Sun | May 20, 2018

Jamaica Invitational flashback - A history of excellence

Published:Saturday | May 20, 2017 | 12:00 AMHubert Lawrence
Usain Bolt competing at the 2010 Jamaica International Invitational Meet at the National Stadium.

In 13 stagings, the Jamaica International Invitational has provided fans with a ringside seat to watch some of the world's best athletes. It all began in 2004 with a press conference for embattled US star Marion Jones. By then, she was embroiled with a verbal battle with officialdom over possible use of illegal performance enhancers. Despite that, she charmed local reporters out of their socks.

She starred at the Invitational with a win in the 100 metres. She took the long jump as well on a night when the list of winners include American hurdler Gail Devers, Maria Mutola, Mozambique's 800 metre star and Jamaican hero Davian Clarke.

As would be the case with Justin Gatlin in 2014, Marion received a warm welcome from the crowd.

Asafa Powell stole the show in 2005. His usual brilliant start gave him control of the men's 100m after just a few steps. Picture perfect sprinting took him to the finish in 9.85 seconds. It was clear that the world record - 9.78 - wouldn't survive until the end of the season.

It didn't. In June, he exorcised the memory of his Olympic fifth-place finish the previous year with a world record of 9.77 in Athens.




Asafa's 9.85 was the Invitational meet record until 2008 when Usain Bolt ran a brilliant time of 9.76 seconds, not far from Asafa's improved world record of 9.74. Bolt's form was so good that Asafa's mark wouldn't last. The indicator was accurate. A month after the Invitational, Bolt beat World Champion Tyson Gay in a famous New York race with a new world record of 9.72 seconds.

By 2010, after world record sprint doubles at the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 World Championships, Bolt had become the sport's biggest star. With 30,000 people packing the National Stadium to capacity, Bolt didn't disappoint. He produced a spellbinding run over 200 metres. His winning time - 19.56 seconds - established an Invitational record. Only Bolt, Yohan Blake, Michael Johnson and Walter Dix have ever gone faster.

As befits a meet held in the land of the sprinter, the records in the 100m, 200m and 400m are worthy.

Yousef Al-Masral, a rare speed merchant from Saudi Arabia, broke LaShawn Merritt's Invitational record of 44.66 seconds with a committed run of 44.59 in 2015. Remarkably, Al-Masrahl dashed to a first round world record of 43.93 seconds in the first round of the World Championships later that same year, with Rusheen McDonald of Jamaica matching him to set a national record in the same race.

The women's sprint records are noteworthy, too. In her second visit to Kingston, Carmelita Jeter zipped the 100m in 10.86 in 2011. By contrast, the 200m and 400m records have stood since 2006 to Sherone Simpson at 22.14 and Sanya Richards-Ross at 49.89. Beyond the records, Richards-Ross has had famous battles at the Invitational with Novlene Williams-Mills.




Tall Bahamian Shaunae Miller showed her speed by equalling Sherone's 200m record in 2015. A year later, she was Olympic 400m champion.

There are three other events with significant meet records. Devers established the 100m hurdles mark in the first staging of the Invitational at 12.50 seconds. However, as proof that records were made to be broken, baby-faced American Jasmin Stowers sped past the Devers mark in 2015 with a neat performance of 12.39 seconds.

800 ace Kenia Sinclair won the Invitational six times and in 2011, with her fastest triumph clicking to a finish in 1 minute 58.41 seconds.

Since 2004, the Jamaica Invitational has entertained fans and embraced athletic visitors to Kingston. Perhaps the biggest tribute to the joy of competing in Kingston comes from US shot put ace Ryan Whiting. After winning his event in 2013 with a since broken meet record of 21.74 metres, he said he loved the crowd whom he claimed had created a great atmosphere for competition. That is one reason big names keep coming back.