miércoles, 11 de abril de 2012

"Champs" 2012: Looking for the Real Thing

Usain Bolt supports his school William Knibb High at Champs
             At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Jamaica astonished the world when they tallied six gold medals at the sprint athletic events, including a clean sweep of the women’s 100m dash by Shelly-Ann Fraser, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson and the unbelievable records achieved by “lightning” Bolt. In successive years this island of scarcely 3 million of inhabitants has kept its dominance of the sprints scene, relegating the USA to second fiddle, Usain Bolt is currently the biggest track and field star and also noteworthy is the growing depth of the country at the 100m and 200m in both sex categories. All those achievements have attired many specialists in the sport from all over the world who are trying to find the key of this sensational Jamaican success, in the same way they travel to Iten in order to discover the formula of long distance Kenyan runners.
Undoubtedly researchers have initially focused in the foremost athlete of Jamaica, the 25th year-old living legend. Bolt grew up in the mountainous region of Trelawny, in the North West of the island. Like many children in the country, the future record holder had to walk several miles daily in order to reach school through the hills, so he acquired an athletic conditioning not even noticing. Aunt Lilly points out also to the delicious yam and banana dishes she still prepares for him. (1) Bolt’s diet based in rich and complex carbohydrates would be the secret of his astounding performances, though the athlete himself has often argued he does not follow any special diet, unless it is his famous combination of chicken nuggets and Guinness. The man who has run the 100m in 9.58sec and the 200m in 19.19sec has also his own theory about the formidable success of his country in track and field: "It is confidence. We are a confident people; we love winning and to be the best at whatever we do, so we work hard to achieve it." (1) This explanation fits with studies as the ones of Rachel Irving, Professor from the University of Western Indies, who states a lot of Jamaicans have high levels of serotonin, the “speed gene” in their bodies.  "Serotonin determines mental toughness. If your level is high, you have a special gene; you tend to be very determined, aggressive." (1)

Munro's Delano Williams the new sprint sensation in the Caribbean
Genetics, natural food rich in carbohydrates, running to school… It does not sound familiar? I think we have already heard that about Kenyan athletes one thousand million times lately. Yet if we dig deeply we can discover peculiar circumstances in Jamaican track and field we cannot find anywhere else in the world. As in Kenya, athletics is in the third largest island of the Caribbean the national sport. Suffice to say all 55 medals the country has accomplished at the Olympics but one were won in track and field, and every kid dreams he will become the next Usain Bolt, in the same way Brazilian children want to be like Pelé or Ronaldinho. As in the East African country there is also a long and outstanding tradition of practice of the sport and triumphs at the Olympic Games. Yet in Jamaica this tradition goes back even further in time. Kenya was not seriously involved with track and field until British colonizers, notably through the tireless work of John Velzian, instilled the practice of the sport in the 1950s and the first Olympic gold medals did not come until 1968 in Mexico. On the other hand, Jamaica had already completed a 1-2 at the 400m, thanks to Arthur Wint and Herbert McKenley, the first time they entered the Olympic Games, as an independent country, in London 1948. Furthermore, track and field practice inside Jamaica has very deep roots, and the foremost example is the ISSA Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls’ Championships, locally known simply as “Champs,” which is the oldest and most popular manifestation of its kind in the world. Interestingly, the Caribbean holds the two most prestigious track and field youth competitions in the world, being the other Carifta Games. The Champs, staged every year since 1910 with the only interruption of 1944, have been decisive in the formative years of every athlete of note in the island: Arthur Wint, Herb McKenley, Lennox Miller, Don Quarrie, Bert Cameron, Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Merlene Ottey, Juliet Cuthbert, Sandie Richards, Deon Hemmings, Trecia Smith, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Melaine Walker, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Sherone Simpson… all grew up as runners at Champs.

Paul-Ann Gayle set a new Champs record at the discus Class-3
Photo: ian Allen
Champs are in the heart of arguably the most intense, consistent and organized track and field program to be found anywhere in the world. Furthermore there is no activity in the public or private sector in Jamaica as well established and successful as athletics, thanks to the long experience of instruction, management and administration of track and field all over a century. (2)  No sportive event in the country awakes as much passion as Champs, which are called for a reason the mini-Olympics. Every year the weekend before Easter an enthusiastic crowd of 30.000 spectators gather at the Kingston national stadium to support their favourite high school. There are four different age groups among the boys and three among the girls but, speaking about scores, the victory of a 14-year-old athlete Class-3 contributes for his school with as many points as the triumph of an already-19 veteran Class-1. Through exposure to tremendous competition and an excited crowd, the young athlete, who sees Champs as an opportunity to escape poverty, learns from an early age to deal with pressure and also develops a right aptitude for hard work, discipline, perseverance and team spirit. Champs prepare youngsters for big-time competition and as Usain Bolt says if you can win at Champs you can do it everywhere. No wonder Jamaican squads as Wolmer’s, Munro and Kingston College among the boys, and also Edwin Allen, Vere Tech and Holmwood among the girls, had no match in US high schools in the last edition of Penn Relays and expect the same for this year.

Spalding's Simoya Campbell leads the new generation of
Jamaican middle distance runners

110m hurdles legend Colin Jackson, one of the many former athletes who never miss his annual date with Champs, describes accurately the socio-cultural relevance of the most important competition in the Jamaican sportive calendar: "I have been to a few championships in my time, and, you know, the Olympics, the worlds and the Europeans are all pretty good. They are OK. But this is different. This is Champs. When you come here you see the real root of the sport. The Jamaican kids have such desire to compete. It is incredible. And the knowledge of the crowds is fantastic. Inside that stadium will be women in their mid-60s who will be able to discuss the form of all these school stars. It illustrates the knowledge and commitment you find at Champs. I go into stadiums in the UK and I can tell you that spectators will not even know the names of the major stars in our sport – never mind high-school runners. At Champs you get to understand how deeply ingrained track and field is in this nation. My parents are both Jamaican, and I was brought up with Jamaican culture, but I still could not understand why they had this passion for the sport. It was only when I came to Champs that I finally understood. This is Athletics in its purest state." (3)
Usain Bolt went from big success at Champs, defending the colors of his school William Knibb High, to international stardom and so did many others. The last one for the moment is 100m gold medalist in Daegu Yohan Blake, who competing for St Jago established the current Champs record at the 100m in Class-1 in 2007 (10.21), just one week before setting a new national junior best at Carifta (10.11) and also owns the Class-2 record at the distance. Notwithstanding, there is not straight line from Champs to Olympics and World Championships. Deon Hemmings, the first Jamaican female Olympic champion never shone at Champs and neither did Sherone Simpson. Shelly-Ann Fraser struggled to win her only scholar gold medal for Wolmer’s in 2004.  http://moti-athletics-100-w.blogspot.com.es/2012/02/one-thousand-reasons.html   On the other hand Champs dominating forces as Calabar’s “little warrior” Daniel England never made it to the senior ranks while other quarter milers of his time with lower profiles as Michael Blackwood and Danny McFarlane were quite successful years afterwards. (4) Yet most important than victories for the likes of Blackwood, McFarlane, Hemmings, Simpson and Fraser were the tough lessons they learned while competing at Champs. Asafa Powell’s inability to hold his nerve in major championships is easily explainable for his lack of competitive experience at Champs. He belonged to a small school, Charlemont High in St Catherine. They only made it once to Champs and Asafa got disqualified due to a false start. 

