Hubert Lawrence | Starting today
Jamaica's road to the Rio Olympics starts in earnest today.
At 10 o'clock in the morning, the National Senior Championships will begin with the men's 100-metre preliminary races. From today to Sunday, the emphasis will sift from the hopefuls to select those who will go to Brazil to add to a famous history.
That legacy contains 67 Olympic medals won in athletics, 34 by our women and 33 by our men, punctuated by 17 gold medals.
Fortunately for those who will attend the meet known as 'Trials', Usain Bolt will compete for a place on the Jamaican Olympic team. As things stand, the tall man from Trelawny is already the most successful Jamaica Olympian with four individual gold medals and two more from relays.
He will be almost 34 when the next Olympics approach, and that makes this week's opportunity to watch him even more precious.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is trying to sprint past a toe injury to seek an unprecedented third Olympic 100-metre victory. She and Veronica Campbell-Brown are two of Jamaica's finest sprinters, with the little empress of speed clearly the best-ever performer over 100 metres.
No other woman has three World Championship gold medals from the straight-line sprint.
Bolt, Fraser-Pryce, Campbell-Brown, new sprint sensation Elaine Thompson, and speedy 110-metre hurdler Omar McLeod could all win gold medals in Rio ... if they survive the Trials. That's the crucial nature of the event. It serves as an unavoidable gateway to national selection.
Last year, when places on Jamaica's World Championships were on offer several, including Bolt, Fraser-Pryce, 400-metre runner Novlene Williams-Mills and Kaliese Spencer, the 2014 Commonwealth 400-metre hurdles gold medal winner, had gained exemptions, or 'wild cards'. Either, like Bolt and Fraser-Pryce, they were defending World champions, or they had won their events in 2014 on the Diamond League circuit. This year, those exemptions don't exist.
The only wiggle room comes for those ranked in the world top three, and only if they are certifiably ill.
Bolt isn't the only one we may not see at the 2020 Olympic Trials. Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell, Kerron Stewart, Michael Frater and Williams-Mills were all on the team in 2004, and Campbell-Brown actually ran the 4x100m four years earlier in the Sydney Games. It will be great to see these champions at the Trials for what is likely to be the last time.
Fraser-Pryce joined the Olympic fray in 2008, but if she wins in Rio, it will be difficult for her handlers to find new targets for this wonderful performer.
Thompson, world silver medallist at 200 metres, and McLeod, the world indoor sprint hurdles champion, lead a new generation. They're not alone. Women's sprint hurdles champion Danielle Williams; Shericka Jackson, third in the world over 400 metres last year; and youthful Pan-Am discus champion Federick Dacres will carry the flag in the future.
For those who long for a changing of the guard, this is it.
In 1987, then JAAA President Neville 'Teddy' McCook made competing at the Trials a critical plank of selection eligibility.
Now, athletes virtually select themselves as they can attain the qualifying standards for their respective events and finish in the top three at the Trials. The event tests them under Championship conditions and, generally, the strong survive.
This week's test is well worth watching.
- Hubert Lawrence first attended a Jamaican Olympic Trials in 1980.