Diamond League rolls out the ‘Bolt carpet’ for Shericka
WHEN USAIN Bolt was in his heyday, meet promoters recognised he was the biggest draw in track and field. Given how this weekend’s Prefontaine Classic has positioned the women’s 200 metres, Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson is being viewed in the same way.
The Classic, staged in Eugene, Oregon, is a tribute to the late Steve Prefontaine, who was a star 5000-metre runner at the University of Oregon and distance races have always held pride of place. Pretty often, the mile is the closing event there. However, with the Classic serving as the Diamond League final this weekend, the women’s 200 metres will close the show.
The 29-year-old Jamaican has narrowed the gap between her best and the world record of 21.34 seconds. Her best times – 21.45 in Eugene and 21.41 in Budapest at the Worlds – are the second and third fastest times in history and, apparently, they have earned her the treatment afforded to Bolt.
As the hero of the sport, Bolt’s races were set at the end of most meets on the Diamond League circuit. The World Championships and the Olympics followed suit and shifted the 4x400 metres from its time-honoured place as the final race and replaced it with the 4x100, so Bolt would appear early in the meet in the 100 and at the end in the relay. The results were spectacular as Jamaica set world records at the 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics.
The Diamond League organisers are clearly hoping Jackson will do the same this Sunday. In Budapest, she ran with a stuffy nose and missed the mark set by Florence Griffith-Joyner in the 1988 Olympic final by just 0.07 seconds. Weeks later, after a solo run timed at 21.48 seconds in Brussels, Belgium, she said, “I have another shot this year, in Eugene.”
The organisers seem to have heard her. Despite the presence of Kenyan distance dynamo Faith Kipyegon, they have made Jackson’s record attempt the centrepiece of the Classic.
To get the record, Jackson will have to be better than her best. In 1988, Griffith-Joyner toured the first 100 metres in 11.18 seconds and flew the second half of the race in 10.16 seconds to set the record. By comparison, Jackson produced splits of 11.04 and 10.41 to annex the gold in Eugene last year and in Budapest, the MVP Track Club standout did 11.05 and 10.36.
Perhaps the difference lies in their relative proficiency at 400 metres. At the 1988 Olympics, Griffith-Joyner anchored the USA to the silver medal in 48.1 seconds. By comparison, Jackson’s best 400-metre run this year is 50.92 and her personal best is 49.47 seconds.
When the American set the record, Grace Jackson was the runner-up with a Jamaican record of 21.72 seconds. Grace then told US publication TRACK AND FIELD NEWS, “she’s in a different world”. Thanks to Shericka Jackson, the world is catching up.
Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.