Sanj Powell wins the 800m Class-1 for Kingston College
Nevertheless, whatever it is the leading man in this sensational Jamaican emergence as world sprint powerhouse was not Usain Bolt but Asafa Powell. The eternal loser in big competition was however the first Jamaican athlete in history who smashed the world record at the king event of the 100m when he sensationally clocked 9.77 in Athína in 2005 to dethrone Moe Greene. Thereafter he became the role model for thousand of kids in the island and he kept its place until the arrival of Bolt. Furthermore, Asafa Powell did something even more important for the future of national track and field: despite being tempted by uncountable US colleges offers, Asafa set the precedent of staying in Jamaica, along with hurdler Brigitte Foster-Hylton. They joined the then little-known MVP Track Club to be trained by local coach Stephen Francis. Their example would be spread to the newest generation so currently most of the leading exponents of Jamaican track and field are staying in the island, either at MVP (Powell, Foster-Hylton, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Melaine Walker, Shericka Williams, Kaliese Spencer, Michael Frater, Nesta Carter, Carrie Russel, Dexter Lee) or at Racers Track Club under Glenn Mills (Bolt, Yohan Blake, Jermaine Gonzales, Ricardo Chambers, Marvin Anderson, Kenroy Anderson, Kimmari Roach, Rosemarie Whyte, Schillonie Calvert, Shereefa Lloyd, Davita Prendergast, Nickiesha Wilson, Ristananna Tracey). Traditionally, Champs used to be a showcase for US Universities to scout Jamaican talent. Nowadays, both Francis and Mills are considered among the best sprint coaches in the world and local promising runners do not see anymore the need to travel abroad to study and make an athletic career. Instead, an increasing number of sprinters from all the Caribbean and Central America as Antigua’s Daniel Bailey, Barbados’ Andrew Hinds or Honduras’ Rolando Palacios get enrolled by Jamaican teams, attracted by the prestige of its coaches. The creation of the G.C. Foster College in St Catherine in 1980 and an IAAF high performance centre in 2001, by a government increasingly interested in investing in sport, were decisive in the formation of excellent Jamaican elite coaches and the nurturing of local talent. (2)
Fredrick  Dacres competing at the 2011 World Youth Championships
in Lille, where he won gold for Jamaica
Photo: Getty Images                    http://www.iaaf.org/
With its usual display of rough talent and fierce competition, the 102nd edition of the ISSA Inter-Secondary Schools Boys and Girls’ championships were held last week at the Kingston national stadium, in a colorful party-like atmosphere, which can be easily related to last soccer World Cup in South Africa, firstly because of the presence of hundreds of grating vuvuzelas, secondly because of its craziness on the stands. Special guest were, among several other track and field stars, Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Veronica Campbell and also Jamaican-born Sanya Richards-Ross, who participated in the modest but emotive and full of rhythm and dancing inaugural ceremony. In spite of its long history, only sixteen different schools had previously won the contest, counting both sex categories. At the boys’, Kingston College (31 titles), Calabar (22) and Jamaica College (21) had amassed 74 out of the 101 overall victories, while Vere Technical had tallied 22 triumphs, since the girls’ joined Champs in 1961. In the last category, the invincible Holmwood Tech was keeping a 9-victory streak, only inferior to Kingston College’s 14 consecutive triumphs from 1962 to 1975 and Vere Tech’s 15 titles between 1979 and 1993. This year, after narrow loses in past editions, Edwin Allen became the 17th winner of the Champs, defeating overwhelmingly 9-time female defending champions Holmwood for more than 100 points, while Calabar boys struck its 23rd victory in a much closer contest, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its foundation. Unfortunately awkward weather with gusts of headwind over 5m/sec ruined the achievement of good marks.             
Edwin Allen High was launched in 1964 in deep rural Frankfield, Clarendon, as an all-girl establishment. For years the school just participated at Champs with the target of getting a couple of single medals but the arrival of principal Elroy Ricketts in the 1980s changed the philosophy of the team. Rickets envisaged to build-up a first class squad in sports, which triumphs would also help develop the infrastructures of the school, so important for the whole small farming community. Michael Dyke was engaged in 1991 as head coach for the ambitious project and gradually the school has been making the way to the elite. (6) In 2010 Edwin Allen lost to Holmwood Tech by 13 points. The following year the Frankfield girls were red-hot favorites but despite an impressive display of Ristananna Tracey, who won three events and set a championship record at the 400m hurdles, misfortune and some bad tactics made them lost the title by only six points, when Holmwood managed better the pressure and showed why they were the champions for nearly a decade. (7) The same Ristananna, a semifinalist in Daegu who graduated from school and was enrolled by Racers Track Club, announced the victory for 2012 Champs of Edwin Allen. She saw more determination, a entirely new attitude in her former mates: "I think some of the athletes were not serious enough about it, or probably they did not really believe that we could win in previous years so they did not take it as serious as they should have, or fight to the end as they could have, but that is different this year." (8)  

Michael O'Haro wins big for Calabar at the 2012 ISSA Boys and Girls' Champs
Edwin Allen went ahead since the very first day, when discus throwers Tara-Sue Barnett and Danniel Thomas achieved gold and silver at the Class-1 final, after breaking the championship record in several occasions. Eventually, Barnett would prevail over her mate 50.76m to 50.42m. It was followed by another 1-2 and another record at the 2000m steeplechase by Desreen Montaque and Atara Segree. Edwin Allen would never relinquish the overall first place and would gradually increase their gap over Holmwood. Meanwhile, the defending champions’ leader Chris-Ann Gordon, who had run a massive 51.62 at last year champs, tore her hamstring. The Pan American junior gold medallist withdrawal meant a real shock for the moral of the team. As decorated Holmwood Technical coach Maurice Wilson argued, “Chris-Ann’s injury killed the spirit in the camp.” From then on the unbeatable champions played second fiddle to Edwin Allen as experienced multi-events specialist Janeive Russell, who was not able to win any of the three finals she entered. One of Dyke’s standouts, Christania Williams, the World youth bronze medallist, also suffered a cramp at the 100m Class-2 final but still could hold her competitors and defend her title, before setting out of Champs and Carifta. Anyway Edwin Allen had many other cards to play in the contest. Quite a lot boys and girls suffered injuries during this year Champs like Gordon and Williams. It was rare the race a stretcher was not needed to help out some of the competitors. It is the flip-side of this exciting Champs which show athletics in its purest state. Youngsters who still have not attained their maturity, neither physically nor mentally, over train for eight months to reach their best at Champs; then they enthusiastically participate in as many events as possible in order to score for the team. No less than Glenn Mills denounced this situation which risks burn-up the athlete before he even meets the senior ranks. In the words of the reputed Race Track Club coach, most of Jamaican runners who eventually make the World championship and Olympic finals belong to minor high schools not involved in the fight for Champs overall title. (9) Already, the number of events an athlete can compete in was limited in girls’ Class-4, but restrictions should been applied to the other age categories as well. Also maybe Champs and Carifta are too close in time.

Shericka Jackson won three gold medals at 2012 Champs
Photo:  http://www.trackalerts.com/
Danniel Thomas, who transferred from Frome Technical two years ago, led Edwin Allen’s victory following up her silver at the discus with a gold medal at the shot put and the javelin. She was the athlete, both male and female, who tallied more points for her team, with a total of 25. Another thrower, Paul-Ann Gayle, scored big points too for the Frankfield-based squad, achieving the discus Class-3 victory with a new Champs record (42.28m). After Marleena Eubanks emphatic victory at the 1500m Class-2, Christania Williams at the 100m Class-2, Shellece Clark at the same event in Class-4, and the valuable contribution of the rest of the team, Edwin Allen finished the penultimate day with an advantage of 76 points over second-placed Holmwood Tech, almost sealing their victory. In the final day, a confident and highly motivated Edwin Allen just increased their gap, tallying 330 points, to finish well ahead of Holmwood (207), St Yago (164) and Vere Technical High (133). Eubanks completed the middle distance double, while Saqukine Cameron won gold at the 200m Class-2 and silver at the 400m in the same session and Aalayiah Hopkins struck the victory at the 200m Class-4. There was no hassle anymore for the relay events but still the youngest members of the team accomplished a sensational victory at the 4x100m. Now Michael Dyke talks about founding a dynasty as strong as Holmwood’s and reign at Champs for as many years. As for now they are keeping almost the whole team for the next high school championship, with the exception of Danniel Thomas, Desreen Montaque and Shawnette Lewin, and the succession is guaranteed. 

Calabar high school, the winner at the boys’ competition, was established back in 1912 at theRed Hills Road by the Jamaica Baptist Union, for the sons of Baptist ministers and the children of poor black. Interestingly the school was named after the former slave port Calabar in Nigeria. The institution had won Champs for the last time in 2008. This time around, in the 100th anniversary of their foundation they had one of the most successful years of their long sportive history, grabbing also the Schools’ challenge Quiz title during the weekend for the sensational double victory which is called “Quamps.”  And there was still a third title in rugby. For acclaimed head coach Michael Clarke it was his 11th overall victory at Champs. Previously he had won once with St Jago, then seven times with Jamaican College and two others with the “Lions.” Clarke was elated after claiming Champs title back and praised athletes and everyone related to Calabar for the victory: "It is a mammoth achievement to get as many as 287 points in this very competitive era, where there are so many teams with a lot of talent, but it just shows the enormous resilience of Calabar, the coaching staff, management crew; I think we have the best management crew and coaching staff in Jamaica." (10)

