28 March) the cozy Dwight Yorke Stadium will be home to the XXXII CARIFTA Junior Track & Field Championships. This is the first time the Caribbean’s junior athletics showcase will be held on Tobago, the smaller of the two islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad & Tobago.
The facility needed a lot of work at very short notice (more on that later). Support from the Government of Trinidad & Tobago made all the difference, with a new track put in place by Mondo, and installations erected for the field events. A relatively small venue, the Dwight Yorke Stadium is well laid out and picturesque, entirely in keeping with Tobago’s tourist focus.
Jamaica in pole position
The host nation should do well at the Games, but it will virtually take a miracle to unseat defending champions Jamaica. Last year, Jamaica grabbed a record 79 medals - 37 gold, 23 silver, 19 bronze. This year’s 70-member squad (three more athletes than travelled to Bermuda in 2004) is balanced, strong and raring to at least equal that record.
Among the 20 women in the under-20 division are 2004 World Junior Championships silver medallists Anneisha McLaughlin (200m) and Sonita Sutherland (400m). 400m runner Sherene Pinnock will also take on the Hurdles, and 2004 under-17 double CARIFTA champion Schillonie Calvert will make her under-20 debut.
Who will replace Bolt?
World Junior Championship bronze medallist Renaldo Rose will contest just the under-20 men’s 100m. 2004 CARIFTA silver medallist Davian Parker returns to the 800m run, whilst Andre Drummond will defend his 1500m title.
Notably missing from the Jamaican team is World junior 200m record holder Usain Bolt. The reigning 200m champion is being kept out of junior events by his management team.
Bolt’s decision opens the half-lap event to Antigua-Barbuda’s Daniel Bailey. For a brief time in 2004, Bailey was the fastest boy in the world, running 10.19 in Grosseto, Italy at the World Juniors. He hopes to hold Rose off for the 100m crown, and should be gunning for the sprint double.
Also in contention will be Trinidad & Tobago’s Marcus Duncan, who just completed his first indoor season at Missouri Baptist University. He’ll hope to challenge for top honours in Tobago. The wild card could be St Lucia’s Mandela Clifford, with times of 10.2 and 20.8 so far this year. He’ll be eager to test himself against the region’s best.
Stiff field events competition
Another St Lucian, Darvin Edwards, comes into the U-20 men's High Jump as defending champion. Darvin reset the St Lucia national junior record at 2.15m a little over a week before the Games. Bermuda's Deon Brangman has cleared 2.05m this year, a personal-best mark. Sheldon King of the Bahamas posted 2.06m twice this year.
Trinidad & Tobago’s Annie Alexander has to enter the Easter weekend as the prohibitive favourite for the women’s Shot Put title, despite having failed to medal in 2004. She threw over 15m four times last year. St Lucia’s Tressa Anne Charles took silver in Bermuda, but her personal best is 14.90m, a national record. Bermuda’s Brittney Marshall has a slim chance to medal.
Also down to challenge in the Shot Put and Discus Throw is Keisha Walkes. One of 36 athletes picked by the Barbados national federation, Keisha is a sophomore at Southwest Missouri State University. She is the reigning Central American and Caribbean Junior champion, but she will face stiff competition for gold this weekend.
The home team will include five athletes based outside of the twin island republic, among their full team of 70. Louisiana State University freshman Kelly-Ann Baptiste will aim for double glory in the U20 women’s 100m and 200m races.
University of South Carolina freshman and World Junior 200m bronze medallist Jamil James is likely to attempt a 200-400 double. Florida International University sprinter Jurlene Francis and University of Florida 200m Abigail David are the other foreign-based T&T athletes on the CARIFTA team.
Grenada continues Ivan recovery
Despite hosting the Games, the National Amateur Athletics Association of Trinidad & Tobago will be spending plenty of money on airfare. The NAAA pledged assistance to the Grenada CARIFTA team after that island was hit by Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, rendering the National Stadium unfit for competition, forcing the shift to Tobago.
A total of 30 athletes will travel south from the Spice Isle. 2004 U20 5000m bronze medallist Neilon Joseph will hope to capitalize on the absence of former junior distance king Cleveland Forde of Guyana. Combined events athletes Joel Phillip (silver) and Akido Noel (bronze) will attempt to improve on their 2004 Heptathlon results.
Though there’s little chance that the small team will pick up a medal, the tiny island of Montserrat returns to the CARIFTA Games this year. Itself lashed by natural disaster – the eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano a decade ago left half the island covered by ash and lava – this British overseas department will be represented in the U20 men’s sprints by Ronelle Piper and the returning Michael Henry.
Terry Finisterre for the IAAF