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CAC Championships - PREVIEW

The XX Central American and Caribbean Senior Championships get underway Friday (8 July) at the Thomas Robinson National Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas. Close to 700 athletes from some 30 nations are down to compete on a holiday weekend in Bahamas, the multi-island nation marking its 32nd anniversary of independence from Great Britain.

Title sponsorship for the meet has gone to ColinaImperial, the Bahamas’ newest and largest insurance firm. The impressive array of sponsors also includes American Airlines, FirstCaribbean International Bank and Mondo. And with a host of high-profile athletes down to appear, selling the 43,000 available tickets ought to be a snap.

Bumper meet expected

Fans are in for a treat. Regional powers Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago named their teams 10 days ago, after their respective national championships. This week, another of the region’s major athletics nations, Cuba, announced it would send over 60 athletes. St Vincent & the Grenadines has been hit by travel problems, whilst Panama and Surinam have withdrawn from the competition.

An act of philanthropy from the Bahamas 2005 organising committee has seen the addition of two nations to this weekend’s meet. Three athletes from Montserrat, and one from Belize, will have their airfare and accommodation expenses paid by the local federation. Both territories had indicated that they were willing to send teams, but unable to so do.

Montserrat's economy has been severely compromised by volcanic eruptions from the Soufriere Hills volcano which sprang to life in 1995 and had its latest eruption in 2003. Virtually half of Montserrat is uninhabitable, and the tiny island’s athletics programme comprises a handful of youngsters, training principally for the sprints.

Some 590 athletes had been anticipated for Nassau, but CAC organising committee chairman Dr Bernard Nottage says that that number has been exceeded by 100. With the Games Village at the Nassau Beach Hotel filled to capacity, the OC has been sent scrambling this week to find additional accommodation for the extra competitors.

Sturrup set to shine

Few athletes will be as zealously monitored as Chandra Sturrup. The 33-year-old ran 10.84 seconds for 100m in Lausanne earlier this week, the fastest time by a woman from the CAC region this year. It was national record run for Sturrup as well, beating Lauryn Williams, Christine Arron and Jamaica’s Sherone Simpson.

This weekend, in front of her home crowd, Sturrup will have neither Simpson nor fellow Jamaican Veronica Campbell to deal with. Instead, she must hold off the challenge of two other Jamaicans, Beverly McDonald and Tayna Lawrence. Cayman Islands’ Cydonie Mothersill-Modibo and defending champion Fana Ashby (TRI) should figure as well.

The men’s 100m could be an all-Trinidad & Tobago affair, with Marc Burns and Darrel Brown two of just three from the region to have run (legally) under 10 seconds this year. Burns and Brown were 1-2 at national championships two weekends ago, with personal best marks of 9.96 and 9.99. They must be considered joint favourites.

Chasing the boys from the Land of the Hummingbird is a duo from St Kitts-Nevis, Delwayne Delaney and Kurvin Wallace; Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles; Lerone Clarke of Jamaica; and former junior star Daniel ‘Bakka’ Bailey from Antigua-Barbuda. Even without Kim Collins and Asafa Powell, this should be a great race.

Bolt leads Jamaica medal hunt

The biggest name on the Jamaica team, teenager Usain Bolt will not be in action on the opening day, but fans will be looking forward to seeing him this weekend. The region’s top-ranked half lap specialist, Bolt should have no problems holding off the likes of Martina, Burns and Dominic Demeritte of the Bahamas.

With the opening rounds of the 400m on Friday, the Jamaicans will have to deal with area event leader Alleyne Francique of Grenada. After two poor races in Paris and Lausanne, the World Indoor Champion will seek to approach the 44.60 form that earned him victory in Monterrey last month, just after he turned 29.

Jamaica’s national quarter-mile champion Lansford Spence and Brandon Simpson will be hoping to capitalize on Francique’s poor form – both went under 45 seconds at national championships. The Bahamians will hope for good runs from Christopher Brown and Andrae Williams, and TNT will look for Ato Modibo and Damion Barry to do well.

Olympic homecoming

Tonique Williams-Darling and Christine Amertil will be a tough act to separate for the rest of the women’s 400m field. Williams-Darling is fresh off her season-best 49.69 Golden League run. The Olympic champion and Bahamas national record holder was just ahead of her compatriot in Paris. The two were second and third Tuesday in Lausanne.

The likeliest challenger to the hometown Golden Girls will be 21-year-old Tiandra Ponteen, representing St Kitts-Nevis again after a collegiate season that included her first sub-50 second run, an NCAA silver medal and a national record. Missing will be another young Eastern Caribbean talent, 19-year-old Kineke Alexander of St Vincent & the Grenadines.

Sherridan Kirk (TRI) is the defending champion in the men’s 800m run. Having just completed a national record and CAC-leading run of 1:45.43 at national championships, he is favoured to repeat. Cuba’s Geymán López and Maury Castillo could run the Trinidadian close, however, as could Brown of the Bahamas, if he opts for the longer distance.

Cuba chose to leave Zulia Inés Calatayud out of their team, and Jamaica left out Kenia Sinclair. So the women's two-lap race is a wide open affair, with Guyana's Marian Burnett, Grenada's Neisha Bernard-Thomas, Jamaica's Anetia Denton and Trinidad & Tobago's Melissa De Leon all in with a shout.

Running the barriers

Unsurprisingly, the Jamaicans are expected to make an impact in the 400m Hurdles, the finals of which event will be contested on the opening day. But with four of the region’s top 10 sure to play a part, Dean Griffiths and Leroy Colquhoun will not have it all their way. Cubans Sergio Hierrezuelo and Yacnier Luis will see to that.

Also on the opening day will be the women’s quarter-mile hurdles, with another pair of Jamaicans, the CAC-leading duo of Shevon Stoddart and Debbie-Ann Parris-Thymes leading the charge. If Barbados’ Andrea Blackett is involved, of course, it will make for a more interesting race, but the Jamaicans are battling for first and second.

Cubans favoured in field events

It would be next to impossible for anyone but a Cuban to win the women’s Discus Throw. Athletes from the northern Caribbean nation, which neighbours the Bahamas, own the top six spots in the CAC rankings. Chafree Bain will seek to impress her home crowd.

Keisha Walkes (BAR) and Annie Alexander (TRI) will try to improve their national junior records ahead of the Pan-American Junior Championships later this month.

Reports out of Cuba indicate that Lois Mikael Martinez recently achieved a mark of 67.45m in men’s Discus Throw. That would push him past countryman Yennifer Frank Casañas (65.32m) and make Martinez prohibitive favourite for gold on Friday.

In the jumps, though the Cubans have a strong team, native son Leevan Sands could give the Bahamas reason for cheer on Friday night, along with fellow countryman Osbourne Moxey. Both have achieved at least eight metres.

The ColinaImperial CAC Championships open Friday evening with a huge opening ceremony that will include the return home of the Bahamen (Who Let The Dogs Out) alongside Caribbean entertainers Alison Hinds of Barbados, Jamaican dancehall star Terrorfabulous and Haitian band L'orchestre Septentrional. A Mexican mariachi band and a Cuban group will add to the festivities. Prime Minister Perry Christie, the Bahamas’ first international field events medal with a Triple Jump bronze in the 1962 CAC Games, will declare the championships officially open.

Terry Finisterre for the IAAF

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