Christoffe Bryant, the teen who erased Germaine Mason from the record Books
  The boys’ 2012 edition of Champs was one of the most thrilling competitions in years, with all three teams who have traditionally dominated the contest, defending champions Jamaica College, Kingston College and Calabar, entangled in a hot battle for the final victory. The lions entered the decisive Saturday evening session 16.5 points ahead archrivals Kingston College and 29.5 over Jamaica College.  The 400m races showed just how concerned every contender was in that dramatic battle of blood, sweat and tears. In Class-3, Calabar’s Aykeem Francis and KC’s Jhevaughan Matterson fought for the victory until the limit of their forces to the point the latter fell on the ground extenuated with 5 metres to go, to eventually end up 8th. In another contested race, Javon Francis from the Red Hills’-based squad made another superhuman effort to upset hot-favourite Lennox Williams of Manchester High. He was so tired at the end he hardly could speak to journalists. Then Michael O’Haro, third the previous day at the 100m, won full of power the 110m hurdles Class-2. Yet Arkansas-bound Stefan Fennell responded for Kingston College, defeating long time archrival Yannick Hart of Wolmer’s in Class-1. While Jamaica College was falling behind, Kingston College tried to react at the 800m event. (11) Calabar’s Chevenne Hamilton victory in Class-3 was followed by two straight victories of their challengers: first Chad Miller won in Class-2; then Sanj Powell, who had broken the 2000m steeplechase record in the inaugural day, proved his outstanding shape with another victory in Class-1, while his mate Alex Saunders clinched bronze. However, O’Haro was determined to become Calabar’s hero and beat again consummate specialists at the 200m Rohan Walker and Devaughn Baker, both of J.C.  Calabar arrived to the decisive relay races with a comfortable 45-points-gap but the team started to feel the pressure. In the medley relay, Kingston College finished first in a final Calabar, which had miscalculated its forces, had not qualified for. Then they also won at the 4x100m Class-1, while the leaders ended up in the last spot. After a good second place in Class-2, after record breakers J.C. and a mishap in the exchange of the baton of Calabar, Kingston College had shortened up the gap to 3 points. Again came to Clarke’’s charges minds past fears and memories of recent failures at Champs:  in 2009 they had finished just 1.5 behind K.C. and one year later they threw away another title after a string of mistakes. (12)
Manchester High's Chanice Porter set two Champs records in jump events
Photo: Ricardo Makyn
Fortunately, glad news arrived from the field events: Demar Robinson had won the high jump Class-1 and, over all, Fredrick Dacres grabbed his second gold medal at the shot put, with Ashinia Miller clinching the bronze, and Shamar Kitson and Andre Beckford emulated the feat at the Discus Class-2, for a huge 30-points-tally. It is amazing, in a country with such solid reputation in the sprints all around the world, Champs had to be won at the throwing circle but this is what happened. Julian Robinson is doing an amazing job and, when Traves Smikle and Chad Wright are just reached the senior ranks, there are already new hopefuls in the same stable. If Smikle won bronze at the World Youth Championship in 2009 at the discus, Dacres improved his mate’s feat to gold in the next edition in Lille with nearly 6m over his nearest rival, in the first global victory for Jamaica in throws in any age category ever. If we add to it Trinidad and Tobago’s phenomenon Kenshorn Walcott, who threw 77.59 at Carifta in Bermuda, we can conclude the Caribbean is predestined to become also a throwing powerhouse in a near future. In the end, after the huge boost of confidence of the shot put and discus demonstrations, Calabar closed Champs in style, with a masterful victory at the 4x400m relay in a world class 3:10.19, to win the overall title with a total of 287.5 points. Kingston College placed second with 265, Jamaica College third with 222.5 and Wolmer’s fourth with 140. As colophon to the great party, we could hear through the speakers Bob Marley and Wailers’ “Rat Race.” This song symbolised the always fiercely contested Champs but literally it was also an ironic reference to a recent episode in Calabar High, when the school had to be temporally closed because of the presence of rats in the establishment. The kids showed how you can transform social adversity in athletic grandeur.

The track and field king event in Jamaica is usually the male 100m but it was not this time. World Youth Olympic champion Odean Skeen of Wolmer’s failed to qualify for the 200m final and committed a false start at the 200m and Green Islands’ Odail Todd, double gold medallist at the World Youth Champs in Lille, was equally in disappointing form. In the end, the 100m became a two-man contest between defending champion Jazeel Murphy from Bridgeport and Turks and Caicos-born and student in Munro, Delano Williams. Not being either of them a good starter, Williams proved stronger in the end, defeating the 4-times Carifta winner in a modest clocking of 10.37. In his pet event the 200m, Delano won overwhelmingly, thus completing the double. Watch out for the progression of this athlete who has run the distance this year in 20.53 and intend to compete at the United Kingdom national trials for the Olympics, once Turks and Caicos Islands is not a IOC member and its territory belongs to the host country of the Games. Elsewhere, Raheem Chambers of St, Jago achieved also another remarkable sprint double in Class-3. The young runner will try to become a worthy heir of Yohan Blake in his school. On the other hand, it is plain Wolmer’s High has found the new Shelly-Ann Fraser. I mean the 100m female Olympic champion in four years time: Shauna Helps. It is a wonder, this shy girl of 15 years whose mates describe as the nicest person you can meet in college, becomes such fierce animal in a race. This strong character and determination will bring this teen very far in her athletic career. For the moment she won the Class-3 100m final in a Champs record 10.50, a faster time than the one achieved in Class-1 (Herbert’s Seidatha Palmer) and Class-2 (Christania Williams) and repeated the feat at the 200m, where among others was competing the awesome Shericka Jackson, culminating her groundbreaking performance at Champs anchoring Wolmer’s 4x100m relay to gold.

Shauna Helps, Jamaica's future Olympic star, in company of Wolmer's mate Jonielle Smith
Jackson was also in a class of her own grabbing in the closing session three titles at the 400m, 200m and finally the long relay, being part of the formidable Vere Tech squad, along with Olivia James (silver medallist at the 400m) and Yanique McNeil (gold medallist in Class-2). However, James is not this year in the shape she showed in past seasons and it was confirmed in Carifta Games, where she lost her 400m title. With the likes of the Vere Tech trio and the addition of Chris-Ann Gordon, Janeive Russell, Tiffany James or Simoya Campbell it seems unlikely for any other team, including the USA, to beat the fearsome Jamaicans at the 4x400m relay at next World Junior Championships. Notwithstanding individually the dominant sprinters of the moment in their age category in the region are Bahamians Antonique Strachan and Shaunae Miller and they proved it again at Carifta. (13) Strachan, named for the second time best athlete of the Games after her double victory, improving on the way Veronica Campbell’s 200m record, and 400m world youth and junior gold medallist Miller are on the right path to reach the Olympic final this same year. Amazingly, the best Jamaican sprinter in Carifta was also Shauna Helps, who beat an astounding field at the 100m in the U-17 category, including older mate Saqukine Cameron, and then brought too her team to victory in the short relay. Another big winner at Champs and Carifta was Spalding’s Simoya Campbell, who made in both competitions the middle distance double in her first Class-1 year. This is another athlete with immense talent, worth watching her progress to the international elite. Simoya breaks with her outgoing geniality the typical shy behaviour of Jamaican teen athletes, who are just able to utter an embarrassing “yes, sir,” never making eye-contact with the adult journalists who cover Champs. Simoya has plenty of things to state to local press: “I am confident so racing and winning is easy for me.” Soon Kenya Sinclair will not be fighting alone the world 800m stars when Simoya Campbell and also Natoya Goule, Ristananna Tracey, Marleena Eubanks, Chantai Smith, Lisa Buchanan and Tiffany James will make become Jamaica a middle distance powerhouse. Watch out specially for Tiffany, who accomplished the 400m-800m double in Class-3 for the first gold medals ever for Papine at Champs and confirmed her talent with another two victories in Carifta.
Some words, before ending this long article about Champs excellence, to praise the brilliant performances in jump events. Chanice Porter of Manchester High, who became in Lille the first Jamaican to win a long jump gold medal in any major championship event, clinched double gold and double record at Champs. At the high jump she beat in an excellent competition, 1.86 to 1.84,  Edwin Allen’s hot favourite Kimberly Williamson, who owns the Jamaican junior best in the event, to erase Peaches Roach’s from the record books. At the long jump she flied the next day to a 6.52 PB to improve Elva Goulbourne’s old mark. Samara Spencer from team revelation Hydel and KC’s Sammawi Wellington also achieved the same double victory in girls’ and boys’ Class-3 respectively. Finally, Wolmer’s Christoff Bryan “only” struck a gold medal at the high jump event in Class-2 but his winning leap of 2.10 stole the record from no less than silver Olympic medallist in Beijing Germaine Mason. Bryan is another potential track and field star, who has already jumped 2.20 at 15 years of age.       

