Usain Bolt aside, the ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys and Girls Championships in Kingston is the biggest deal in athletics in Jamaica.
Affectionately known as ‘Champs’, over the years the event has proved to be a breeding ground for the country’s future stars. This year’s event, held from 24-28 March and with Bolt looking on from the stands, was no different.
And while some of the athletes on show in the Jamaican capital this week may go on to represent their country at the Olympics, a more immediate and realistic goal for many of them is this year’s IAAF World Youth Championships, Cali 2015.
Although too old to compete in Cali, Michael O’Hara was one of the stand-out performers at Champs, winning four gold medals.
First up for the world youth 200m champion and world junior bronze medallist was the 100m. Like many of the events at this year’s Champs, the final was run into a stiff headwind, but that didn’t get in the way of O’Hara winning. The 18-year-old clocked 10.42 (-2.6m/s) to win relatively comfortably.
His biggest test, though, came on the last day with two finals to contest. The first of those, the 110m hurdles, was made tougher by the fact he was up against world youth champion Jaheel Hyde.
The pair were neck-and-neck, but O’Hara had the edge, winning in a PB of 13.49 to Hyde’s 13.52, both battling a -3.8m/s headwind. Two golds down, one to go.
Competing in his favoured event, the 200m, O’Hara was a class apart, winning by almost half a second in 20.59, despite another headwind (-1.8m/s).
Conditions had got in the way of O’Hara challenging the meeting records in his individual events, but buoyed by his Calabar team-mates in the 4x100m, he added a fourth gold medal to his collection, winning with a meeting record of 39.08.
National junior records tumble
One of the biggest talking points of the weekend was Akeem Bloomfield’s breakthrough.
The 17-year-old had recorded a big 400m PB of 45.41 earlier this month, but he went significantly quicker than that to win the one-lap final in the boys’ 16-19 class.
He went out hard and had built up a significant lead at half way. Nathon Allen then desperately tried to hang on to him in the second half, but Bloomfield hung on for victory. His winning time of 44.93 smashed the Jamaican junior record of 45.21 set by Davian Clarke 20 years ago.
In second, Allen was dragged round to a PB of 46.30 as both athletes finished more than a second ahead of the rest of the field.
Bloomfield had stated beforehand that he was dedicating his performance to his friend and training partner Joel Fortis, who was recently killed by a stray bullet while doing his homework. “His dream of being a sprinter has not died,” said Bloomfield. “But instead it has been transformed and will live on.”
Despite a narrow loss in the 110m hurdles, world junior 400m hurdles champion Hyde came away with gold in the longer event over the barriers.
Not just that, but he broke his own national junior record in the process, clocking 49.01 to win by more than two seconds.
Taylor does the double
Christopher Taylor, who earlier this month broke Kirani James’ world age-15 best over 400m with 45.69, lived up to expectation in the boys’ 14-15 class.
With both the 400m and 200m finals being scheduled within a couple of hours of each other, Saturday wasn’t a day for chasing records – especially in such blustery conditions. The victory was more important.
Taylor won the 400m in 47.04, and then was back on track moments later to win the 200m in 21.04, having set a PB of 20.97 in the heats.
Like Taylor, Shellece Clarke looks destined to compete at the World Youth Championships in July this year. The 16-year-old did the sprint double in the girls’ 15-16 class, fighting strong headwinds in both finals.
She clocked 11.81 (-2.1m/s) to win the 100m, then followed it up with a 24.12 (-2.4m/s) victory in the 200m, having sped to a 24.01 performance in the semi-finals.
More young talents were on display in the girls’ 400m final in the 13-14 class. 15-year-old Anna-Kay Allen won in 53.46 from 14-year-old Sanique Walker (53.59), both registering lifetime bests.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF