(BBC Online) The world caught a glimpse of who could be Jamaica’s future Olympic champions last week at the island’s annual high school Boys’ and Girls’ Athletic Championships at the National Stadium.
Some of Jamaica’s most prolific athletes rose to prominence there. The names Herb McKenley, Donald Quarrie, and Merlene Ottey spring to mind.
The high school meet, has in the last 30 of its 90-plus year existence, earned the reputation of being the biggest in the English-speaking Caribbean.
There was added excitement this year following Jamaica’s 11-medal haul at the Beijing Olympics.
All four individual gold medallists, including the 100m and 200 metres world record holder Usain Bolt, got their start at this event.
Two-time 200m winner Veronica Campbell-Brown, 100m gold medallist Shelly Ann Fraser and 400m hurdles winner Melaine Walker are the others who got their first taste of track and field stardom at the Championships.
Jamaica had an influx of international media, sports agents, and representatives from athletics’ world governing body IAAF.
British former two-time world champion and 110m hurdles world record holder Colin Jackson was among the noted athletes who watched the meet from Wednesday to Saturday as part of a delegation from sportswear manufacturers Puma, which also sponsors the country’s athletics association.
Former Olympic 100m champion Donovan Bailey and 2004 Olympics 400m hurdles gold medallist Felix Sanchez have been spotted among the massive crowds at past Championships.
Onlookers were not disappointed. World Youth 200m champion Ramone McKenzie of dethroned champions Calabar and Holmwood’s pair of Dianna Johnson and Chris-Ann Gordon were the star performers on the last day.
McKenzie, 19, secured the 200 and 400m Class One double in 20.66 and 46.88 seconds respectively.
Holmwood’s Johnson, only 13, took the Class Four sprint double by running meet records of 24.62 seconds to add to her 11.90 seconds 100m 11.90.
However, the performance, arguably the best of the meet, saw Gordon, only 14, destroying the Class Three 400m field, which included Carifta Under-17 champion Shericka Jackson of Vere, to win in 52.68.
Gordon, who won the 100m and 200m in Class Four last year, ran away with the 400m and 800m in her first Class Three year. She ran 2:13.45 for victory in the 800m.
Gordon, who returned to clock 51.2 on anchor for Holmwood to break the record in the 4x400m open (3:34.35), ran faster than her seniors – Jodi-Ann Muir, 18, of Wolmer’s (53.45) in Class One and Petra Fanty, 17, of Holmwood, the Class Two winner in 54.24.
However, while all these great performances were unfolding, Kingston College and Calabar were battling out the boys’ title down to the final event, the boys’ 4x400m.
In the end, KC maintained their lead and took top honours by a whisker, 223.5 over Calabar’s 222. Jamaica College, 154, and Wolmer’s, 144, and St Jago, 122.5, rounded off the top five.
The National Stadium seats around 25,000 and it was packed every day.
Over 1,000 athletes vied for titles in 30-plus events over the four days with a points system determining the champion school.
Among those on show were the reigning 100m World Junior champion Dexter Lee.
He won the senior boys’ 100, in a personal best 10.31 seconds.
Nickel Ashmeade, who won the 200m silver at last summer’s World Juniors, was second in 10.37 secs.
Lee won the World Junior 100m gold medal last year in Poland and the World Youth gold in the Czech Republic the previous year, and has been identified as the future of sprinting in Jamaica.