Edwin Allen high school's parade after their sensational first victory ever at Champs

lunes, 15 de agosto de 2011

Who is in College now

Texas A&M gets an historic victory, in both women and men categories, for the third year in a row, at the 2011 NCAA Track & Field outdoor championship, held in Des Moines, Iowa
Photo: Mike Scott                  
       I guess this article arrives more than two months late and some of the fellows I am going to talk about have already graduated and come back home with a nice diploma under their arms.  However, I missed the NCAA Track and Field championships and it took time somebody was so great to upload the races videos on the Internet.  You know I am not living in the USA and that means I am not allowed to watch Universal Sports or whatever channel offers the competitions in America.  Not even paying! As a Spanish citizen I only have the right to dispose of the poor, inadequate and expensive coverage of national channels as Canal +, which own the copyright in my country.  So no one was broadcasting NCAA, Penn Relays or Boston marathon, I missed them all.  Indeed, which is the interest of the World Wide Web if, among all the possible options I have to restraint myself to the national channels?  And, furthermore, if every company in the world is free to buy their goods and do business wherever they want, why for an individual is not so simple?  So Westerners entrepreneurs can break all economical balance investing massively in Eastern Asia but, on the other hand, I am not allowed to access the cheapest and best athletics broadcasting: This is called PIRACY!!!
            Well done! I will try to explain briefly why NCAA track and field championships are so important for a foreigner. I like watching the exploits of Bolt, Isinbayeva or Bekele, though, I am also curious about the progress of the new generations of the sport. The USA is still globally the number one country in Athletics and there is no better display of talented up-and-coming athletes in the world like you can see in American Colleges, where besides there are also young runners from many other places in the world. If you are looking for the future track and field stars, the men and women who are going to medal in Olympics and World championships in some years time, you will find some of them here. 

Jessica Beard overcomes Kai Selvon of Auburn to clinch the 2011 NCAA overall title for Texax A&M
Phto: Christopher Gannon/ The Register
The NCAA championship is firstly a contest, where athletes from all over the country compete to prove their university is the best in the United States.  Along with Hakonen Ekiden in Japan and Penn Relays this is the most groundbreaking manifestation in the sport of Athletics of what collegian team spirit can do.  In the second week end of June in Des Moines, Iowa, Texas A&M representatives came in search of a historic third consecutive title and they achieved it in the very last event, the 4x400 metres relay in the most dramatic fashion.
            Tabarie Henry, an experienced senior from US Virgin islands, who had participated in Beijing and finished just out of the medals at Berlin Worlds, disappointed everybody after being unable of qualifying for the final at the single 400 metres in Des Moines. He made up for this failure, anchoring Texas A&M to victory in the race and thus in the overall competition, along with teammates Bryan Miller, Demetrius Pinder and Michael Preble. It was not without a thriller.  Texas needed maximum points to overcome leaders Florida State University, who were not in the race and, at the same time, they needed to recover five points from their neighbours Florida Gators. Henry received the stick ahead but had to overcome a fierce opposition from LSU, Mississippi State and Baylor, whose respective anchors were such accomplished quartermilers as Riker Hylton, Tavaris Tate and Marcus Boyd.  Hylton, the new Jamaican champion, seemed for a moment capable of spoiling the Aggies party but Henry could hold the lead. The Gators just finished sixth. The winning time, 3:00.62 ranks, as for now, second in the season lists, just 17 hundredths short of the mark this same squad obtained in April at the Texas relays. The race stands as the best of the year: the first, second, third and fourth placed teams in Des Moines are into the current world top-12 in the male 4x400.         
In the women’s the Aggies where tied with the Oregon Ducks, prior to the last race. All the responsibility went to Jessica Beard's shoulders. (1) (2) Beard is used to silver in individual races.  She had finished runner-up at the 2008 World Junior Championship and then in successive editions of the NCAA indoors and out, behind rivals like Joanna Atkins or Francena McCorory.  Yet, she proved decisive in the last two Aggies team victories, contributing with valuable points and helping win the relay.   Eventually she could break her bad luck as a soloist in 2011, her last University year, winning first the NCAA indoor in College Station, Texas, with an impressive 50.79, which topped the world seasonal lists, then outdoors in Des Moines, ahead Atkins and new wonder Diamond Dixon.
 Jeneba Tarmoh led the crucial relay race, passing on the baton to Blessing Mayungbe and this one to Jamaican hurdler Andrea Sutherland. Jessica received in third position, behind Auburn University, which had an advantage of more than 20 metres, and Oregon. In an impressive display, the Texas anchor caught first Duck freshman Laura Roesler, then leader Kai Selvon, a new Trinidad and Tobago rising star, who has qualified for Daegu's 200 metres. Selvon tried to hold Beard but it was in vain.  Jessica romped home to win the third title in a row for Texas A&M.  It does not mean her rivals were weak: Auburn freshman Selvon ran 50.67 for her leg and Roesler 51.45, but Jessica Beard was just sensational, achieving 49.14, the best split ever in a NCAA relay race. This feat is going to give her a huge boost of confidence for Daegu, in her second world championship. Beard is also finalist, along with Kimberlyn Duncan and Tina Sutej for the prestigious Bowerman award, a distinction for the best NCAA athlete of the year.  Among the men, Ngoni Makusha, Jeshua Anderson and Christian Taylor are the candidates.

