By Noel 'Bravo' Francis, Special to TrackAlerts.com
Over the last six years, the Caribbean has dominated sprint relays and featured prominently in the mile relays at the senior level on the international stage. Today we feature some of the most intense junior rivalries in the Caribbean that will come head-to-head at the CARIFTA games (selected events).
Under-18 Boys 4x400m
Jamaica won all but two relay events at the CARIFTA games last year. The setbacks came in the boys Under-17 4x400m and the girls Under-20 4x100m finals. The new boys’ Under-18 category will see the retention of most team members with a few additions. Bahamas ran a brilliant race in front of their home crowd last year to win the Under-17 4x400m relay ahead of Barbados and Jamaica.
The three countries lock horns again this year and another exciting 4x400m showdown is likely. The Bahamian squad is the same from last year and very confident of winning the gold, likewise Barbados who have the same quartet. However, it is my view that things will be different this year with a much stronger Jamaican unit seeking revenge.
I cannot see a scenario where Jamaica will make the same mistake of using the two best runners (Martin Manley and Jaheel Hyde) on the first two legs and a middle distance runner like what happened last year with Jauavney James on anchor ever happening again. Unless injury forced that decision last year at the last minute, it was a shocking team arrangement evidenced by a disastrous run. This year there should be no such confusion as Jamaica’s head coach can choose a super quartet from Nathaniel Bann, Martin Manley, Nigel Ellis, Jaheel Hyde and Duran Crooks. This team should start as favourites and any running order should win by some distance and erase the bitter memory that still lingers among some Jamaican fans.
Bahamas will not surrender easily and should provide a spirited challenge throughout. Whilst a Bajan quartet that includes Rivaldo Leacock, Ramarco Thompson, Michael Nicholls and Mario Burke could run below 3:15.00 and collect a medal.
Under-20 Girls 4x100m
Bahamas captured this event last year in 44.77 seconds winning by almost a second over runners-up Barbados. Many persons expected a classic showdown between Bahamas and Jamaica; however, it failed to materialize as Jamaica’s second and third leg runners could not successfully complete the baton exchange. This year will see a few changes in all the teams and a massive showdown is expected. The Bahamians have retained Devynne Charlton and Kieanna Albury from the winning quartet. Makeya White and Loushanya Neymour could form the other half of the team. Barbados might struggle to find a competitive team this year.
Jamaica with a possible quartet of Saqukine Cameron, Jonielle Smith, Kedisha Dallas and Chanice Bonner in running order will be seeking redemption. Although she did not compete in the sprints at the Jamaica CARIFTA trials, this writer feels the long striding Claudette Allen is one of the most impressive backstretch runners who could add depth to the squad. She has done extremely well for her school Edwin Allen in four record-breaking 4x100m races this season. At the end of this article, please watch video of Allen outstanding run at ‘Champs’ 2014. If Allen is eligible for selection, Jonielle Smith could replace Bonner on anchor. Will Bahamas defend their title against the odds?
Under-18 Boys 4x100m
I expect this super Under-18 Jamaica quartet to not only win convincingly but also run as fast as the fastest Under-20 team at the games. Despite retaining three members of the winning Under-17 4x100m team, only Raheem Chambers is likely to be included on the team this year. The team has four outstanding speed merchants and if the baton goes around smoothly, a sub 40 seconds clocking is highly possible. The battle for silver and bronze should be very close between Barbados and Bahamas for a second year running. Do not miss this event and remember these Jamaican names Waseem Williams, Chad Walker, Jhevaughn Matherson and Raheem Chambers.
Under-20 boys 4x400m
Last year Jamaica won this event with the outstanding Javon Francis on anchor. Francis after collecting the baton in third place ran past T&T’s Machel Cedenio and Bahamian Andre Colebrooke to take Jamaica to the title and a new record 3:05.68. The departure of three key members (Francis included) from the Jamaica team effectively makes this encounter a lot closer this year among the countries. T&T with a squad that includes Machel Cedenio, Asa Guevara, Theon Lewis, Ruebin Walters, Aaron Lewis and Nathan Farinha looks very strong.
Jamaica despite fielding a brand new team this year is still capable of defending its title. The team should come from a pool that includes Nathon Allen, Ivan Henry, Marco Doodnaughtsingh, Okeen Williams, Marvin Williams and Jevaughn Minzie.
Both Jamaica and T&T dipped under the previous record 3:07.10 last year, Jamaica won in 3:05.68 and T&T got silver in 3:06.23. I expect both countries to go very close to those times in what could be a super final. Bahamas will be competitive in the initial stages, however, they lack the necessary firepower this year to challenge the top two in the latter stages.
Under-20 Boys 4x100m
Last year Bahamas, just like Jamaica, in the female section failed to finish this relay that was highly touted between the two countries. Trinidad & Tobago last year’s silver medal winner is likely to field a quartet consisting of Jonathan Farinha, Micah Ballentyne, John-Mark Constantine and Jamal Bridges. This team can pose a strong challenge to the Bahamians and Jamaicans. Last year T&T led the field in the home straight before Jamaica overtook them, courtesy of a blazing anchor leg run from Odail Todd.
Bahamas will be seeking redemption after last year’s disaster. They have retained two members from last year in Cliff Resias and Ian Kerr. Deedro Clarke and Steven Gardiner two exciting prospects should join them to make a formidable unit. However, it is my view that a Jamaican quartet in the following running order will be very difficult to beat: 1) Raheem Robinson, 2) Michael O’Hara, 3) Tyler Mason and 4) Jevaughn Minzie. Track fans are in for a treat as bragging rights are at an all-time high.
Jamaica is set to retain its CARIFTA title in the French island of Martinique on April 21, 2014. Bahamas has always expressed its intention of dethroning Jamaica and the same objectives are on the table this year. Some Jamaicans feel it is a desire, which is easier said than done. The fans argue that Jamaica has not lost a CARIFTA games since 1985 and their stocks of quality athletes does not seem to be depleting anytime soon.
Last year Bahamas won 31 medals in total, whilst Jamaica’s gold medal tally of 29 almost cancelled out Bahamas’ overall count. Jamaica went on to win officially 69 medals overall inclusive of 29 gold, 25 silver and 15 bronze. Therefore, the fans believe the margin of quality athletes and performances from Jamaica at this time are much wider than some persons are willing to accept.
I hope to see an injury free and exciting 2014 CARIFTA games. Good luck to all the athletes.
Claudette Allen on the second leg for Edwin Allen