Russell taking things in strides
MOST times, athletes at Championships are defined by their medal performances. However, one of Jamaica's athletes who participated at the recent IAAF World Under-20 Champion-ships (previously named World Junior Championships), Dejour Russell, did not win a medal, but his performance shows that he is destined for greatness.
Russell, who celebrated his 16th birthday in April, was the youngest member of the Jamaica team to Poland. He participated in the individual 110 metres hurdles and 4x100m relay.
In Poland, the odds were against Russell as he was competing against athletes two and three years his senior. The hurdles were also much higher (99.0 centimetres, compared to 91.4cm) than his usual height at Champs. He had actually only twice competed at high hurdles before Poland - at the national trials and an All-Comers meet.
He went to the Champion-ships with a personal best 13.55 seconds. The normally slow starter got a perfect start in the semi-finals and won in a quick 13.21 seconds to become the world leader in the event, the youngest ever to run that fast. That time put him on the all-time outdoor list in seventh and made him the second-fastest-ever Jamaican at this level.
Only Tyler Mason, who finished second two years ago in Eugene in 13.06 seconds for the National Junior record, has gone faster.
Russell went into the final as the favourite, was out of the blocks last, and made a gallant fightback to finish fourth in a respectable 13.39 seconds.
On anchor in the 4x100m, he ran a spectacular leg, but the team was edged out of the medals after finishing a close fourth in 39.13, the same time done by Germany, for bronze.
"It is always a great experience competing for Jamaica," Russell said of his first appearance on the big stage.
"I was not really happy knowing that I did not get a medal, but being a true champion, I didn't let the disappointment get the better of me," he added.
Asked if he was scared of competing in the high hurdles for the first time and against high-quality competition, he responded: "I was not scared because I was training for this event leading up to the Championships, and I just came out and did what I had to do."
Commenting on the semi-final performance, he said: "My start in the race was perfect and when I saw the time, it was really unexpected for me. But God knows what is best, and seeing the time, I was asking myself if I really did that and if it was real, and I just had to give God thanks."
He admitted being tense for the final.
"First, I started trying to clear everything out of my mind, but I guess nothing was going away as I was thinking too much of the race itself and I was tense in the blocks. I got a really bad start and I tried to get back after hitting the first two hurdles and that was it," he admitted.
"But I have more years to come as a junior, and I cannot pressure myself.
"I am getting to love the event now as it is an obstacle race and you have to be focused, and it is not everybody who can do this, and you do not know what can happen," said Russell.
For next year's World Youth Championships, he will revert to the lower-level hurdles and will be a favourite for gold.
"I am just taking everything step by step," he said. "When the World Youth comes, we'll see. I do not want to put a favourite tag on my back now because you do not know what can happen on the day."