Ngoni Makusha breaks the NCAA 100m record in Des Moines

           Ngonidzashe Makusha (3) (4) (5) was arguably the man of the meeting in Des Moines, after being the only athlete in winning three gold medals. The Zimbabwean ace from the Florida State Seminoles had his breakthrough campaign in 2008, when he crowned himself NCAA champion in his freshman year and later in the summer narrowly missed the bronze medal at Beijing Olympic Games.  He went on the following year, for a second Collegian title but his progression was cut by a severe injury, which sidelined him for most of 2010. Now he is back in astounding form in his classic event and has also had a stunning success in his first serious season running the 100 metres. In his first competition in the distance in four years, he surprised everybody, breaking the 10 seconds barrier (9.97).  Two months afterwards in De Moines, after beating a solid field with a huge 8.40 in the long jump, which ranks him second in the seasonal lists, he amazed the world again winning also the 100 metres in 9.89, improving Ato Boldon’s collegiate record in the process. The third gold medal came in the short relay, but there were 200 metres champion Maurice Mitchell and especially anchor Brandon Byram, who had to make up for a more than sluggish exchange between Cayman Islands Kemar Hyman and Makusha.
Thus Ngoni became only the fourth man in striking back to back titles in 100 metres and long jump in a same championship in 80 years of NCAA history, putting his name alongside icons like Jesse Owens, DeHart Hubbard and Carl Lewis.  Among the women, another athlete of African origin, competing for Texas-El Paso, Blessing Okagbare achieved the feat as recently as last year.  For the Seminoles, Walter Dix had won for the last time the 100 metres title in 2007. They have not had to wait too much for Coach Ken Hardnen to shape another world beater.  Makusha has already been compared to Olympic champion Donovan Bailey and the same Lewis, because he is not fast out of the blocks but is able of maintaining an irresistible acceleration until the finish line, like the four times long jump Olympic champion.  Now with 6 NCAA titles in his pocket, Ngoni has decided to leave “the kindergarten” and become a professional to prepare himself the better for more demanding challenges, which requires his growing status as athlete.  Yet he is grateful to his University and do not plan to move from Tallahassee for the remaining of his career. A phenomenon in his home country, he could also take part in an awesome Zimbabwean 4x100 relay, along with Gabriel Mvumvure, Louisiana State’s anchor in their victorious performance at last Penn Relays, and Brian Dzingai, provided the latter can be back to his past fitness.  Still a newcomer in the 100 metres he has plenty of room to improve and will be a fearsome dark horse for Daegu and the Olympics.   
Zambian Gerald Phiri is another African consummate sprinter based in America.  In his senior year in Texas A&M he has lowered the national record to 10.06 and finished a solid fourth in the NCAA final.  Among the US specialists, the best among the collegians this season has been Makusha’s teammate Maurice Mitchell, an astonishing winner in the 200 metres final in Des Moines and bronze at the 100 metres, besides achieving brand new PBs this season (10.00 and 20.19).  In the national trials he was really close to book a ticket for Daegu, finishing a creditable fourth in the contest.  Jeff Demps, the 100 metres NCAA defending champion and once an unofficial world junior record holder, did not advance unbelievably to the final this year but was the only collegian in making it for the national championships.  Talented Rakieem “Mookie” Salaam also has had an erratic year of up and downs, being his best achievement the 200 metres indoor title he won for Oklahoma and his biggest deception the 6th place in the same contest outdoors, being the prohibitive favourite.  Other US sprinters as Horatio Williams, Brandon Byram and Tran Howell performed well in De Moines but did not reach the final in the national trials, held in Eugene.  However, Salaam did and so did Kentucky junior Justin Austin.  Keep an eye on Arkansas’ Marek Niit, 200 metres silver medallist this year at the NCAA and a world junior champion back in 2006, who besides has set no less than 11 national records for his country Estonia during the season.       
Kimberlyn Duncan holds the challenge of Jeneba Tarmoh to grab her first NCAA outdoor title
During the last seven years Allyson Felix and Veronica Campbell-Brown have dominated overwhelmingly the 200 metres dash event.  The American won the gold medal at the last three world championships and the Jamaican at the last two Olympics, being the other athlete runner-up in most of the occasions. Both are still a guarantee for their teams and keep the role of favourites for Daegu.  Notwithstanding other sprinters are this season in the mix and, maybe for the first time since these two track stars coming-of-age, their crown is in danger.  Carmelita Jeter is giving a go to the distance and she is being as astounding as she is in the shorter sprint event, and Bianca Knight is being as consistent all over the year.  Both have already beaten Allyson once at her favoured distance at the Diamond League this summer. Meanwhile, Shalonda Solomon won the national trials in an impressive 22.15. At the college, there are also some talented challengers. There are at least two women who are good enough to aim for next year Olympic medals: Kimberlyn Duncan and Jeneba Tarmoh.
Kimberlyn (6) (7) has been the most amazing revelation of this 2011 year.  Nothing special in her high school years, this native of Texas did not appeal the interest of the athletics powerhouses of her homeland and eventually was recruited by the Louisiana State Tigers.  She has grown as an athlete since, and now, after her exploits in her sophomore year, she is starting to believe in herself and what she is capable on. Eventually it seems Duncan finished up in the team which fits best her personality and running ways. She is the prototype Lady Tiger: shaped tall and majestic, like a beautiful leopard; the look of her eyes, the calm and confident sound of her voice, awake the power and magnetism of the lion; and feline are too her graceful and strong strides over the athletic track. Does not she look like Wilma Rudolph?
   Kimberlyn Duncan was the dominant force of the winter season, running the 200 metres at the SEC final in 22.78, the fastest time in the world indoors since the 22.40 World Junior best set by Bianca Knight in 2008, and then striking the NCAA title.  In the summer she continued in the same impressive style, recording three under 22.30 timings, the not windy-aided one (22.24), being her clocking for the gold medal at the NCAA championships outdoors.  Kimberlyn thus became only the sixth woman in winning back-to-back titles in the event both indoors and out and the first Lady Tiger since Dawn Sowell achieved it in 1989. Only Sowell and Carol Rodríguez are now ahead of her in the all-time collegiate lists and she still has two University years left.  Jeneba Tarmoh, the world junior champion in the 100 metres in 2008, made up for not qualifying for the final in that event, challenging fiercely Duncan in the homestretch, and finishing runner-up again, like last year, but more than a half a second faster (22.34) than in that occasion, when she and Porscha Lucas achieved a remarkable 1-2 for Texas A&M. Tiffany Townshend of Baylor won the bronze in 22.58, followed by Candyce McGrone, Aareon Payne, Semoy Hackett and Nivea Smith, all of them under 23 seconds. Eighteen year old Jessica Davis closed a final, which globally obtained the best results of the championships in a single event, along with the male 800 metres and long jump.  
Kimberlyn Duncan had again the better of Tarmoh in the 4x100 relay, cutting up the long winning streak of the almost invincible Texan Aggies.  Freshman Ashley Collier had replaced graduated Lucas, to join Tarmoh, Gabby Mayo and Dominique Duncan, with success, as the team won again at the Penn Relays. Yet in Des Moines, Louisiana State faced them with a more than extraordinary squad: 200 metres finalist Semoy Hackett, 100 metres finalist Kenyanna Wilson, Rebecca Alexander and Kimberlyn Duncan, who just ate up rival anchor Ashley Collier in the homestretch. Jeneba had some consolation contributing to the Aggies final victory in the last event, the 4x400.  However she would rise back strongly in the nationals, placing third and thus qualifying for Daegu, while Duncan was left out in fifth, despite running 22.35.
The talented Lady Tiger was tantalisingly close to matching Ngoni Makusha with a third gold medal, at the 100 metres, but she was beaten by another amazing newcomer to the elite, Oklahoma sophomore Candyce McGrone (10.08 to 10.09). Jessica Young from the Texas Christians obtained the bronze with a 10.14 PB, followed by Central Florida Aurieyall Scott and Kenyanna Wilson.  Oregon freshman English Gardner, who had run an awesome 10.03 Area Junior record at the Pacific 10, only could place seventh. One position ahead and equally disappointing was the woman who had dominated the 60 metres indoor season, winning the NCAA title and topping the world lists, LaKya Brookins.  She has the best outburst but it seems the last 40 metres are too long for her.  In spite of this, she was one of the three collegians in the American trials final for Daegu, along with Candyce McGrone and Jessica Young.  On the other hand, Aurieyall Scott won the national junior championship in an outstanding 10.12.  World junior medallists in Moncton Takeia Pinckney and Stormy Kendrick, the woman who beat British prodigee Jodie Williams in the 200 metres, were missed this season. 

Kirani James in fierce battle against Gil Roberts at the 2011 NCAA champs
Photo: University of Alabama

Traditionally, foreign guest students live in the USA for four or more years, where they obtain a valuable education and guidance in sport, while contributing with valuable points for their colleges in regional and national contests.  We have already spoken about some of the awesome African sprinters enrolled right now in the NCAA system. American Universities are also a regular destination for Caribbean speedsters and long jumpers.  Richard Thompson, Rondel Sorrillo, Kelly-Ann Baptiste, Kerron Stewart, Simone Facey, Nickiesha Anderson, Bianca Stuart, Rhonda Watkins or Shara Proctor were among the last to leave their footprint on US NCAA tracks, before following up a successful professional career. Yet new generations keep coming.  Louisiana State, which had the pleasure of working with Kelly-Ann Baptiste, hurried to enrol Semoy Hackett, another promising speedster from Trinidad and Tobago. Her compatriot Kai Selvon is in Auburn and so is Bahamian Nivea Smith, while the other woman who is making a big contribution in rejuvenating the national sprinting scene, Sheniqua Ferguson, is engaged with Southwestern Mississippi College. Virgin Islands’ Allison Peter is in Texas, Saint Kits and Nevis’ Marecia Pemberton in Florida State, Barbados’ Kierre Beckles in South Carolina and South Plains can be proud of a colourful relay team formed by 200 metres specialist Grenadian Janelle Redhead, hurdler Janeill Belille from Trinidad and two of the best Jamaican hopefuls: Daegu-bound Jura Levy and Natoya Goule.  Among the jumpers, there are British Virgin Islands citizen Chantel Malone (Texas), Bahamas-born Ray Higgs (Arkansas) and Kimberly Williams (FSU), Damar Forbes (LSU), Tarik Batchelor (also Arkansas) and new British Julian Reid (Texas A&M) from Jamaica.
There are bets about which Universities are going to catch the new Caribbean wonders Antonique Strachan, Shaunae Miller or Michelle Lee Ahyee. Yet quite a lot area powerhouse's rough diamonds are reluctant to make the trip. Jamaica's athletic dedication and ressources at school levels are among the best in the world and we can see the results. Some young athletes have further reasons: Ristananna Tracey, who is going to be in Daegu 400 hurdles start line at nineteen, turned down invitations from American colleges, stating she might be burn out in American College, forced to run too many events in order to make points for her team.  
Not many standout speedsters, among the Caribbean men are present these days in the American College: some hurdlers as Jamaican Andrew Riley (Illinois) or Puerto Rican Jamele Mason (Texas Tech) or some quarter milers as Tabarie Henry, Demetrius Pinder or Riker Hylton.  Also a 400 metres specialist is arguably the most talented Caribbean athlete right now in the NCAA track and field: Kirani James.  

