Jamaican athletes poised to pounce in Beijing
Approximately 2,000 athletes from more than 200 nations are expected to compete in the Chinese capital over 10 days, starting August 21 and ending August 31 at the IAAF World Championships of Athletics.
With US$100,000 on offer for record-breaking performances and another US$60,000 for individual podium-topping finishers, Jamaica now has the momentous distinction of having the most success per capita of all countries in the world in track and field.
At this 15th staging of the Championships, which starts tomorrow, local time, Jamaica will be gunning to go better than their medal haul of nine, which was gained in the last staging in Moscow, Russia, in the summer of 2013.
In addition to Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Jamaicans earning wildcard spots on the team of 53 athletes include 2014 Diamond Race winners Kaliese Spencer in the 400m hurdles and Novlene Williams-Mills in the 400m.
Beijing has been a happy hunting ground for Jamaica, and the US$80,000 incentive for winning teams in the relays means the mining for gold in the one-lap relays and medal-winning purses in the four-lap races will be a priority for athletes and team managers.
Jamaica's 4x100m relay pools are bolstered by Nesta Carter, Nickel Ashmeade and Kerron Stewart, who all formed part of the triumphant 4x100m teams in the Russian capital, and have also been included in the relay squads this time around.
Jamaica gained late wildcard inclusions, with Rasheed Dwyer added for the 200m and Ricardo Chambers for the 400m. Both athletes gained their 'brawta' spots as a result of efforts at the North and Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Senior Championships held in early August.
Outside of Bolt, Jamaica's best chance of earning another podium spot in the men's 200m is a wildcard entrant in the person of Rasheed Dwyer.
Dwyer is poised to pounce, but given our history of nepotistic decision-making practices, it is highly unlikely that Ashmeade, Weir, or Forte will give Dwyer the 'bligh'.
Jamaica cannot exceed four entrants under the rules of completion; I wonder if Bolt will oblige?
Dwyer's inclusion cannot be argued, as he is the Jamaican with the fastest 200m time of the year, 19.80, which was achieved as recent as July 23 in Toronto, Canada. The mark places him as the second fastest in the world year-to-date. He now holds the designation of prospective medallist behind Gatlin and Bolt. Dwyer, who finished fifth at the national trials in the absence of Bolt, will be a suitable alternate eyeing a sprint-relay spot.
Ricardo Chambers crossed the line third in the 400m, but violated lane rules at the Jamaican National trials in June. He finished third in the 400m at the NACAC Senior Championship and received a call-up to replace Edino Steele, who cited personal reasons for declining to represent Jamaica at the World Champs.
With a season best of 44.93, Chambers is the fourth fastest Jamaican of 2015 behind Javon Francis, 44.50, and Rusheen McDonald, 44.60.
Individually, Francis, McDonald and company will be working overtime to restore Jamaica's quarter-mile heritage, which began Jamaica's prowess in the sport in 1948 with the likes of Herb McKenley and Arthur Wint at the London Olympics. Chambers' late inclusion should assist Jamaica's quest to revive their 4x400m heritage. But, the status quo is unlikely to change this year as, at present, the 4x400 men's team is predicted to be wide of a history-making mark, with the USA, The Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago, and possibly Belgium, being esteemed among the leading male quartets heading for Beijing.
The prospects for Jamaica's women's 4x400m relay team is much brighter though; the women should be in the big money, with a podium finish. Truth is, the USA is extremely blessed with quarter-mile talents and Jamaica will be chasing early on, racing with Bahamian women for Caribbean pride.
Up for Grabs!
Fraser-Pryce has been reported to have said, "I'm not running the 200m." With her omission, the title will be up for grabs. The door has been flung open for Elaine Thompson to lead Jamaica's challenge in the event. Thompson should be joined by veterans Veronica Campbell-Brown and Sherone Simpson in the 200m pool of potential medallists.
With a season best of 22.10 seconds and consistency which belies her limited experience, Thompson is best positioned to earn a medal for Jamaica on her first major international assignment; the workloads of the other women being militating factors working against favourable predictions for the Jamaican veterans.
Thompson's quest for gold took an encouraging turn when it was revealed that perennial race favourite and former champion, Allyson Felix of the United States, would not be competing in the event in Beijing and has opted to face the starter in the 400m instead of attempting the difficult 200-400m double.
Felix, who has had her fair dose of injury woes in recent seasons, had thrown down the gauntlet as early as May in Doha, setting a season-leading time of 21.98. In her absence, the field will not have a clear favourite, though American Candyce McGrone (22.08, July 17) has the stats to wear the favourite hat.
Thompson is well prepared by Stephen Francis of MVP and should mount the Beijing podium twice at these Championships, if she is made available to represent in the sprint relays. The sprint relay pool is not as deep as that of USA, and race accumulation may render Campbell-Brown and Simpson race flat when it matters most. Notwithstanding, the team will be good enough to earn a medal; silver is projected, with USA expected to win.
Lane violation aside, MVP should add dough to its purse through Kaliese Spencer. The perfectly built 400m hurdler has a personal best of 52.79, done in 2011. Spencer is the most viable Jamaican prospect in the event, but will need to be at her best to stave off Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic, who has a personal best of 52.83, done in 2013.
The season leader is USA's Shamier Little, who has run sub-54 on two occasions this year. Her best performance of 53.74 was achieved in June. But Spencer and Hejnova have superior stats from 200m to 800m and should prove a little too much for the American. Projections are for Jamaica to earn gold in the 400m hurdles for women.
The same is not expected in the sprint hurdles for females, where the US' dominance is dizzying to all comers. But on the male side, the Jamaicans are expected to be technically ready for the Beijing outing. Here the US' David Oliver is the class act in a fairly qualified field. He will do extremely well to win, or may run extremely poorly to finish out of the medals.
Jamaica can eye two podium spots in the 110m hurdles. Although the national record holder, Hansle Parchment, was second best at the National Trials, the word is that he is conditioned methodically with the World Championships honours in mind.
Projections are for Parchment to be ahead of Omar McLeod, though McLeod enters the event as the second fastest man of 2015, behind Olando Ortega of Cuba.
Jamaica's contingent includes five throwers, shot-putters Danniel Thomas and O'Dayne Richards, while Federick Dacres, Jason Morgan and Chad Wright ensure all the male spots are filled in discus.
Projections are for at least one of the male throwers to medal in 2015. With Jamaican men ranked at No. 2 in both the discus and shot putt, in the persons of Morgan and Richards, respectively, Richards is expected to transition on to the world stage with a medal-winning effort in Beijing, following-up on his Commonwealth Games gold medal of 2014.
When the dust would have settled on the IAAF Championships of 2015 over Beijing, Jamaica can expect a double digit haul of medals - five gold, three silver and four bronze is a realistic prediction. The summary table is intended to temper the readers' expectations.