Javier Brown after his 400m hurdles victory at the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Championships (© ISSA Jamaica)
The Jamaican High School track and field extravaganza known as the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Championships (Champs) made a successful return, without spectators, after last year’s cancellation due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The five-day event, which was awarded the World Athletics Heritage Plaque in 2019, lived up to expectations and provided plenty of excitement. Many of the top performers will now start to turn their attention to the World Athletics U20 Championships Nairobi 21 later this year.
Jamaica College and Edwin Allen High lifted the coveted crowns for the top-performing boys and girls teams respectively.
Javier Brown was unquestionably one of the standouts for the newly crowned boys’ champions Jamaica College.
Brown, a former 800m runner, stepped down in distance to compete in the 400m hurdles, an event he first experimented with on 13 March 2021.
On the penultimate day of Champs, he broke the 16-19 age group 400m hurdles championship record by 0.07 with 49.86. 24 hours later, the 19-year-old returned to win the 400m final in a personal best of 45.75.
“I am extremely happy,” said Brown, who was born in 2001 and so will be too old to compete in Nairobi. “I was very confident after winning the 400m hurdles. My strategy for the 400m final was not to go too hard around the final curve because I wanted to save my energy and finish strong in the home straight.”
Strong headwinds greeted all the sprinters for the 100m finals, but it didn’t detract from the excitement.
The boys’ 16-19 event featured a clash between two of the island’s most precocious sprinters for the first time at these championships.
Antonio Watson, the 2018 world U18 400m champion, stepped down in distance and looked peerless throughout the rounds. His main threat Sachin Dennis last competed in an individual event at these championships in 2018. On that occasion, he sped to victory in a personal and world U18 best of 10.20, and then injury hampered his progress.
The stage was set for the grand finale.
The fit-again Dennis, who was drawn in lane four, got a more favourable start than Watson, who sat next to him in lane five. Kingston College’s Bouwahjgie Nkrumie, running in lane one, led for more than 70 metres and seriously threatened to pull off a major upset, but Dennis and Watson came storming through the middle with Dennis crossing the finish line in 10.53 (-2.3m/s) with Watson a few strides behind in 10.58. Nkrumie (10.65) managed to hold off Dennis’s fast-finishing teammate Conroy Jones 10.68 for third.
“I felt very nervous at the start,” said Dennis, who was competing for the last time in these championships for St Elizabeth Technical High School. “My aim was just to finish the race healthy.”
Dennis’s win completed a clean sweep in the 100m sprints for his school following victories by his teammates Tramaine Todd 11.03 (-1.7 m/s) and Orlando Wint 10.76 (-2.0 m/s) in the 10-13 and 14-15 age group finals respectively.
Clayton twins Tia and Tina had contrasting fortunes in the 15-16 girls’ 100m.
They had been aiming for a 1-2 finish, but Tia was disqualified for a false start. Despite the disappointment, Tina regained her composure and then produced a scorching run to win in a season’s best of 11.38 (-2.1 m/s).
“I was very disappointed at the start,” said Tina, whose PB of 11.27 was set in 2019 when she was 14 years old. “I was expecting to finish second behind my sister as that’s her favourite event. When she got disqualified, I knew I had to do it for her.”
Aalliyah Francis of Rusea’s High school won the 200m/400m double in the space of two hours in the girls’ 17-18 age group. Francis needed a lifetime best of 52.51 to hold off a determined Garriel White (52.77) from Hydel High in the 400m. Francis duly wrapped up the 200m unchallenged in 23.85 (-3.1 m/s).
Francis’s teammate Lavanya Williams secured the sprint double in the girls’ aged 13-14 group, winning the 100m in 12.18 (-2.4 m/s) and 200m in 24.50 (-1.3 m/s).
Previously unheralded Chevonne Hall of Edwin Allen High caused an upset in the boys’ 16-19 1500m. In a formidable front-running display, he won in a personal best of 3:59.70 ahead of Kenyan-born Aron Tanui, representing Kingston College, in 3:59.86.
Hall showed that his 1500m triumph was no fluke when he defeated another quality field in the 800m final in a championships record of 1:48.58.
Edwin Allen High won two of the four female sprint relays, with the most impressive victory coming in the girls aged 15-16 group. The team comprising Aliyah Clarke, Tonie-Ann Forbes and the Clayton twins set a championship record of 44.81.
“It’s a great feeling. This record means a lot to us,” said Tina Clayton, who ran the second leg. “We are grateful because we started training in late October and normally we begin in September. Lastly, I’m happy my sister was on the anchor to get her gold medal.”
St Jago High took the boys’ 16-19 4x100m in 39.75 ahead of St Elizabeth Technical (39.82).
Elsewhere, Shantae Foreman’s rise continues – quite literally – in the jumps. The 18-year-old St Jago athlete enjoyed an emphatic victory in the high jump. She recorded first-time clearances at 1.70m, 1.75m, 1.78m, 1.81m and 1.84m. Her only failure came at 1.88m, a height that would have erased the championship record (1.87m) set two years ago. Foreman collected a second gold medal after sailing out to a personal best of 6.43m (0.9 m/s) in the long jump.
Kingston College claimed the top two spots in the boys’ 16-19 discus. Ralford Mullings threw 61.92m in the fifth round, the third farthest of his career, while his teammate Javon Osbourne registered a lifetime best 60.06m.
Noel Francis for World Athletics