         America just said goodbye to the awesome frères Borlée but their place in the NCAA stardom in the event has been quickly covered for a man from the small island of Grenada, who has already been labelled, because of his stunning qualities as an athlete and his precocity, as the new Usain Bolt. He is also known as the new Michael Johnson.  Kirani James had already run the 400 metres distance in 45.24, being sixteen, in 2009 in Bressanone, where he completed a sensational 200/400 double World Youth title.  Yet by then, Kirani was already a veteran.  Inspired by World indoor champion Alleyne Francicque, he entered athletics and realised it was possible, despite coming from a country of just 104.000 people, to compete against such athletic powerhouses as Jamaica or the Bahamas.  James was discovered as so many great Caribbean athletes at the prestigious Carifta Games, which he won for the first time in 2007. The same year he would grab the silver medal at Ostrava World Youths, clocking 45.70, the best time ever run by a 15-year-old; and the following year the same colour of medal in Bydgoszcz, on occasion of the World junior championships, facing athletes up to 4 years older. 
In 2010, the Grenadian prodigy was recruited by Alabama University, to be coached by Harvey Glance and he has astonished everybody in America, in every race he has run since. In his freshman year Kirani was runner-up at the NCAA championship indoors, in the last 400 metres final someone was able to beat him, climbing to the top of the podium outdoors. He also won the world junior title in Moncton.  In his sophomore year he has run indoors in 44.86, a World junior best, on occasion of the SEC final. Yet he fell in the NCAA final. Outdoors, he has lowered his PB to 44.61, which is the world lead, and won back-to-back collegian titles in Des Moines in an incredible final, which delivered a blanket finish. Kirani James ran blindly in lane 8 and had to recover some valuable metres in the homestretch, against a quality field, which never gave up. James, Gil Roberts (later disqualified), Tony McQuay, Mike Berry and Demetrius Pinder all finished in 45.23 or less, and just 13 hundredths separated the winner and the fifth.
Five other athletes from University have also run under 45.30 this year: Joey Hughes, Josh Mance, Errol Nolan, Bryan Miller and Rondell Bartholomew of South Plains, who stands second in the yearly lists with 44.65, behind his compatriot Kirani James, in an amazing result for their country.  The third in the ranking is another collegian: NCAA runner-up Tony McQuay, a sophomore from Alabama Gators, who went up to upset in the national championships a weak Jeremy Wariner, clocking 44.68. The Athens Olympic gold medallist will not eventually be in Daegu, because of injury; almost good news for him, after his poor display all over the year. Also defending champion LaShawn Merritt is just back after his doping offence vacation and no other veteran has been able of clocking something better than 44.69.  Only American collegians seem to be doing what is expected from them.  Indeed, the way to Daegu’s gold medal is wide open for upcoming stars like Kirani James, McQuay or Demetrius Pinder. It would not even be regarded as an upset a first World Championship title in senior category for the 19-year-old Grenadian.  In the 4x400 relay, it will not be easy either for the United States, without a leader and well behind their standards, to beat a motivated Bahamian team, where talented youngsters Pinder and Ramon Miller will join the always excellent Chris Brown and Micheal Mathieu.                

Jeshua Anderson on the way to win his third 400m hurdles collegiate title
Washington State 400 metre hurdler Jeshua Anderson is one of the five NCAA champions this year, who have achieved the goal of winning the overall US title as well, two weeks afterwards.  The others are Matt Centrowitz in the metric mile, Christian Taylor in the triple jump, Brigetta Barrett in the High Jump and Emma Coburn in the steeplechase.  In this category might be included Tony McQuay and Marquise Goodwin, who were just second and fourth in their respective 400 metres and long jump events, among the collegians, but went on to beat the seniors in Eugene.  Eight other members of the US Universities booked a ticket for Daegu in the trials: Charles Jock in the 800 metres, Eric Kynard in the high jump, Will Claye in long and triple jump, among the men; and Jeneba Tarmoh, in the 200 metres, Jessica Beard in the 400 metres, Stephanie Garcia in the steeplechase, Jasmine Chaney in the 400 hurdles and Jeneva McCall in the hammer throw, among the women. It makes a remarkable figure of a total of 15 collegians qualified for the world champions, not speaking about the several other students from abroad, who will go with their respective national teams.  
Jeshua Anderson (10) (11) (12) owns also the merit, like Ngoni Makusha of having won three NCAA outdoor titles in 2008, 2009 and 2011.  In 2010 the triumph went to archrival Johnny Dutch.  The two hurdling aces have faced each other in most of the big contests they have been in.  Anderson beat runner-up Dutch for the first NCAA title in 2008 and later in the season they repeat the same order at the World Junior championship, held in Bydgoszcz. In the following year Johnny was for the second time defeated at the NCAA championships but finished second in the national trials for Berlin, while Jeshua (fifth) could not make the team. Dutch won his first collegian national title in 2010 getting the better of Anderson but turned pro and did not defend, so it was easy task for the Washington senior to collect a third NCAA crown.  Only Nigerian Amaechi Morton from Stanford University was reasonably close. Johnny Dutch has a superior PB (47.63), but Jeshua Anderson has dipped under 48 seconds at the right time, upsetting, at the national trials, great champions Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson, taking a big step in his career. Anderson is also an excellent football player and could practice in his freshman and sophomore years both sports simultaneously, but decided to concentrate in track and field in his junior season.  Now he dreams becoming a 400 hurdler Olympic champion in London and then quit athletics to return to football for a professional career, as legendary hurdlers Renaldo Nehemiah and Willie Gault once did.
In the 110 meter hurdles there is not a quite solid athlete as Jeshua Anderson but the standards are always high in the USA.  The NCAA outdoor final was much of a catastrophe, when in the central lanes, first NCAA leader (13.23) Omo Osaghae from Texas Tech, then Drake Relays revelation and Big East winner, Terence Sommerville from Cincinnati stumbled heavily through the barriers.  Eventually, LSU junior Barrett Nugent, runner-up in the last editions of both indoor and out championships, defeated the man who had won in both occasions, Jamaican Andrew Riley from Illinois University. A respectable number of hurdlers from College have run this year in 13.50 or better: besides the athletes cited above, Brendan Ames, Keiron Stewart, Oscar Spurlock, Jeffrey Julmis, Ronald Brookins and Ray Stewart.  Maybe some of them will follow on the steps of past NCAA champions Jason Richardson and Ronnie Ash, now stunning professionals.  It is worth mentioning too, Riley won the Jamaican national trials and is expected to do well in Daegu.
In the women field, Nia Ali, a woman who had to overcome a family tragedy, has privileged the hurdles in her senior year in Southern California University, giving up the heptathlon for the moment, proving especially skilful in the event. An accident ruined her chances in the NCAA indoor final but in the outdoor contest she won overwhelmingly her first title in a slightly wind-aided 12.63 and then achieved a respectable fifth place at the national trials for Daegu. Ali is the American hurdler of the future and to qualify for major championships is just a question of time. A couple of steps behind, Christina Manning, Jackie Coward, Jasmin Stowers, Letecia Wright and collegian indoor champion Brianna Rollins, all made the top-50 in the world yearly lists.  Not as good in its standards, the intermediate hurdles were won by a whisker by Miami senior Ti’erra Brown over UCLA sophomore Turquoise Thompson in 55.65. Thus Brown added the school title to the overall she got last year. Amazingly, it was fourth placer Jasmine Chaney from Arizona State, who got to qualify for Daegu, after finishing third in the trials, behind Lashinda Demus and Queen Harrison.      

