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More than 500 athletes and a further 100 officials will descend on Cayman from all corners of the Caribbean as the island gets ready to host CARIFTA 2019.

Charter flights have been organised from Jamaica, Trinidad, the Bahamas, Barbados and Antigua to bring a heavy contingent of athletes and their families to the games.

Finding hotel rooms to accommodate them all has been a challenge, acknowledged Joel Francis, co-chair of the Local Organising Committee.

He said much of the sponsorship money for the event was being ploughed back into Cayman businesses.

“We have got to accommodate the teams, feed them, transport them and secure them over a five-night period and the vast majority of that money is spent right here. It is a huge economic injection into the islands,” he said.

For Francis and his team, it has been a months-long logistics effort to get to the start line. There have been hitches along the way, but he believes it is all coming together in time for the starter’s gun on Saturday.

He said it would be an “awesome” sight to see the national stadium filled to the rafters. CARIFTA is more than just a track and field event, he says, and the spectacle provided by the Jamaican and Bahamian supporters and their bands add another element to the festivities.

The main grandstand is already nearly sold out and the Mackie Seymour stand is also expected to be filled to capacity over the three days. Francis said the event was a chance for Cayman crowds not only to see the best of the island’s talent on display, but to see some future world stars.

“The Caribbean has been producing world champions, especially in the sprints, for a long time,” he said. “Anything from 100m to 800m, if you win at CARIFTA, you are likely to be among the best in the world.”

For 19-year-old Rhiana Williams, the thought of competing in the 4x100m relay against some of those world stars is daunting.

“This is the biggest competition I have competed in. It is very nerve-racking,” said the UCCI student. “My parents will be there and the rest of my family, as well. I think that will help me out a bit and take away some of the nerves.”

Jaheim Morgan, a discus thrower who goes to school in Jamaica but competes for Cayman, is also hopeful the home crowd can provide the inspiration he needs to excel.

“It is supposed to be good fun,” he said. “It is exciting. I am not that nervous because it is a home crowd so you know most of the people already.”

Ashantae Graham, a 16-year-old John Gray High School student, who will compete in the sprints and the long jump, agrees: “I feel good because it is on my home ground. It gives you that extra push you need to go faster – competing against the best.”

Though the Caribbean is most noted for its success in the sprints, assistant coach Derek Larner sees great potential in his small team of middle-distance runners.

Larner, a road runner and former military physical training instructor, got involved with the national programme after competing in Cayman’s national track championships himself. Approaching 50, he found his only rival in the long distance events was a 10-year-old.

“I knew from road running that there were talented young athletes that could compete over those distances so I asked how I could get involved and I have been coaching ever since,” he said.

Among a talented group of runners, he has high hopes for Victor Magalhaes in the 1,500m and the 3,000m and Levi Superville in the 1,500m and 5,000m.

“With the right race and the right conditions,” he said. “any one of them could kick on to the next level.”

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