Usain Bolt always brings excitement wherever he goes and for an unusual reason his debut at the Cayman Invitational was drama filled.
Bolt won his first 100 metres sprint of the season last week in Grand Cayman. But it was in a photo finish, with him beating fellow Jamaican and training partner Kemar Bailey-Cole by the width of his vest.
Significantly, there was no signature victory salute from the 26-year-old Jamaican as he did his lap of honour. He received his gold medal from Cayman Islands Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly separately from the others.
Bolt was hampered by a hamstring problem, but said that was not to blame for his relatively sluggish time of 10.09 seconds.
“It was just a bad race. It wasn’t a bothering pain, so I can’t blame it on that,” he said.
Antigua’s Daniel Bailey was third in 10.23 seconds and Cayman’s Kemar Hyman was sixth in 10.33 seconds.
About 3,500 spectators attended last Wednesday’s second annual Cayman Invitational track and field meet at the Truman Bodden Sports Centre.
Naturally, six-time Olympic gold medal winner Bolt took centre stage, having arrived the day before and done the usual round of media conferences and community events.
The world’s fastest woman, American Carmelita “Jet” Jeter, also delighted fans, winning her 100m in a world-leading time of 10.95 seconds, beating compatriot Barbara Pierre, who stopped the timer at 11.02 seconds.
Jeter confirmed that the Cayman Invitational meet has already become a favourite on her schedule.
“This is the second time I have competed at the Cayman Invitational and I am delighted to have participated again,” she said. “It has been a pleasure to compete alongside many other incredibly talented athletes in front of such a welcoming and enthusiastic crowd. In particular, I loved being able to meet the younger fans who were so excited to come and watch the athletes performing live.”
The Cayman Invitational, one of the largest and most prominent in the Caribbean, featured some of the world’s superstar athletes, taking part in 10 track and two field events.
Bolt may not have been at his best, but he still thrilled – on and off the track. He rarely refuses a handshake, fist bump, photo or autograph.
He has not peaked yet and is already hailed a legend. Triple gold again at the next Olympics would seal him as the greatest ever.
Jeter took silver in the 100m at last year’s Olympics as well as a gold for the 4x100m relay and bronze in the 200m.
Also in the women’s 100m was Beijing Olympic 100m silver and 200m bronze medallist Jamaican Kerron Stewart, who was third in 11.10 seconds.
Other world class athletes who participated included Hansle Parchment (110m hurdles), LaShawn Merritt (200m), Luguelin Santos (400m) Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie (200m), Tianna Madison (200m) and Novlene Williams-Mills (400m).
The Cayman children and local athletes got an invaluable chance to compete on the big stage, too, and the most impressive was Jamal Walton in the 400m, who lowered the Cayman Islands national junior and senior record. His new mark of 48.02 seconds eclipsed David Hamil’s 48.73 seconds set in Nassau Bahamas 11 years ago.
Track coach Tyrone Yen said: “It was indeed a great start to Jamal’s career. At last month’s CARIFTA Games, he finished fourth in the Under-17 400m finals and was also a finalist in the 200m.
“Jamal was born in Grand Cayman and only migrated a few years ago to attend school in the USA.
“His record run is truly a remarkable one as not only did he break the existing record in a convincing manner but at only 14 the senior men’s record.
“It has been a great year for him and the athletic association as he was also a part of the quartet of boys who broke the junior national record in the 4x400m relay at the CARIFTA Games where they took the record down to 3 minutes, 26.02 seconds from 3:26.78 which was set also in the 2002 CARIFTAs in the Bahamas as well.”
Other members of that team were Tahj Lewis, Rashaun Conolly and Jeavhon Jackson. Walton was three seconds ahead of Conolly and his time was only a second and half slower than the slowest 400m pro man.
High jumper Ashleigh Nalty also increased the national junior and senior women’s record from 1.71m to 1.73m on Wednesday at the Hillsdale Classic in Michigan.
Yen said: “It is indeed a fitting effort from the athletes of these islands as four national records have been established so far this season and we anticipate a few more by season end.”
Cayman twins Carl and Carlos Morgan were in the long jump again and Carl won with a leap of 7.78 metres. Carlos was fifth with 7.26m.
Ronald Forbes was looking forward to racing in the 110m hurdles last year, but even though he felt fine was advised not to by medics because he was still recovering from injury.
He got his big chance this time though, coming fifth in 13.71 seconds behind winner Parchment (13.25secs) who was only one-hundredth of a second ahead of Barbadian Ryan Brathwaite.
Tyrone Cuffy was seventh in the 200m in 22.29 seconds, behind American LaShawn Merritt, who cruised to victory in 20.26 seconds. Cayman’s Shane Evans won the shot put with 12.92m.
In the national 100m, Brandon Johnson won in 10.90 seconds ahead of Jerome Bodden (11.10secs) and Troy Long (11.08secs).
Meet director Cydonie Mothersill-Stephens said a massive thank you to the large crowd that attended and the many sponsors, organisers and volunteers who helped make Cayman Invitational such a wonderful occasion.
“The success of second Cayman Invitational is a testament to the extremely talented athletes who graced the track and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for being a part of the Cayman Invitational and displaying their abilities so well,” she said.
“I would also like to thank each and every person who came along to watch this amazing spectacle, as well as the many sponsors, volunteers and officials who made the event possible, many of whom worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the smooth running of the meet.
“It was an absolutely thrilling evening and we really could not have asked for a better display of power, determination, skill and prowess.”