NEW YORK – If current form is anything to go by, Jamaican track superstars will mount the Olympic victory podium in London at a dizzying pace this August. The small Caribbean island with a three million population, gears up for its 50th year of independence from England, and it is fitting that some of its brightest stars will be on full display in the British capital.
The four-day National Trials in Kingston, from which Jamaica’s team to the Olympic Games will be chosen, saw the continued emergence of superstars Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the pocket rocket, and Yohan ‘the Beast’ Blake. The National Stadium in Kingston is friendly and familiar territory for Fraser-Pryce, the diminutive terror of the track, who gained prominence during the 2008 Olympic Trials on the same track when she upset a star-studded field to steal the spotlight. ‘The Beast’ is known for a ferocious work ethic, and rose from the shadow of his great rival and mentor, the accomplished Usain Bolt. Truth be told, the former had forged his own path, when, at last year’s World Championships, he struck gold in the 100m, making him at 21years old, the youngest World champion.
To my mind, in many ways Fraser-Pryce’s attitude mirrors that of the great American Evelyn Ashford. Back in the 1980s when the Eastern Bloc countries dominated women’s sprints, Ashford trained hard and soon became the face of sprinting. We are witnessing that in the Jamaican star as her legend begins to take shape, demonstrating once again the value of hard work and self determination. That she easily triumphed at Trials in the 100m in a national record of 10.70secs was of itself astonishing despite her outstanding form in New York recently, when toppling a world class field. The veteran Veronica Campbell-Brown also qualified for the Olympic 100m team with a second place finish at 10.82secs, and current joint Olympic silver medalist Kerron Stewart finished third in 10.94secs. Sherone Simpson finished strongly and signaled a welcome return to form by copping the fourth spot in 11.04secs.
Trio Will Have Hands Full
Although Campbell-Brown, the two-time 200m champion and current World champion was expected to gain revenge and restore order in her pet event, she was upstaged by Fraser-Pryce’s legendary rocket-like starts and speed endurance. That is no more. On Sunday night Campbell-Brown was forced to watch as her nemesis put on a scintillating display of speed and power to win in a new personal best of 22.10secs. Sherone Simpson came on well to pip Campbell-Brown on the line: 22.37secs to 22.42secs. This trio will have its hands full as on Saturday evening American Allyson Felix won the American Trials 200m in a world-leading 21.69secs. Only the Late Florence Griffith-Joyner with her world record 21.34secs and Jamaican standout Merlene Ottey with 21.64secs have run faster.
Yohan Blake’s 100m win made bigger headlines, no surprise since Bolt lost. The young sprinter is quickly moving up the ranks as his 9.75secs victory made him fourth fastest on the all-time list. Many observers feel that his ascendancy to the very top of the list is a foregone conclusion as Bolt’s record 9.58secs is within reach. Bolt just clipped the fast-starting Powell on the line on Friday night by a mere 1/50 of a second – 9.86secs to the latter’s 9.88secs. Relay specialist Michael Frater came third in 9.94secs, and Nesta Carter, pushed to fifth place on the all-time list, claimed sixth in 10.01secs.
A very strong field lined up for the 200m final which included Bolt and Blake, the dangerously strong and talented Nickel Ashmeade and the in-form Warren Weir. Again Blake proved to be too much for the trio and powered away through the straightaway like a hare from a fox, winning in a respectable 19.80secs, the best time in the world this year. Bolt finished second a hairsbreadth away in 19.83secs and Weir making the trip to London with 20.03secs.
How Will They Respond to US
Other notable performances over the four-day Trials sponsored by Supreme Ventures include a gutsy run from 400m hurdles specialist Melanie Walker winning in 54.88secs; Novlene Williams-Mills triumphed in the flat 400m at 50.60secs; Brigitte Foster-Hylton’s victory of 12.68secs in the 100 hurdles; newcomer Dane Hyatt in the 400m in 44.83secs; Hansle Parchment taking the 110m hurdles event in a PB 13.18secs; and standard-bearer Dorian Scott continuing his impressive improvement in the shot put with a 20.72m win.
Despite the impressive showings during these championships, the athletes will now regroup and continue their Olympic preparation. Will Blake continue to be the Bolt antidote? How will Fraser-Pryce respond to the Carmelita Jeter 100m threat, and the 200m assault from a resurgent Allyson Felix? Will these Games be a two-way contest between Jamaica and the USA in the sprints? It depends on how one looks at it. In sports it is not only winning that counts, but how well one competes. Oh, but winning feels so much sweeter. Just ask Blake and Fraser-Pryce.