Hubert Lawrence | Russell - Jamaica's female athlete of the year
If the 2018 track and field season ended in April, shot putter Danniel Thomas-Dodd might have been Jamaica's Female Athlete of the Year. Thomas-Dodd bombed her way to silver at the World Indoor Champion-ships and then launched a national outdoor record of 19.36 metres to beat shot legend Valerie Adams of New Zealand to the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games early in April.
She might have won despite the matching World Indoor silver/Commonwealth gold performance by triple jumper Kimberly Williams. However, as the season progressed, Janieve Russell, Natoya Goule, Danielle Williams, Aisha Praught-Leer and Shanieka Ricketts pulled into the fast lane.
Ricketts showed her intentions with a big triple jump in January, 14.49 metres at the Ted Dwyer Invitational. Later, she would win silver at the Commonwealth Games and gold at the Athletics World Cup where she set a new personal best of 14.61 metres.
Even so, with a 2-4 win-loss record against fellow triple jumper Williams, the top spot eludes her.
Roommates Danielle Williams, the 2015 World 100-metre hurdles champion, and Goule seemed to inspire each other. They both started with medals at the Games and routinely traded personal bests. Williams won the Oslo Diamond League and then revved up to a lifetime best of 12.48 seconds as the Stockholm runner-up, before ending the season with a win over world record holder Kendra Harrison at the Continental Cup in 12.49.
Goule won her Commonwealth bronze in the personal best time of 1 minute 58.82 seconds and broke Kenia Sinclair's national record of 1 minute 57.88 seconds in Paris - 1.57.69 in fifth. The coup de gr‚ce came in Monaco when she zoomed home in 1 minute 56.15 seconds.
Wins were hard to come by, but that is understandable when you recall her opponents include undefeated South African Caster Semenya.
Praught-Leer made history with her Commonwealth 3000-metre steeplechase win and late in the season, succeeded in resetting her national record to 9 minutes 14.09 seconds. Notable seasons were also produced by MVP teammates Shericka Jackson and Stephenie-Ann McPherson, with their main prizes being Commonwealth medals, silver in the 200 for Jackson, and bronze in the 400 for McPherson, and dual wins in the NACAC Championships in Toronto and the Athletics World Cup in London.
Despite all that, there is only one sound choice for Jamaican Female Athlete of the Year and it is Janieve Russell. Never placing lower than third in any of her 400-metre hurdle races, Russell won the Commonwealth Games, the Athletics World Cup and the Continental Cup, with a personal best of 53.46 seconds coming in Lausanne.
She lost that race by 0.05 to the girl who succeeded her as World Junior Champion, Shamir Little of the United States. If not for Little, who also beat her in London and at NACAC, Russell might even be world number one. Her remaining losses to compatriot Leah Nugent at the Racers Grand Prix and to Americans Georgiana Moline and Olympic champion Dahlila Muhammad, and Swiss star Lea Sprunger, were frequently avenged.
Her trump card was consistency. Hopefully, her steady performances will be a springboard to even better campaigns in 2019, when the World Championships roll into view, and in 2020, when Japan hosts the Olympics in Tokyo.
She will also have the fastest woman of 2018, Sydney McLaughlin, to contend with. The young American ran no race after dominant displays on the US college circuit and which a world junior record of 52.75 seconds. They will no doubt meet next season when Russell, Jamaica's 2018 Athlete of the Year, seeks another consistent year at an elevated level.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.