The works of Stephen Francis, head coach of the super productive, MVP Club, has gone beyond turning out a World record holder in Asafa Powell.
Francis, now one of the world’s most famous has turned a half miler into a World Junior champion.
Kaliese Marie Spencer, still in her first year of hurdling has become Francis’ latest star.
The 19-year-old female, who a year ago finished sixth at Jamaica’s High School Championships in the 800m (2:14.79) and 400 (56.53) for Under-19 girls, has risen up the ranks since her first 400m Hurdles event at Hurdles Fest in Kingston, less than seven months ago.
First experience at 400m Hurdles
At the 2005 High School Championships, she won the 800m for Under-17 girls in 2:12.23 seconds.
Spencer spoke of her first encounter with the obstacle. “When I went to UTech, I did not know my event. I taught I would be doing to 400m and 800m, because the latter was my pet event, however, coach Francis said he wanted me to do the 400m Hurdles. He thought that I have the potential,” said Spencer.
She noted it was wayward at the start. “I was if and butting if I was suppose to do it, because I was nothing … eventually I did it.”
“I remembered the first day I went out to do some drills, it was a bit hard for me. I had to get the rhythm and technique, but it just became better and better each day I went out to training,” explained the girl from a parish in Western Jamaica, Westmoreland.
In early April, she first signalled her intention of great things by running 57.0 to beat World Junior bronze medallist from Grosseto, Sherene Pinnock, at the Junior Carifta Games Trials in Kingston.
At Penn Relays in March, she finished second in the 400m Hurdles for College students in 55.64 seconds, but it was on June 11, she achieved her first landmark, at the Gateshead Super Grand Prix, by establishing a new national junior record of 55.61, beating the previous mark of 55.62 held by many time WJC medallist, Melaine Walker.
In what must rank as the major moment of her junior career, Spencer copped Jamaica’s first gold medal on Thursday’s third day of the 11th IAAF World Junior Track & Field Championships at the Chaoyang Sport Centre in the Chinese capital.
On the to Athens World Cup
The six footer secured the gold and Jamaica's first win in this event at any World Junior Championships with another national junior record of 55.11 seconds in what must be, now, her pet event.
In beating, into second place, the USA girl, Nicole Leach (55.55), who had entered the event as the World leader and favourite, the University of Technology (UTech) student erased her Gateshead mark. That made her the year’s world junior leader.
The former Mannings School student, the same institution attended by World triple jump champion, Trecia-Kaye Smith, studying hotel tourism management, was delighted at the outcome, though the World Junior record of 54.40 continues to elude her.
"I am really happy for the record, but I really wanted to beat the World mark. I am still very, very grateful’’, said the world No. 19 ranked hurdler, who will have another chance to attack the World junior record, once she accepts the invitation to represent the Americas at the IAAF World Cup next month in Athens.
"I just got out and ran my first 200m hard and I came out victorious, so I am just very happy,” continued Spencer.
The new World junior champion, who finished third (56.71) in her first senior race, Jamaica Invitational won by Lashinda Demus (54.20), admitted she fared Leach going into the final, but said; "I just went out there, kept confident and did my best."
Olympic champion's support in Beijing
She gave credit to Stephen Francis’ younger brother, Paul, who is a part of her club’s management structure and who travelled with her to the Championships as well as Atlanta Olympic gold medallist, Deon Hemmings-McCatty, who is in Beijing, as press liaison for the Jamaica team.
"He (Paul Francis) spoke to me, I listened and I went out there and did what he said," she said of her assistant coach.
“She was very, very good actually,” Spencer said of Hemmmings-McCatty, whose title came in the same event, the first such by a Jamaican female.
“At times I was very nervous … very, very nervous, and she spoke to me and I did listen and went out there and did what she said, coming out victorious in the end,” added Spencer, who took control of the final from as early as the third hurdle.
Though Jamaica boasts a rich heritage in the event, at this level, no one has ever made it to the middle of the medal podium.
Allison Beckford (1998) and National Champion, Melaine Walker (2002) came close with silver medal performances, while Wynsome Cole (1992), Tanya Jarrett (1996), Walker, herself, (2000), Camille Robinson (2002) and Sherene Pinnock (2004 and here in Beijing) pocketed bronze.
Anthony Foster for the IAAF