Jamaica’s newest sprint star Michael O’Hara is hoping to join Great Britain’s Harry Aikines-Aryeetey as the only boy to win the sprint double at the IAAF World Youth Championships when the eighth staging of the event gets underway in Donetsk.
O’Hara thrust himself into the global spotlight just over two weeks ago when he ran then world youth-leading times in both the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican National Junior Championships in Kingston.
After winning three individual gold medals at the National High Schools Championships in March, O’Hara put in a brilliant display running personal bests of 10.39 in the 100m and 20.75 in the 200m.
Aikines-Aryeetey is the only boy to win the World Youth sprint double, eight years ago in Marrakesh, while his fellow Briton Jodie Williams is the only girl to have achieved the feat, winning in Bressanone in 2009.
Jamaica’s Odail Todd came close to doing the double two years ago in Lille. He won the 100m in 10.51, then took silver in the 200m.
O’Hara and his Jamaican team-mates left for Ukraine on July 1 and will attend a one-week training camp as they seek to acclimatize to the conditions.
Jamaican athletes won nine medals at the most recent staging in Lille, France – four gold, one silver and four bronze medals – and the hopes to at least match that haul are high.
Barriers dropped in favour of the flat
O’Hara is also a talented hurdler and is currently ranked second in the world among youth boys in the 110m Hurdles. He even went as far as saying it was his favourite event, but he gave it up to concentrate on the sprints.
He hopes to run faster in Ukraine than he did in Kingston and according to his schedule he is right on target.
Since his last competition, O’Hara has been passed as the top youth 100m sprinter in the world as Kristoffer Hari of Denmark ran 10.37, but the 15-year-old is not competing in Donetsk.
Meanwhile, Cuba’s Reynier Mena is tied with O’Hara at the top of the 200m rankings.
O’Hara hopes to become the third Jamaican boy to win the World youth 100m title after Dexter Lee in 2007 and Odail Todd in 2009 and the third Jamaican to win the 200m since Usain Bolt in 2003 and Ramone McKenzie in 2007.
But the quiet O’Hara admitted he was surprised he ran as fast as he did at the Trials. “The timing was very surprising for me,” he said. “In the 200m I was expecting to run 21.00 but the field was very competitive and I had to dig in and pull through.”
On a cool Sunday afternoon after a quick but heavy shower of rain driven by fierce winds forced a near hour-long break, the long legged O’Hara dominated a strong field in almost still conditions of 0.1m/s wind to win going away from the field. He appears capable of going even faster should he get better competition.
“The plan was to power the first 30m and to maintain through the straight,” he said. “I expect to run faster but that will come from training.”
A day earlier he lowered his 100m time by .10 from 10.49 and he looks set to join Lee and Todd on top of the podium on the second day of the championships.
Except for a bout of the chicken pox that prevented him from competing at the CARIFTA Games in the Bahamas, O’Hara has had an outstanding season.
He was a triple individual gold medallist at the ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys Championships in March winning the 100m (10.56), 200m (20.65, wind assisted) and the 110m Hurdles (13.45), amassing 27 points to win the overall boys’ title.
He also won the sprint double at the CARIFTA Trials a week before the high school championships but was unable to compete at the annual regional championships.
A medal or two in Donetsk would be a dream end to a fantastic season.
Paul Reid for the IAAF