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Challenges and choices for Sinclair

Published:Thursday | November 24, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Hubert Lawrence, Gleaner Writer

You'd never guess from the results of the 2003 NCAA Championships that Kenia Sinclair would have become a world-class athlete. She set an 800-metre personal best of two minutes, 03.21 second en route to fifth place. Now, she is one of the world's best.

With the London Olympics just around the corner, Sinclair nevertheless faces challenges and choices.

That NCAA meet saw Aleen Bailey, Sanya Richards, Perdita Felicien, Sheena Tosta and Hyleas Fountain start their journeys to stardom. Bailey won the sprint double, with Richards, Felicien, Tosta and Fountain winning the 400, 100-metre hurdles, 400-metre hurdles and the heptathlon, respectively. All of them now have Olympic or World Championship medals, or both.

In the 800, among those ahead of Kenia were the winning American Alice Schmidt and bronze medallist Neisha Bernard-Thomas of Grenada. Sinclair is now more accomplished than them both, with faster times and a better portfolio of performances in big meets.

Indeed, she heads the list of five Jamaican women who have broken two minutes in the 800 and is the only one to see action in top-level outdoor finals.

Extending her lead

In Daegu, at the World Championships, she extended her lead over her former collegiate peers by reaching the final. Schmidt was there, eliminated in the semis. While Yvonne Graham in 1995 and Madrea Hyman in 2001 made the World Finals in the 1500, no Jamaican male or female had reached the 800 final before Sinclair did it in Daegu.

Three years earlier, she became the first Jamaican - male or female - to reach an Olympic 800 final since George Kerr in 1964.

Those accomplishments and 2006 silver in the World Indoors and the Commonwealth Games, make her Jamaica's best woman ever in the event. Amongst our men, only double Olympic second-place finisher Arthur Wint and 1960 bronze winner Kerr can claim better records in the event.

Still, Sinclair faces hard choices. In Beijing, for the 2008 Olympics and Daegu, she was outdone by pace. With no sprint finish to offer, she gallantly held on when others shifted gear.

Perhaps things will be different next year. Until 2011, she battled almost continuously with back maladies. With those pains out of the way, she may be able to improve her sprint speed or train for front-running tactics that may take her rivals out of their comfort zones.

Moving up

She could do that, or she could move up to the 1500 where Graham and Hyman had their successes. Her 800-metre national record of one minute, 57.88 seconds might yield the speed she needs to compete well in the metric mile.

Perhaps she could wait until after London to make a switch that might extend her career. After all, Danny McFarlane and Dwight Thomas made smart moves from flat events to hurdling. Danny's move got him an Olympic silver medal in 2004 and Dwight is now national record holder in the 110-metre event.

It's a tough choice, but if she made the switch now, no one could blame her. She bested a good segment of the world's 1500-metre elite in the New York Diamond League meet and did well in a January race over 10,000 metres in Australia.

Incidentally, an Olympic 800/1500 double is well nigh impossible as the events overlap on the London athletics schedule, as seen at

So the St Jago-Essex County College-Seton Hall University graduate faces challenges and choices. She could stay in her pet event, the 800, hoping that another season of near-injury training and racing could make her fast enough to reach the podium in London.

Either that, or she could take the path less chosen. The right choice could put her on the podium in London and on par with Richards, Felicien, Tosta and Fountain and her other colleagues of 2003.

Hubert Lawrence has covered local and international athletics since 1987.