By Robert Taylor, Special to TrackAlerts.com
This year’s Jamaica annual high school athletics championship (champs) should be very interesting. For those who follow the events over time, they will wonder who will win the respective ones and what records will stand. For the wider audience who only look for great performances, they will experience the potential rise of Jamaica’s male quarter-mile program.
For years, many wondered how a country could produce so many sprinters and have a rich history in Olympics glory and yet cannot produce a world-beater in the 400m. For all fans everywhere, the future of Jamaica sprinting power will be showcased for all to see.
It would seem as if Jamaica and Kenya have neglected their quarter-mile program for the 100m and 200m, for the former and 800m through to marathon for the latter. The Jamaican female 400m program has been performing well on the world stage but not so for the men. Many Jamaican fans expected Bolt to be the next great quarter-miler. Fortunately, the 100m and 200m world records are a more than adequate compensation. For the first time in a long while, Jamaica has quality at the male junior level.
At the most recent World Youth championships, Jamaica won the 400m final courtesy of Martin “the Magician” Manley of St. Jago high school. Coming out of Calabar High is the high school 400m runner, Javon Francis. It should be interesting to see if the Usain Bolt’s record of 45.35 goes on March 29. Will Manley give Francis a serious challenge? Will both break the record? Will Manley usurp Francis in the finals? Will Lennox Williams last year silver medalist upset the favourites? On the other hand, will some unknown rise above them all and become the 400m champion? These are interesting questions to be answered. The fact that these questions are being posed only goes to show the level of quality and quantity of talent that Jamaica have in their youth 400m program.
The scintillating run by Javon Francis at the Moscow 2013 4x400m relay caused for the first time since Beijing 2008, a male athlete other than Bolt, Blake and (Asafa) Powell to be discussed among Jamaicans and the in the media after a major championship. So far, Francis has already ran a 45.89 seemingly showing he has a lot left in the tank plus his Gibson relay 2014 anchor leg shows his dominance and quality. Last year, Francis’ best time was 45.24 and with this year being his last year at championship, I strongly believe Bolt’s 45.35 record time will go.
The rising star Martin “the magician” Manley last year best of 45.89 should show significant improvement. So far, he has run a win aided 10.45 and seemingly jogged 21.3 over the 200m. With improvement in speed, physical maturity and I believe endurance, the 45.89 best will soon be a thing of the past.
Along with Francis and the Magician, are Lennox Williams a silver medalist in 2013 championship who consistently ran in the 46 seconds range and Devaughn Baker of Jamaica College who in 2013 set the 400m record for the class below with a time of 46.64. Last year’s other 46 seconds runner, Jaheel Hyde is the 2013 world youth 110m hurdles champion. He will more than likely contest the 110m hurdles and the 400m hurdles at this current championship.
Others from last year finals such as Bartley of Kingston College might have something to say about the medal positions. I will be looking forward for the March 29th final to see how it all plays out. More than likely, a name or two has been inadvertently left out but the dominance of those at the top create this scenario. Performance on the day will ensure their names are included with the elite group when the high school championship is over.
Francis performances at the Gibson relays of February 22, 2014, the Moscow 2013 world championship and it seems as if he is improving makes me conclude he will win. The question for me is who will win the lesser medals. Nevertheless, the short history of Manley tells us not to sell him short. He moved from a third place position at 2013 champs, running 46.95 to a first place position at the world youth championship with a time of 45.85.
The question that remains is, will he come to champ at his best or will he repeat last year’s situation and peak at the World Junior Championship instead. Better yet, will he peak for Champs and then re-peak for the World Junior Championship? This would definitely make the 400m final epic. For Champs history buffs, it would be as epic as, if not more unforgettable than the Ian Stapleton of KC and Bertland Cameron of St. Jago final.
I strongly believe that the days where 47 seconds ensured a medal will not happen this year, unless there is an extreme negative wind change during the last 100m of the race. I am hoping this is the end of an era where 400m athletes running high 45 seconds would automatically make the Jamaican senior team. With at least two high school athletes on the cusp of 44 seconds, who knows, the glory days of Herb McKinley, Arthur Wint and George Rhoden may happen again. This group of quarter-milers might make it a reality. Of course, the name of Bolt might no longer be in the Jamaica high school championship record book and this will be something the Jamaican public can celebrate instead of lament.