By Noel ‘Bravo’ Francis, Special to TrackAlerts.Com
The men’s 400m event could turn out to be one of the biggest races and talking points at the JAAA National Senior Trials. Jamaica’s quarter-milers have been going through a torrid patch in recent times failing to make any World Championships and Olympic finals in a very long time. Many die-hearted track fans believed that former Calabar standout Javon Francis would lead the resurgence. He started out promisingly with an unforgettable relay leg performance at the 2013 World Championship in Moscow, Russia.
He was destined to have a breakout season the following year (2014) when injury ended his campaign prematurely. His early season form in 2015 has been very encouraging starting with a 45.50 clocking at the UTECH Classic before registering a then lifetime best of 44.90 seconds at the Jamaica International Invitational Meet in May. In early June, Francis looked commanding in clocking 44.96 seconds in a low-keyed meet in Atlanta. However, at the fifth and final JAAA All Comers meet Francis galloped to a new personal best of 44.50 seconds surging ahead of race leader Rusheen McDonald who ran a cracking 390m. The 22 year-old McDonald also posted a lifetime best of 44.60 seconds shaving a significant portion of a second off his previous best of 45.10.
TIME FOR CHANGE
Many persons sense that this year could be a turning point in the country’s fortunes. A group of high school stars have become real contenders and the words ‘Not Now’ or ‘Wait’ are not in their vocabulary. This season no fewer than three, Akeem Bloomfield (44.93), Twayne Crooks (45.95) and Nathon Allen (45.30) have come to the party banging on the front door asking questions.
These youngsters coming through are hungry for success and will definitely shake up and energize an event that has been stagnant for a number of years. Many track fans have grown weary of seeing grown men struggling to break 46 seconds, and sometimes when they did, the celebration was like a public holiday. A recent criticism of the Jamaican seniors has been that they run their hearts out at the trials to make the national team, and then run slower times at the major championships a month and a half later.
To put things into perspective, for the period 2007 to 2013, Jamaica has had only one representative in a 400m final at the IAAF World Championship. Germaine Gonzales was that lone figure at the 2011 World Championship in Daegu. The statistics gets less encouraging when we look at the Olympics. The country has not had any finalists since 2004 and has not won an Olympic medal in this event since Greg Haughton’s bronze at the Sydney Games in 2000. For a country with such a rich history in this event dating back to the late 1940’s and early 50’s, and in 1983 producing the first ever 400m World Champion, Bert Cameron, these returns are unacceptable.
It was very encouraging to learn via Kingston College’s astute head coach Neil Harrison, of plans to get Akeem Bloomfield and Twayne Crooks in peak condition for the senior trials and gain selection to Jamaica’s World Championship team to Beijing, China. Bloomfield is an athlete blessed with tremendous speed, which when combined with his long strides makes him an X-factor that none of his peers wants to encounter. He decimates opponents' race plans and confidence on the backstretch giving no respect for their credentials or seniority.
Unfortunately, the Kingston College athlete who was going through a 'purple patch’ suffered a hamstring strain at the Penn Relays in the 4x100m sprint relay. Bloomfield’s participation at the senior trials is in doubt and pundits feel he should take the year off and come back stronger next season.
Bloomfield’s high school teammate, Twayne Crooks, is a fearless and tireless competitor, who runs with the stamina of a camel. Unlike at 'Champs', where he dutifully performed unwavering services for his school in its quest for Championship honours; Crooks, now gets his chance to unleash all his focus, energy and talent on one event. Twayne Crooks possesses the requisite speed endurance for the task. Crooks will be looking to steal a spot with an impressive performance at 6:10 p.m. on Sunday the final day.
Nathon Allen has shown over the last two seasons that he is a proven performer on the big occasions. He has the distinction of being involved and playing second fiddle in two record breaking ‘Champs’ Class 1 400m races in consecutive years. He turns 20 on October 28, 2015, and is already making plans for a track career after high school. Allen, will be looking forward to earning his first individual senior call up along with some fellow high school rivals he competed against in March. He will probably need a lifetime best to make the team. However, some persons believe Allen is capable and ready for the next level. The St. Jago High School athlete looked competent at the IAAF World Relays registering a 45.80 seconds split on the third leg in the heats of the 4x400m.
The winning time at last year’s trial was 45.00 seconds flat by Akheem Gauntlett, and it is felt that the country needs at least four men below that time this year to be competitive in the 4x400m relays. Interestingly, 2012 was the last time the winner of this event went below 45 seconds when Dane Hyatt won in 44.83 seconds.
The recent returns of the young athletes highlighted in this article suggest that the race should be intense. We shall see if it will ‘separate the men from the boys’ or vice versa. Former national champion Dane Hyatt has not approached sub-45 seconds territory since 2012. He has been missing in action in 2015. Last year’s winner Akheem Gauntlett’s season best in 2015 is 48.56 seconds. Hugh Graham has a season best of 45.98 seconds. Ricardo Chambers is on the comeback with a season best of 46.19 seconds. Former National Champion, Javere Bell, returning to fitness this season registered 45.68 seconds at the UTECH Classic but as since looked out of sorts. Bell will be looking to bounce back to form at the trials. Riker Hylton, Omar Johnson, Edino Steele and Nicholas Maitland could also be among the contenders.
As mentioned earlier, some of the seniors save their best races for the JAAA trials, however, if they are not up for the challenge this year, Javon Francis could win by ‘donkey lengths’.
One thing is certain; the patience of the Jamaican fans has worn out. In the near future, they would like to see an end to this individual quarter-mile medal drought. The country is crying out for success in this event, it is about time some warriors come along and fit new tyres on the punctured men’s 400m jeep. Jamaica's quarter-mile programme needs a shakeup. Javon Francis and the youngsters are ready for battle. Is it time for fresh blood?
About the Author:
Noel ‘Bravo’ Francis is a very exciting and creative freelance sports writer specializing in the fields of athletics and cricket. His colourful down to earth yet professional personality makes him a favourite amongst athletes and fans. Readers are often exposed to his detailed knowledge and passion which usually increase their interest in the athletes, events and the sport overall. He has a first degree in Banking & Finance and works in the financial industry. Contact Noel at email@example.com