De’Jour Russell’s memories of the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 are bittersweet.
He recorded a world age-16 best and world-U20-leading time of 13.20 in the semifinals of the 110m hurdles to earn the favourite’s tag ahead of the final, where the young Jamaican was hoping to make it on to the podium.
“I felt pretty good at the time,” he recalls. “I had a lot of confidence going into the final. I think I was over confident, then I got out and hit the first hurdle, something that doesn’t normally happen to me. It threw off the rest of my race. I tried my best to get back but I have another opportunity in 2018.”
Russell finished fourth in the final, just missing out on a medal. Two days later, he anchored Jamaica’s 4x100m team and finished fourth again, this time by less than one hundredth of a second. But, looking back, Russell is grateful for his first global championships, which he believes has made him a better person and competitor.
“It was a really good experience,” he says. “Going on that circuit for the first time gave me a lot of exposure to the athletics world. I was exposed to a higher standard, different languages and culture; it was different from the Boys’ and Girls’ Champs in Jamaica.”
With that experience under his belt, Russell is now keen to compete at the final edition of the IAAF World U18 Championships in Nairobi, Kenya. “My expectations are to win,” he said. “I just need to keep my confidence throughout the rounds. My greatest accomplishment so far was topping the world lists last year, being the fastest U18 and U20 hurdler in the world.”
Russell, who stands at 1.88m (6ft 2in) tall, has worked on one particular element of his race over the winter. “My start, which is the worst part of my race, has improved tremendously,” he says. “I’m a very big person, so coming out of the blocks is really hard for me but I’ve worked hard at it and now you’ll see good starts from me.
“I know how to keep my focus during the race,” he added. “Many people don’t know how to do that and I generally have fast turnovers between the hurdles.”
Russell started his athletics career in kindergarten at Silverstone Basic School, where his physical education teacher, Mr. Brown, spotted him on the anchor leg during a shuttle race mowing through the field from last position to first.
“He told my mom that she had a very talented son and she should let me pursue track and field,” he said. “Things took off from there.”
He also credits his prep school coach Mr Bennett for developing his love for the 100m and current coach Michael Clarke for making him into a champion. His father, mother and grandmother are also key figures in his life. “They always know how to comfort me in times of disappointment,” he says.
Olympic 4x400m silver medallist Javon Francis is a former high school teammate and Russell’s role model. “I like the fact that although Javon no longer attends Calabar High School, he still trains with and motivates us,” says Russell. “I would like to achieve or surpass what he has done internationally.”
He has already achieved two of his key goals for 2017. He won the class-1 title in the 110m hurdles in a championship record of 13.21 at the ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Championships and two weeks later he won the Carifta Games U18 110m hurdles title in Curacao.
Aside from winning major titles, Russell also has one eye on breaking records. The Jamaican U18 record for the 110m hurdles (91cm), Jaheel Hyde’s 12.96, also happens to be the world U18 best. Meanwhile, the national U20 record of 13.06 over the 99cm barriers was set by Tyler Mason when taking the silver medal at the 2014 IAAF World U20 Championships.
“I really think I can challenge our national junior record, although I don’t keep it on my mind because my main focus is winning,” he said. “I’m just going out there to run fast and see what happens.”
Russell has other interests outside of athletics. He plays football as a centre-forward and enjoys listening to soca and dancehall music, especially before races.
All things being well, soon after crossing the finish line in the 110m hurdles final in Nairobi later this summer, Russell hopes to be singing along to the Jamaican national anthem as he stands on top of the podium.
Noel Francis for the IAAF