Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Cause for celebrations and concern

Published:Thursday | March 31, 2016 | 3:00 AMHubert Lawrence
Minister of Entertainment, Sports, Culture and Gender Affairs, Olivia Grange (centre) hugs Under-18 100-metre gold medallist Kimone Shaw as she stands with members of the Carifta Games team at a welcome-home reception held at the Norman Manley International Airport on Tuesday.

The Carifta Games are still as right for the young track and field athletes of the region as they were first staged in 1972. As seen last weekend, Carifta still gives the future stars of Caribbean track and field their first experience of international competition. It's an invaluable first step on the way to the top.

For so many, including the dominant Jamaican teams, it's a maiden voyage into competition beyond their own shores into airline travel, different cuisine and unfamiliar stadia. It was a master stroke when the Barbadian Austin Sealy

formulated the event in 1972. Now, as it was then, it's like international competition 101.

The Carifta Games also presents data for regional track and field administrators to learn from. While the sprints in both the Under-18 and Under-20 age categories had enough entries to require a preliminary round, that wasn't the case in other events. While that wouldn't be a surprise in the 1500m, 3000m and 5000m, there were no heats in the girls' Under-20 800 metres, the 4x100m and 4x400m for boys and girls in both the Under-18 and Under-20 categories and in most of the hurdling events.

Five girls faced the starter in the 400-metre hurdles for Under-18 girls, with four in the Under-20 version. This is startling, given the bright history in a discipline where Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados have produced high-class exponents. It was worse among the boys, with the corresponding numbers being five and three. Here the region has recently produced champions like Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago and Bahamian Jeffery Gibson.

Four girls came to the blocks in the Under-20 100-metre hurdles and five young men came to contest the Under-20 110m hurdles.

In the field, only three girls are listed as participants in the Under-20 high jump. This is in contrast to an apparent Caribbean upswing in the event. Just last year, Levern Spencer won this event at the Pan-American Games, with her St Lucian compatriot, Jeanelle Schepper, taking the NCAA title for the University of South Carolina. Earlier in March, the Barbadian Akela Jones cleared 1.98 metres in the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) indoors as part of the heptathlon. Jones also won the individual high jump as well.

If those numbers represent ongoing trends, and in many cases they do, then the region has lots of work to do.

Jamaica may be able to take care of itself. Thanks to the ISSA Boys and Girls' Championships, our high schools pursue excellence in a wide range of athletic disciplines. Even here, there are long running weak spots in the jumps, throws and middle and long distance disciplines. The rest of the region doesn't have Champs and needs help to spark development. Some, like St Vincent and the Grenadines, don't even have a synthetic running track.

Maybe that's why Jamaica is becoming attractive to junior athletes from the region. They can't wait until development comes to their island home. So they instead come to the place where, because of Champs, development is far more advanced. It's a fair guess that they will keep on coming.

n HUBERT LAWRENCE has made notes at track side since 1980.