American Track and Field enthusiasts have reasons to feel optimistic about their future in the 800 metres. We had not seen such exciting a race in the NCAA in many years.  Long distance runners as Rupp, Solinski or Hall awoke the long slept national pride and now milers and half milers feel also ready to challenge the world, including the powerful Kenyans. A whole generation of outstanding athletes is meeting the College amateur tracks in this moment and they would not make us wait for too much before they also come to stardom in the international scene. Andrew Wheating was the first member of this generation in raising the audience eyebrows, when he qualified for the Olympic Games 1500 metres as a 20-year-old Oregon junior and two years later ran the distance in 3:30.90, the same season the Ducks swept the NCAA outdoor metric mile, with Wheating, A.J. Acosta and Matt Centrowitz.  Now in 2011, the latter of the trio has become both collegian and senior champion in two weeks, beating with an impressive final kick Northern Iowa’s Dorian Ulrey in the NCAA final and the likes of Lagat, Manzano, Wheating, Lomong and also Ulrey, in the national trials, qualifying for Daegu.  A pity German Fernandez, the young man who had raised so many expectations in high school and his freshman University season, seems lost this year.  
            The 800 metres are also in a high in the United States.  No less than ten men have achieved the Daegu A standard (1:45.40), which is one more than Kenya, among them six collegians. No wonder the NCAA final in the event was the must awaited race of the whole championships and it fully lived up to the expectations, becoming arguably the best race in the championships.  http://moti-athletics-800-m.blogspot.com/2011/08/four-races-to-remember.html  Everybody was in: First US world junior medallists in the event in the history of the championships, Casimir Loxsom (Penn State) and Robby Andrews (Virginia), NACAC champion Charles Jock (Irvine), former US junior champion Elijah Greer (Oregon), collegiate leader and Pacific 10 winner Cory Primm (UCLA), the only senior in the final, and Big West Champion Ryan Martin (Santa Barbara California).
Two charismatic men were the standouts of the race. Jock (13) (14) and Andrews (15) (16) have the talent and they also have a strong confidence in their possibilities. The UC Irvine junior believes he can destroy the pack with a killer front running and the Virginia sophomore knows he can sit in the back of the pack and trust his devastating kick. Jock pushed further than he had done before, clocking a 49.85 split at the bell, though everybody was still in contention. At the 600 metres, with the East African-born keeping on, Andrews was last, more than one second behind. The race seemed lost for him but he still unleashed a powerful final change of speed, starting to overcome rivals and eventually catching Jock in the finish line to romp home in 1:44.71, just one hundredth of a second short of mark Everett’s meeting record. Greer and Loxsom followed. All four of them set big PBs. It was the second NCAA victory for Andrews, after the one he had achieved in his freshman year, beating big favourite Andrew Wheating indoors.  These two big hopes of American track and field, who have already been compared (17), because of their tactics and awesome performances to Johnny Gray (Jock) and Olympic champion Dave Wottle (Andrews) went with the biggest ambitions to the national trials. Jock did not mind he was against a professional field and tried again a gun to tape victory.  Only two men, Olympians Nick Symmonds and Khadevis Robinson could overcome him in the end, so the main target was achieved, with another outstanding PB (1:44.67).  Andrews felt short this time and so did Loxsom and Greer, but future is on their side.   
In the other distance races in Des Moines Matt Hughes, a Canadian competing for Louisville University, won his second NCAA title in the 3000 meter steeplechase, booking also his ticket for Daegu. In the 5000 and 10.000 outings, once men like Galen Rupp or Chris Solinski graduated, there is not another US runner standout in the horizon. The Kenyan based in the country Samuel Chelanga (Liberty), Leonard Korir (Iona), Stephen Sambu and Lawi Lalang (both from Arizona) battled for the medals.  Korir won the 10.000 metres, while Chelanga did it in the 5000, in his last year in University. It was his second NCAA victory, after the one he achieved last year at the longer distance.   

Jordan Hasay and Sheila Reid after their clash at the 2011 NCAA indoor mile
Photo: Dave Einsel/ NCAA.com
There is not quite the same excitement in the female 800 metres. Past champions Geena Gall, Latavia Thomas, Phoebe Wright, all have joined the professional fields. Anne Kesselring, an Oregon sophomore coming from Germany was the NCAA outdoor winner this year.  At the 3000 meter steeplechase, standards have also lowered dramatically since Jenny Barringer-Simpson and Anna Willard-Pierce graduated and then abandoned the distance, to try other events like the 1500 metres.  From Barringer’s home during her school years, the University of Colorado, comes Emma Coburn, the best American steeplechaser of the moment.  In her junior year Emma has won the NCAA championship and also the national trials for Daegu, where Stephania Garcia from Virginia and last year collegian champion Bridget Franek qualified as well. Coburn has lowered her PB to 9:37 and there is a lot of room to improve, but the general feeling is American steeplechasers have lost the train of the event elite, as it was evident in recent Diamond League meetings.  In longer distances are missed too the current professional athletes Lisa Koll, Angela Bizarri or Sally Kipyego.  The latter has qualified for Daegu for the 10.000 metres at last national trials in Nairobi, where Kenyan television made laugh American athletic fans, when they treated Sally Kipyego as “a little known long distance runner”.  Juliet Bottorff from Duke was the NCAA champion this year at the distance.
The most interesting news right now in American female distance running are about teen prodigy Jordan Hasay (18) (19) (20) recruitment by Oregon University, her first steps on the NCAA track and her duels against Canadian Sheila Reid (21) (22) (23) from Villanova. Hasay, born in Arroyo Grande in 1991, was 1500 metres World Youth runner-up in 2007 and then missed narrowly the medals in two straight World Junior championships.  Yet, what is probably more remembered about her precocious athletic career is the way she qualified for the 1500 metres Beijing Olympic trials final in Eugene setting a new high school national record, when she was just 16 year old (and she looked still younger).  The spectators cheered on her with great enthusiasm, saying that famous “come to Oregon”.  So here she is.  
Just on the other side of the United States and one year before, Sheila Reid had finally got to be admitted for an American college, after months of trying.  She chose Villanova and Coach Gina Procaccio, because another famous Canadian athlete, Carmen Douma had been there. Villanova University has a long and impressive history, as the cradle of quite a respectable number of Olympic champions in Athletics.  However, during the last decade they had known a huge crisis of results. Sheila Reid became the leader of a young team craving to bring back the College to the place it used to be and their first victory came late in 2009, at the National Cross Country. Villanova was ready to defend in Indiana but there was another ambitious young runner in another prestigious team, coached by famous Vin Lananna, who also liked running on both athletic tracks and Cross Country fields.  Jordan Hasay launched her attack and went alone with 500 metres to go but Sheila Reid and Georgetown’s Emily Infeld caught her back in the last metres. Reid won the race and led again her squad to victory, while Jordan Hasay finished in a disappointing for her third place.  They clashed again at last winter NCAA indoor championships at the distance medley relay, where they ran the anchor 1600 meter leg.  Reid won for the second time, nipping Hasay at the line. Jordan reacted the day afterwards, winning impressively her first national title at the mile, after a flawless tactic display of the Ducks, who finished first, third and fourth and thus sealed the overall victory for their College. Hasay had qualified for the 3000 metres but did not need to race again.  Yet she had to talk a word or two to her friend Sheila Reid. New-Kim-Smith Lucy Van Dalen eliminated everybody, except Oregon and Villanova leaders.  Reid kicked at the bell but immediately Hasay kicked back and hold her rivals in the homestretch.  It was almost a draw. (24)
There were high expectations to see the two middle distance stars facing each other again for the NCAA outdoor championships in Des Moines.  Hasay won the 1500 and 5000 metres at the Pacific 10 and so did Reid at the Big East. Both would try the double.  Unfortunately, there was no match, because Hasay, who had tried valiantly to break away in the last laps, faded badly in both races, finishing fourth in the 5000 and eight in the 1500. In the post race interviews she did not know she had raced too much or not had peaked properly.  Anyway, next year she has decided she will not do again all three Cross Country, indoor track and outdoor track, in order to be in the best possible form in the time of the Olympic trials.  Hasay blamed herself for her failure, which cost the team the title. However it is fair to say Oregon won the indoor contest just three months before just because of Jordan’s stunning performance; and there were other negative results, which played against the Ducks as English Gardner's seventh place in the 100 metres and the 4x100 relay not making the final.  Also Jeff Demps was made responsible in the NCAA indoor champions Florida Gators defeat, but even the same Christian Taylor, who won brilliantly in the triple jump event, only finished 10th in the long jump.
Sheila Reid, only pushed by Emily Infeld and New Zealander Lucy Van Dalen, achieved an extraordinary unprecedented double at the 1500 and 5000 metres, becoming the first woman in NCAA history in doing so. She also won the national 1500 m title, ahead of Hillary Stellingwerff and Malindi Elmore, the best milers in the country.

