By Noel "Bravo" Francis, Special to 

As we continue our countdown feature towards the CARIFTA games, we now look at a few of the exciting half-lap showdowns.

Under-20 boys 200m

This event will feature a number of athletes who are all capable of running below 21 seconds. Last year’s silver medallist Jevaughn Minzie from Jamaica is a different beast this year and will be going for the gold medal that has been eluding him for years.

Minzie registered two fast times at ‘Champs’, a personal best of 20.37 in the semi-finals and 20.50 seconds to win gold. His more illustrious teammate, World Youth Champion Michael O’Hara is seeking redemption after missing last year’s games and placing third at ‘Champs’. He ran a personal best of 20.60 in the semi-finals at ‘Champs’ and 20.86 for the bronze medal running out of lane eight. Jamaicans felt disappointed by last year’s results in this particular event, as Odail Todd another strong medal hopeful did not finish the race. Both Minzie and O’Hara are determined to restore pride this year.

Trinidad & Tobago’s Jonathan Farinha, a fifth place finisher to O’Hara at the World Youth Championships last year in Ukraine, is an improved sprinter and could challenge the Jamaicans for the gold medal. Bajan sprinter Levi Cadogan who ran a personal best of 20.72 seconds to win the Barbados CARIFTA trials could pose a serious challenge for his more fancied opponents.

Additionally, an exciting yet humble Bahamian sprinter in Steven Gardiner has emerged on the scene this year. Gardiner established a new Bahamian national junior record of 20.68 seconds and could make a lasting impression at the CARIFTA games. His amazing feat is special for the mere fact that he resides in a remote part of the island in Bahamas that does not have a proper running facility. The exposure at the games will be very good for Gardiner. Who will wear the crown in this big 200m showdown? Will Zhanrnel Hughes of Anguilla run the double?

Under-18 Boys 200m

Jamaica has a number of talented sprinters to choose from for this half-lap event. Martin Manley the Under-17 200m champion at CARIFTA last year has been lowering his times almost every time he steps on the track. He posted an impressive personal best of 20.57 seconds at ‘Champs’ in the Class 1 200m semi-finals and ran 20.73 in the finals for silver. His high school teammate and the CARIFTA trials winner, Chad Walker has the ability to crack 21 seconds.

Whilst the exciting Jhevaughn Matherson who ran 20.97 seconds to win the Class 2 title at ‘Champs’ is in the Jamaican squad and available for selection. Raheem Chambers another fine sprinter with a personal best of 21.19 seconds is also eligible. Some Caribbean countries would love to have a selection quandary like this.

Impressive Bajan sprinter Mario Burke, last year’s silver medallist behind Manley is one of the few athletes in this age group capable of preventing Jamaica from claiming the top two spots. Burke who won the Barbados CARIFTA trials in a fast 21.17 seconds will relish the Jamaican challenge to go faster than his personal best of 21.06 seconds. Bahamian sprinters Keanu Pennerman and Kinard Rolle have a never say die attitude and will be running flat out for a medal. Let us hope they do not hurt themselves in the process.

Under-20 Girls 200m

The talented Shaunae Miller of Bahamas and Shericka Jackson of Jamaica both ran under the previous record last year in this event. Miller established a new mark of 22.77 seconds that I believe might stand for some time. Both Miller and Jackson have graduated from CARIFTA, which has left this event wide open this year. Carmiesha Cox the bronze medallist from last year is also absent. Trinidad & Tobago’s Kayelle Clarke a returning finalist who was sixth last year must be confident of winning a medal this year. Clarke won this event at the T&T trials running 23.64 seconds into a negative (-1.6) headwind. 

However, Jamaica will pose the biggest threat and the country’s head coach can choose any two from the wonderful trio in Kedisha Dallas, Saqukine Cameron and Jonielle Smith who are all capable of winning medals in this event. Dallas was fifth in the Under-20 200m final last year, and finished second at this year’s trials in 24.03 seconds. After running 23.75 in the semi-finals, she registered 23.95 seconds in the finals at the Inter-Collegiate Track & Field meet racing into a negative (-3.7) headwind.

Cameron won the Jamaica trials in 23.44 seconds and was second at ‘Champs’ in 23.58 to Jonielle Smith. On her day, Cameron is a fantastic athlete but can be inconsistent at times. Despite a lukewarm display at the CARIFTA trials, Smith bounced back in convincing fashion at ‘Champs’ winning the Class 1 event in 23.45 seconds into a negative (-2.7) headwind. She could force the selection panel to enter her in the event based on her championship mettle and current form. Jamaicans are confident in the decision-making capabilities of the management team.  

Under-18 Girls 200m

Jamaica’s Natalliah Whyte last year’s Under-17 sprint double champion should feature prominently is this event. She has been in tremendous form this season winning the big 200m races at the CARIFTA trials and ‘Champs’. At the Boys & Girls Championships, she ran an impressive 23.82 seconds in the semi-finals and cruised to 24.30 in the finals into a strong headwind after her main challenger Shauna Helps had false started.

Two of Whyte’s main competitors in this event are last year’s Under-17 200m silver medallist Jenae Ambrose of Bahamas and fourth place finisher Nelda Huggins of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Huggins clocked 24.65 seconds into a negative (-2.4) at the BVI trials and is usually a competitive finalist at the CARIFTA games.

Barbadian newcomer Sada Williams could steal the show if nerves do not overcome her. She won the Bajan Under-18 trials in 24.38 seconds easily dismissing the challenge of Tristan Evelyn. However, it was her stunning 23.61 seconds display at the Barbados Secondary Schools Championships two weeks later, which makes her a serious contender for the gold medal. I hope Guyana’s Tirana Mitchell who collected bronze last year in the Under-17 200m event has fully recovered from an injury picked up last season.

Apart from Whyte, Jamaica has enough firepower to challenge for two of the top spots. Whyte’s Jamaican teammates Shellece Clark and Shanice Reid are two quality athletes. Clark who placed second at the trials in 24.46 seconds would be seeking redemption this year after her shocking false start in the Under-17 200m finals last year.

The tall and determined Reid who was second to Whyte at ‘Champs’ in 24.45 seconds running into a (-2.7) negative breeze is also a fierce competitor. Will the Bajan Williams triumph in her first CARIFTA games? A nice battle in the home straight looms. I am really looking forward to this race.  

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