As Jamal Walton continues to rewrite the history books, local track and field officials believe the best is yet to come.
Walton, 15, broke Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s record in the 400 meters at the Central American and Caribbean Junior Championships before going on to set a new record in the same discipline at the Amateur Athletic Union Championships in Orlando, Florida, over the weekend.
Cayman Islands Athletics Association President Dalton Watler says Walton has the potential to be an elite athlete.
“He’s a talented young athlete. If he keeps training, he will reach places,” Watler said. “It’s time for people to understand track is the sport to put us on the map. If the country supports it, it will be good for us. We had government funding for the coaches with Osbourne (Bodden) giving us $5,000 and the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee gave us $5,000. That money allowed us to send athletes to the Games and I thank Cydonie [Mothersill-Stephens] for her help putting the team together.
“It’s good, excellent. As I say, track and field is the only sport in the Cayman Islands which has one coach paid by government. Swimming has four, cricket has two, netball has three, so track and field is the only one that has one. And even with one coach, look at what we’re producing.”
In Morelia, Mexico, last week Walton won gold in the 400m with his time of 47.01 seconds, breaking the event record of 47.17 seconds set by Bolt 12 years ago. At the AAU championships in Florida, the George Town native ran a record time of 46.97 seconds – better than 132 others running in the 15-16 year-old preliminaries. Walton, a sophomore at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, competed for his Miami Gardens club and posted the fastest preliminary time in the 200m at 22.1 seconds.
Walton says the record-breaking runs are part of a journey to fulfill a life-long dream.
“I’m just doing my thing,” Walton said. “It’s easy for me. I’ve been running since I was four, so this is my 11th year doing it. I’ve had people with me, like coach Ato Stephens, helping me and doing everything for me to succeed. I would like to break Michael Johnson’s record in the 400m one day, but I know I have to train hard for that.”
Walton is already the senior as well as junior 400m Cayman Islands record holder. He is also ranked fourth in the world among Under-18 400m runners. Walton’s next meets are the International Association of Athletics Federations World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon, from July 22 to 27 and the Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China, from Aug. 16 to 28.
Ato Stephens, husband of Cayman sprint queen Cydonie Mothersill-Stephens, accompanied Walton – who did not advance out of the preliminary round in the 200m – in Mexico and says the youngster can be a world beater.
“I’m very impressed, considering he was a little upset with his 200m run and tired from travel,” Stephens said. “I helped him warm up and after the first round, he felt good and he did excellent from there. He really, really can be one of the top junior athletes around. Actually, I think he is right now. It’s limitless for him. The way he’s competing and his attitude. He’s a very nice young man. He’s relaxed. It’s not all about the fame and the glory. When he won the medal, it was the same Jamal before he even ran. The same relaxed, cool guy.
“The fame hasn’t gone to his head. I don’t know much about him but in my short time with him, I can say he is very motivated, very focused and determined.”
While Walton’s performance deserved much of the focus, it is worth noting that a handful of other local youngsters competed in Morelia. Tiffany Cole ended up fourth in the Under-20 1,500m and 3,000m runs, in times of five minutes, 27 seconds and 53 milliseconds and 12:28.12, respectively. Tahj Lewis placed ninth in the Under-18 800m and 1,500m, in times of 2:07.75 and 4:39.54, respectively.
Daneliz Thomas placed sixth in the Under-18 javelin event, with a throw of 39.02m. Lacee Barnes was seventh in the Under-18 shot put event, with a toss of 13.2m. Kiara McLaughlin travelled with the team but did not finish the 1,500m event.
Stephens said travel issues impacted those results.
“With the travel arrangements, stuff happened that you can’t foresee. I’m disappointed with how the Local Organizing Committee of the Games handled it. We were the last team to arrive and it was the day of the event. But we still went out there and performed the best we could. The kids got up with two hours of sleep and did well. I’m happy they got out there and did well.”