Hubert Lawrence | New wave of Americans
When America's LaShinda Demus won the 400 metres hurdles at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston, she set a world junior record 54.70 seconds. Nine years later, when Ristananna Tracey logged a national junior record of 54.58 at the 2011 Senior Championships, she was just 0.18 from the global junior standard which had been improved to 54.40 seconds. Remarkably, that record is now 52.75!
The big move is largely the work of American wunderkind Sydney McLaughlin, who has lowered the record on five occasions. A schoolgirl Olympian in Rio de Janeiro, the 18-year-old McLaughlin now trains at the University of Kentucky in the company of world hurdles champions Omar McLeod, Kendra Harrison and Kori Carter. In that environment, she has done even better than imagined and has ignited talk that, one day, she could even challenge Yuliya Pechonkina's world senior record of 52.34 seconds.
Her latest world junior record came on Sunday at the South Eastern Conference Champion-ships in Knoxville, where Nathon Allen excelled. Allen, a 2017 World Championships finalist, was rightly the focus of local attention. Yet there were clear signs in Knoxville that the United States is producing a new group of world beaters. The men's sprint double went to 2014 World Junior 100 champion Kendal Williams in 9.99 and 20.15 seconds, respectively.
Add him to the renewed speed thrust the US now has with World Indoor 60 metres champion Christian Coleman and exciting University of Houston prospect Elijah Hall, the 2018 NCAA 60m and 200m indoor champion, and you will see the possibilities. Gears will shift if Trayvon Bromell, who was second to Williams at the 2014 World Juniors, gets back to the form that earned him a bronze behind the incomparable Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin at the senior World Championships in 2015.
The women's 100m, in which Natalliah Whyte clocked a lifetime best of 11.04, was won by Alehia Hobbs in 10.92 seconds.
Hurdle prodigy Grant Holloway followed up his indoor defeat of McLeod with a world-leading time of 13.15 seconds in the 110-metre hurdles with a win in the long jump as surplus. Once he stays healthy, he can only get better. Lest we forget, he was the world leader in the 60-metre hurdles too, at 7.43 seconds.
Allen won the 400m with a narrow margin over US prospect Nathan Strother 44.28 to 44.34 seconds, with the mercurial Michael Norman running solo to a 44.40 seconds win at the PAC 12 Conference Championships elsewhere in that big country.
As ever, the US college system trains champions from other countries. At the Knoxville meet, Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico, Jamaica's Sharrika Barnett and Anderson Peters of Grenada made big steps forward. Camacho-Quinn stormed to a world-leading 100 metre hurdles time of 12.40 seconds. Barnett, the former St Andrew High athlete, took her personal best in the 400 metres down to 50.69 seconds, and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Peters took the men's javelin with a toss of 82.04 metres.
Jamaica has a new wave of its own. That's the underlying fact beneath the 25-medal haul at the Commonwealth Games last month. With Bolt gone and stalwarts like Veronica Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell and McLeod absent, Jamaica nevertheless produced one-two finishes in the men's discus and 110-metre hurdles. Best of all, newcomers like long jumper Tajay Gayle and sprinter/hurdler De'Jour Russell tasted big-meet athletics for the first time.
Still, there is much to admire about the new wave of potential American world beaters. They present a reminder that our friends up north are surging forward. All their rivals must do the same to keep pace. Most of all, McLaughlin looks to be a star in the making. If she stays healthy, she will be hard to stop.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.