Mon | Aug 21, 2017

RJR Sports Awards Nominee | Jackson's rise

Published:Thursday | January 12, 2017 | 1:00 AMHubert Lawrence
Jackson

Shericka Jackson is making a habit of peaking right on time. In 2015, the young 400-metre ace set a personal best to win a bronze medal at the World Championships. In the just-concluded Olympic year, she did again and earned a repeat nomination for the prestigious RJR National Sportswoman of the Year Award.

The first signs of a big peak appeared at the National Senior Championships when she secured her place on the Jamaican Olympic team. Though she finished third to Stephenie-Ann McPherson and Christine Day, Jackson had done her best run of the campaign at 50.42 seconds.

Her eyes were bright with wonder when the clock stopped at 49.83 seconds at the end of an easy effort in her Olympic semi-final in Rio de Janeiro. That time carved a chunk off the 49.99 personal best that gave her the bronze medal at the World Championships.

With the final still to come, she was honest enough to say, "I really didn't know I was going that fast."

The new mark moved her past McPherson and Rosemarie Whyte to the number six spot on the Jamaican all-time 400-metre performance list. Lorraine Fenton, Shericka Williams, Grace Jackson, Novlene Williams-Mills and Sandie Richards are the only Jamaican ladies ahead of her.

In the Olympic final, she proved that she was no one race wonder with a time of 49.85 seconds and a bronze medal that moved her into an elite group of Jamaican 400-metre runners. Fenton, who shared the 2001 Sportswoman of the Year Award with hurdler Deon Hemmings before winning outrightly in 2002 and 2003, and Williams are the only other Jamaican 400-metre ladies to win both World Championship and Olympic medals.

At 22, Jackson is the youngest to achieve the feat.

"I think I've kind of grown to love the 400 a bit more," she said recently. "Being the youngest from Jamaica to win a medal, it's a great feeling."

That's a reflection on her days at Vere Technical High School where she was a reluctant 400-metre runner. Coached now by Stephen Francis at the University of Technology (UTech), Jackson had been ushered towards the 400 metres by the late Vere coach Constantine Haughton. However, because of her prowess at the 200 metres, it wasn't easy to convince her. Haughton nurtured dozens of Olympians while he was at Vere and in his last interview, he said, "That's one of the real problems I'm having, trying to get her to really recognise her real ability in the 400 metres because she can do so well in the 200."

 

Tribute to Haughton

 

In her last year at Vere in 2013, she won both the 200-metre and 400-metre at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships. In a heartfelt tribute to Haughton, who died before Champs, she zoomed around the track in 51.60 seconds to win the Class I 400 metres.

That was the climax of Jackson's outstanding junior career.

In the 200-metre, she raced to five gold medals at Champs and two at the Carifta Games. In addition, she reached the 2012 World Junior Championships 200-metre final. As true testimony to her sprint speed, her 2013 Carifta Games runner-up time of 22.84 seconds is the second-fastest ever by a Jamaican junior athlete.

Thanks to Coach Haughton's urging, she was almost equally successful at 400 metres with three wins at Champs and two at Carifta. On top of all that, she anchored Vere to a high school 4x400 metres record of 3:30.51 in her last-ever Champs race.

Haughton would probably be pleased to know that in three years, Jackson had become one of the very best in the world at the distance she once shied away from.

Her memorable 2016 season include winning the Intercollegiate title in the 200 metres, zooming to success over 400 metres at the inaugural Racers Grand Prix in 50.72 seconds and gaining experience on the Diamond League circuit.

The UTech student-athlete buttressed her claim to greatness with a big contribution to Jamaica's silver-medal run in the women's 4x400 metres. She ran the third leg urgently and covered the ground in 49.5 seconds, faster than any of her teammates. That performance, far faster than her 52.2 second anchor for the University of Technology at the Gibson-McCook Relays in February, simply underlined her quality and helped to earn her a second Sportswoman of the Year nomination in a row.