Jaheel Hyde wins the 400m hurdles at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 (© Getty Images)
Soon after his 400m hurdles victory at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 eight days ago, a Jamaican journalist asked Jaheel Hyde if his successful title defence earned his season a ‘Mission Accomplished’ characterisation.
“Definitely,” the 19-year-old, said, without the slightest hesitation. “This win was on my mind. I came here and defended my title and I couldn't be more pleased with that. It’s a great feeling to create history for my country and for myself. I’ll keep doing that.”
Hyde became just the sixth man to win a back-back world U20 title, the 18th athlete overall, and the first in his event.
The 49.03 run that propelled him to a second gold in the event was the proverbial icing on a season that included a 48.81 runner-up finish at the senior Jamaican Championships which also punched his ticket to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“I went out hard but I didn’t think I went out hard enough,” Hyde said, reflecting on the final in the Polish city. “But I was pleased with the time. It was close to my PR, so I didn’t lose much fitness with all the traveling so I have enough time to rest and work some more to do better in Rio.”
Globetrotter's next stop is Rio
To those who have followed Hyde’s career, that he’s already earned a spot on the Jamaican Olympic squad while still in the U20 ranks won’t come as a big surprise.
The product of a sporting family – his father Lenworth was a football international for Jamaica – Hyde first made waves as a sprint hurdler after winning the 2013 world U18 title in 13.13, a performance just 0.01 shy of what was then the world U18 best. A year later he followed up with a victory at the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing where he clocked 12.96 to shatter the world U18 best by 0.16. The mark still stands.
Before his feat in China, a month earlier he struck gold at the 2014 World U20 Championships in Eugene in the 400m hurdles with a 49.29 national junior record, a combination which made the then 17-year-old one of history’s finest all-around teenage hurdlers.
Those two victories on the global stage also underscored his decision the previous year to leave a promising future in football behind.
He continued to play for his squad at Wolmer’s Boys High School, but his days of representing Jamaica internationally – he competed on the national U17 team – were over. Athletics, and the hurdles in particular, he said after his victory in Nanjing, was “his calling”.
On the advice of his coach Christopher Harley, he has also now left the sprint hurdles behind.
“He put in a lot of work with me, a lot of sacrifices,” Hyde said of his high school coach. “He's the reason I'm doing the 400m hurdles, he converted me, I never doubted him one bit. And I take my hat off to him.”
Rio a chance to have fun
Even with his pedigree and impressive resume, Hyde said that Rio wasn’t a primary goal this year.
“I take it one step at a time. I’m still 19 so I feel that the World U20s were the key this year, so they were the main thing on my mind. The Olympics were a big plus for me. I made it on the team so I’m very pleased with that.”
After his victory in Nanjing two years ago, Hyde let his preciousness speak for him, and suggested that a visit to the Brazilian city was in his near future.
“I want to go there and set history for my country, that's my main aim," he said in an interview on the IOC's Youtube channel. "And bring home the gold medal for my country. In whichever event I decide to do at the Olympics."
Two years later he is Rio-bound as the season’s 10th fastest 400m hurdler, but two years wiser, he has also tempered those ambitions.
“Going to the Olympics will be just fun for me, I'm happy that I made the team. I'm not going there with any goal in mind. Just to go there and compete and have fun.”
“The season was a big learning experience for me,” he continued, “and I'm just trying to enjoy the rest of it and get stronger next year.”
But is there more in the tank this season? Again, he spoke without hesitation, and offered a wide smile as well.
“Oh yeah. Definitely.”
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF