26, 2022. (Photo: Collin Reid)

Despite the absence of Tina Clayton who moved into the rank of professional last year — or maybe because of her absence — the Class 1 girls' 100m could be one of the stellar events of the first half of the championships, with the semi-finals and finals set for Wednesday.

World Under-20 Championships silver medallist Serena Cole looks set to continue the Edwin Allen legacy after running a season's best 11.18 seconds (-0.6m/s) at the Carifta Trials two weeks ago.

Hydel's Alanna Reid and Petersfield High's Alexis James, as well as Mt Alvernia High's dark horse Carleta Bernard, will also be looking to advance from today's preliminaries.

The Class 2 race is expected to be just as closely contested, with former double sprint champions Shemonique Hazle of Hydel High, Lavanya Williams of William Knibb Memorial, and Sabrina Dockery of Lacovia High leading the pack coming into the championships.

Holmwood Technical's Rickiann Russell will be hoping to end her Champs career with a gold in the Class 1 400m. Her journey will start today as she is expected to face off against Hydel's Oneika McAnnuff and Alliah Baker.

In the field events Holmwood Technical's Cedricka Williams has been the most consistent in the Class 1 discus throw but will be up against the Johnson twins from Camperdown High — Britania and Britannie — in what could be a showdown.

St Jago High's Jade-Ann Dawkins will hope to move up one spot from second in the Class 2 long jump after she was beaten late in the competition by Mt Alvernia High's Aaliyah Foster, who is now in Class 1.

Dawkins avenged that loss at the Carifta Trials when she jumped a personal best 6.12m (-1.5m/s) to beat Foster in the Under-20 category.

BY PAUL A REID Observer writer reidp@jamaicaobserver.com

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