Hubert Lawrence | Dates hard to come by
For 18 straight major championships, the world of athletics has met to settle all scores in August. During that run, the track-and-field competition at the Olympic Games or the World Championships might drip over into September. That has made late June so perfect for National Championships meets that the world governing body of the sport has cleared other meets off its calendar at that time.
Moreover, the relatively short time between the end of June and the start of August made those Nationals reliable indicators of World Championships form.
Things are different this year. The World Championships starts in late September and ends, for the first time in history, in October. Accordingly, to maintain the Nationals as a reliable guide to selection and form, they should move into late July or mid-August.
It sounds simple enough, but it’s complicated. This year, the Nationals must also serve as a guide to selecting a team for the Pan American Games, where track and field starts early in August. Still, at least one other Pan Am nation has chosen the last week of July for its Nationals.
CROWDED IN JUNE
June is crowded, too, and that’s why Diamond League meet promoters are complaining. They want all of the world’s best track and field entertainers there. That’s business.
On the matter of a June Nationals being a reliable selection guide, you have to go back to 2000 for an example of how things might work. With the Sydney Olympics starting in late September, the Adrian Wallace-led JAAA chose a late-June date for the Nationals.
The team chosen won nine Olympic medals but there were events in which the Nationals were a poor guide to selection. Patrick Jarrett, Patrina Allen, and Michelle Freeman might well have been replaced by Llewellyn Bredwood, Tanya Jarrett and Astia Walker in the 100m, the 400m hurdles and the 100m hurdles. Instead, the selected trio posted times of 16.40 in the second round, 59.36 in the heats and 13.52 in the semis.
It wasn’t their fault, and in the case of Jarrett and Freeman, injury played a role after earning their team spots at the Nationals. Still, the feeling remained that having the Nationals would have been a more accurate guide.
That same dilemma faces Jamaica now. Whatever transpires with the date of the Nationals from this point onward, the matter is a recommendation for early dialogue. Perhaps, a meeting of all stakeholders should be staged every October, with the JAAA outlining its goals, objectives and calendar for the upcoming season. In that forum, much could be accomplished and the joint expertise of the stakeholders utilised.
It could be the stage for the sport’s administrators to share with the stakeholders statistics on participation, new developments and its plans for the future. By the same turn, the stakeholders could give feedback and make suggestions.
If this year’s Nationals pose a tough choice for athletes, that will be uncomfortable. However, with US$60,000 for a win at the Worlds, and US$80,000 for winning a relay, the Nationals are financially important.
By comparison, overall winners of the Diamond League gain US$50,000.
As things stand, the National Championship is a gateway to glory at the Worlds. It’s a stage no athlete wants to miss.
Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.