Julie Labonté, shot put sensation of Arizona Bobcats
A remarkable number of five Canadian won at the NCAA championships this year: Sheila Reid and Matt Hughes in Des Moines; and Brianne Theisen in the pentathlon and Derek Drouin in the high jump event, in College Station. Shot putter Julie Labonté was the one winning both championships indoor and out.        
Julie Labonté (25) (26) (27) was the most outstanding thrower of the winter in the NCAA and has been even better during the spring. A French speaker from Sainte-Justine in Quebec, daughter of a former decathlete, she broke a 45 year-old shot put high school record and had some success in her teens. Then she decided to move to a US University in order to improve on her technique and find some challengers to push her further. Julie could not choose better. She had some problems in the beginning to explain herself in English but, in Arizona she found a much better weather than in the place she came from and a reputed coach, Craig Carter, who has been  the main responsible of the career of one of the best shot putter in the country and former Wildcat, Jill Camarena-Williams.  Carter thinks Labonté has the potential to become one of the best in the world: she is someone who holds well the pressure and has a lot of room to improve in her strength, because for the moment she bench press quite less than most of her teammates.   
Julie Labonté started her sophomore season with a 16.83 overall PB.  She improved during the winter until 17.60, and then in the spring broke for the first time the 18 metres barrier at the Pacific 10 final in Tucson, where the Wildcats swept the places in the podium. Finally, she set her, as for now, 18.31 PB at the NCAA outdoor championship: One metre and a half of improvement in just one year. Not bad!  She totalised five national records, three indoors and two out. Julie participated and won the national championships, thus earning the right of a place for Daegu World Championships.  Other NCAA shot putters had also a nice season: Tia Brooks from Oklahoma also reached 18.00 and Ifeatu Okafor and Annie Alexander from Trinidad and Tobago went further than 17.60
Not much happened in other throwing events, in a quite weak year in the sector.  In the hammer, Croatian Dorotea Habazin of Virginia Tech got the better of Daegu-bound Jeneva McCall of Southern Illinois.  The only throw over 70 metres of the season was made by Gwen Berry (also of Southern Illinois), but she did not score any valid attempt during the NCAA championships. Trecey Rew from Northwestern State upset favourite Anna Jelmini in the discus and Brittany Borman of Oklahoma won the javelin.
Among the men, Ryan Whiting, who was close to the 22 metres in the last edition of the NCAA outdoor championships has turned professional.  Without him, the title was won this year more than two metres below by Jordan Clarke of Arizona State. Illinois State’s sophomore Tim Glover obtained an interesting PB of 80.33 to win the collegian javelin title, while Australian World junior medallist Jim Wruck of Texas Tech University stroke gold in the discus. Finally, German Alexander Ziegler upset in the hammer event his teammate in Virginia Tech, Marcel Lomnicky of Slovakia, who had sent the implement beyond 75 metres during the season.
Like Whiting in the shot put, much was missed Ashton Eaton in the combined events. Michael Morrison of California-Berkeley won over Curtis Beach the NCAA outdoors in a competition where six men tallied more than 7900 points and Miller Moss of Clemson won the championship indoors.  Ryann Krais, a Kansas State junior, was close to 6000 points to win the female heptathlon in Des Moines, besides earning a bronze medal at the 400 meter hurdles event. Canadian Brianne Theisen of Oregon, who had finished 15th at Berlin world Championships, won in College Station but she did not compete outdoors, during the spring.  The combined events standards are also going down. The United States have four awesome specialists: Bryan Clay, Trey Hardee, Ashton Eaton and Hyleas Fountain, but no one else has been able of making the A Daegu standard in two years in the country and the US will not have a full team in Korea. Even Clay and Fountain were selected, despite not completing the trials, because no other athlete was ready to go.

Will Claye will be representing USA at both long and triple jump in Daegu

Much better are things in the jumping events.  The biggest improvement is in the male horizontal jumps that were in big crisis in the past years.  In the country, only Dwight Phillips and Walter Davis seemed to be reliable enough for a major competition.  Now things are up for a change. At the NCAA outdoor championships, five men landed beyond 8.15 metres in an excellent long jump competition which topped Ngoni Makusha with 8.40.  Although the winner and runner-up (Jamaican Damar Forbes) are not eligible for the USA, the three followers (Will Claye, Marquise Goodwin and Bryce Lamb) are, and two of them have earned a spot for Daegu, despite their young age and inexperience.  University of Texas’ Marquise Goodwin flied in the national trials to a slightly wind-aided 8.33 and Will Claye was so good he qualified in both horizontal jumps. Goodwin has seen his potential and has decided to redshirt his football career to concentrate full and exclusively in doing well at the Worlds and try to go to the Olympics.  Notwithstanding all the talk right now is about Will Claye and his Teammate in Florida Christian Taylor.

Christian Taylor, the 2011 NCAA triple jump champion

     Taylor and Claye (28) (29) (30) (31) were two promising jumpers and rivals, who started University in 2009, the former in the Gators, the latter in Oklahoma. Taylor had won a gold medal in 2007 at the World Youth champs but by 2009 Claye had reached him.  The Oklahoma freshman achieved a noteworthy Area Junior record in the triple jump (17.19) and won the gold medal at the Pan American Championship junior. In their most important clashes of the year they got a draw so Taylor won the NCAA indoor and Claye outdoors. 2010 was an unfortunate season for the Oklahoma hope. He had to sit out injured and meanwhile the Gator collected two other all-University titles. Nevertheless, the great idea was, once Will Claye was recovered, to put them together. Claye made the trip to Florida and from then on the two up-and-coming athletes started to push each other, inside of what has been called the most intense and dynamic group of jumpers in school history, trained by arguably the best coach of the country in the sector ever, Dick Booth, who has won 49 NCAA titles in his long teaching career. A spontaneous and rather special atmosphere is always to be found when the Florida Gator's are practising their speciality .Claye and Taylor say they are just up for fun and seem to jump in their own bubble as forgetting there are other athletes in the competitions, going further and further towards the end of the pit. No wonder, Taylor states he chose triple jump because it is the closest thing to flying he can do.  In College Station, the jumpers scored 30 of the 52 points, which gave the Gators the NCAA team title. Claye led three Florida jumpers in the top-5 and besides finished runner-up in the long jump. However this was just a prelude of their huge breakthrough at the outdoors championship, which may be labelled as one of the most explosive duels in years in a triple jump competition.  Two teammates without any fear or inhibition, enjoying jumping and breaking their own limits in every triple fly towards the pit. Eventually, after succesive alternatives, Taylor led Claye 17.80 to 17.62, both wind-aided but they also achieved valid jumps and respective PBs of 17.40 and 17.35.  Christian and Will had proved in Des Moines they were already the best jumpers in the country and no wonder they also finished 1-2 at the national trials for Daegu, where they are going to make another big impression.  If someone still was ignorant about their chances, Christian beat the international elite at the London Diamond League meeting, establishing his provisional limits at 17.68 metres
The male vertical jumps have not been so emotive but NCAA new champion Eric Kynard, a Kansas State sophomore, has jumped 2.33 indoors and 2.31 outdoors and, most important of all, has qualified for Daegu, and Mississippi sophomore Ricky Robertson has been near.  In the winter, Canadian Derek Drouin, had won the NCAA title, with a fabulous 2.33 national record jump.  Yet, she did not compete outdoors.  In the pole vault event, collegiate champion Scott Roth from Washington University and Jack Whitt are quickly closing the gap with the best specialists in the country.  
The standards in horizontal jumps among the women are not really comparable to their counterparts. Since Brittney Reese graduated, no jumper of note is in the College fields. This year, Southern Mississippi junior Tori Bowie has won the NCAA championships, both indoors and out, but her PB stands at an average 6.64. On the other hand, triple jump lacks a tradition among female American athletes. Foreign students usually sweep the medals at the most important College outings. This time around, Jamaican Kimberly Williams has won the last two NCAA championships indoors and Clemson student Patricia Mamona the last two outdoors.  Watch out in the future for this extraordinary triple jumper, who recently improved her PB to a huge 14.40 at the national Portuguese championships.  http://moti-athletics-tj-w.blogspot.com/2011/08/some-rivals-for-yargelis-savigne.html 

Brigetta Barrett, a high jump artist for Arizona Bobcats
   Among the jumping events, pole vault has the most thrilling female field.  Kylie Hutson, who won four straight NCAA titles, has become a successful professional, winning the last national trials, ahead of Jenn Suhr. Arkansas junior Tina Sutej, has taken the relay as the dominant force in the event.  She won 13 consecutive finals, improved the collegiate record and grabbed the NCAA indoor championship.  http://moti-athletics-pv-w.blogspot.com/2011/03/any-alternative-to-isinbayeva.html Unfortunately, her first defeat of the year came in the most important competition of all, the collegian outdoors, where, under the rain, Duck Melissa Gergel got the better of the Slovenian vaulter, in her last chance of winning a title as a student. Gergel performed well also in the national trials, where she finished fourth. Another athlete to follow is Greek Ekaterini Stefanidi, based in Stanford, who won a gold medal at the 2005 World Youths, among other prizes in age competitions.  
            In the high jump, after Amy Acuff retired, Destinee Hooker moved to volleyball and Chaunté Lowe took a rest from athletics to bear her second child, Brigetta Barrett (32) (33) (34) seems to have been left alone as the only consistent US jumper.  She started her sophomore 2011 year with a modest 1.91 PB but has been improving steadily, striking successively NCAA indoors, NCAA outdoors and national trials, where she did her best jump to date: 1.95.  Brigetta was raised in the New York Bronx but because of family issues moved to Dallas for a change, to the house of an older cousin. She enjoyed her school and new life and was moved for Art and for Athletics too. In 2010 she was recruited by the Arizona Wildcats, who had then the NCAA champion, Liz Patterson, who is still Barrett workouts’ mate. She studies Theatre Arts and likes singing, dancing or writing poetry (often in the same athletic track), and dreams to become a famous entertainer.  http://moti-athletics-hj-w.blogspot.com/2011/04/high-jumping-new-faces.html  She believes Athletics or whatever job she does has to be fun and this is the way of doing your best in it; and also never become an obsession: a person must have a variety of passions in life, not depend for your happiness on only one thing.