Fri | Jan 17, 2020

Hubert Lawrence | Ja poised to break new ground in track and field

Published:Thursday | December 12, 2019 | 12:07 AM

You grew up with the time-honoured Jamaica track and field doxology. The sprints are our events and everything else is non-traditional.

That last term was a little pigeonhole into which we squeezed every event we weren’t good at. Once upon a time, that included hurdles, distances, jumps and throws, but things are a bit different now.

The burgeoning throws movement has produced World Championships medals for O’Dayne Richards, Fedrick Dacres and Danniel Thomas-Dodd.

James Beckford, Trecia Smith, and now Tajay Gayle, have jumped with the best and, after much delay, there is a glimmer of hope for Jamaica in middle-distance events with Natoya Goule as the torch-bearer.

In Doha, with our ‘traditional’ strength in the men’s sprints at a low, Gayle, Dacres, Thomas-Dodd and Shanieka Ricketts kept the medal take up to the levels witnessed between 2008 and 2016.

As an aside, we didn’t have a finalist in the Olympic 100m between 1952 and 1968, and none in the 200m between 1952 and 1976.

Thankfully, a new day has dawned.

If the Jamaican field events crew grows and the men’s sprinters come back to top speed, a time could come when this country is even more successful in track and field. The time for old labels is past. Every track and field discipline presents opportunities to create new medal streams, no matter how unlikely.

BREAKING NEW GROUND

In 2014, when Jason Morgan jump-started the new field event surge with a bronze medal in the discus at the Commonwealth Games, and at the 2015 World Championships, Kenya edged Jamaica on the medal table with a win in the javelin. That’s a non-traditional event for the Kenyans, who rule the steeple chase and with their Rift Valley rivals, the Ethiopians, run things in the distance events.

The unlikely Kenyan hero was broad chested Julius Yego, who learnt the javelin by watching YouTube.

While our 800-metre record stands still, our Caribbean neighbours Puerto Rico placed Wesley Vazquez in the World Championships final. Vazquez set a national-record of 1 minute 43.83 seconds this year. Moreover, he had two compatriots under 1.45. Our record was good when it was set, but has remained at 1 minute 45.21 seconds for 42 years.

Vazquez and company haven’t popped out of thin air. Those who peruse results of regional meets and the World Under-18 and Under-20 Championships would have seen them coming.

Perhaps Yego and Vazquez are outliers, but it doesn’t matter. They represent the potential to break new ground. So do Richards, Dacres and Thomas-Dodd, who are the first Jamaicans to win World Championships medals in their events.

With Gayle and Ricketts as examples for the horizontal jumping hopefuls, there are real signs that the long jump could be our next big event. The girls are led by World Championships finalist Chanice Porter and Pan-Am bronze medallist Tissanna Hickling, and we now have half a dozen 8-metre male long jumpers.

The high jump, however, remains barren.

Potential exists in the person of Kristoff Bryan and Kimberly Williamson, both recent NCAA champions for Kansas State University, but as a country, we are below the bar. Tall teens abound, and like the shot put, the high jump might be perfect for schools with small playfields.

Had everything gone well in Doha, Jamaica might have won 15 medals at the World Championships. A team with sprinting back at full speed and a full complement of jumpers, throwers and hurdlers might do even better.

Hubert Lawrence has scrutinised local and international athletics since 1980.