A plethora of emerging global stars paraded their talents at the IAAF World U20 Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Several world leading marks, personal bests and two championship records decorated the 6-day event.
Jamaica finished fifth among the nations with an eight-medal haul consisting of 2 gold, 3 silver and 3 bronze.
The outlook was not too bright after the first two days as things got off to a rather shaky start. The country experienced mixed fortunes whereby the disappointments outweighed the feel good moments.
No one envisaged the shocking exit of national junior discus record-holder Shanice Love who had a forgettable series where she fouled all three attempts in the preliminary round qualification.
Sprint hurdler Damion Thomas came to the U20 championships as a medal contender. He looked peerless winning his heat (13.48) before tragedy struck. He received a flying start, his best for the year, in the semi-finals before his quest came to an abrupt end. He crashed into the first hurdle and fell in a heap on his hands and knees.
Dejour Russell, Jamaica’s other sprint hurdle entrant, ran a world leading 13.20 seconds in the semi-finals and raised hopes of a podium finish. However, he failed to reproduce that performance in the final and had to settle for 4th in a creditable 13.39.
In the 100m sprints (male and female) only Raheem Chambers made it to the finals and he did so as a non-automatic qualifier. Many Jamaicans expected Nigel Ellis, the country’s fastest sprinter, who was named in the provisional list to have featured prominently in this event; however, he was entered in the 200m only.
On the third day, the country’s medal drought ended in the ultimate event of the night – an absorbing women’s 400m. Tiffany James, 2013 World Youth Championships bronze medallist, left the Jamaican contingent in ecstasy with an historic run becoming the first Jamaican female quarter-miler at this level to strike gold in the championships’ 30-year history.
James had given a sneak preview of things to come after winning her semi-final in a then PB 51.77 seconds being only one of two athletes to dip below 52 seconds. She sliced a huge chunk off that mark in the final while executing the perfect race from gun to tape and was rewarded with a world leading 51.32 and more importantly the gold medal and world U20 title.
Her teammate, the tenacious Junelle Bromfield, held off a fast closing pack to claim the bronze medal in 52.05 and in one fell swoop Jamaica moved from zero to 7th on the medal table.
Shannon Kalawan picked up the nation’s first silver medal in the women’s 400m hurdles after a spirited run. Kalawan was always favoured to collect a medal after dipping below 57 seconds three times earlier in the season.
She had the good fortune of being drawn a lane outside the favourite and eventual winner Anna Cockrell. This meant Kalawan’s task was simple, just to stay as best as she could with the American. Kalawan duly obliged.
The super cool and talented Jaheel Hyde who seems destined to reach iconic status went to the Championships with an unblemished record. Hyde, is equally proficient in both sprint hurdles events (110mh and 400mh), has never lost a global final in any age group or discipline – youth or junior – was the overwhelming favourite to defend the title he won in 2014. This he did with aplomb to give Jamaica its second gold medal of the championships.
Jamaica’s only medal in the short sprints came from Nigel Ellis. However, Ellis who came off the curve last looking at seven pairs of spikes in front of him did not panic but dug deep down the home straight like a man desperately trying to outrun his shadow to claim a well deserved bronze medal.
Jamaica’s rich tradition in women’s sprint hurdling at this level continued with Rushelle Burton (12.87) snatching the silver medal in one of the most entertaining and highly competitive women’s 100m hurdles final ever.
Burton, fourth at the 2013 World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine endured a tumultuous past two seasons battling injuries, lost of form and career doubts. She approached this season with a sense of purpose, overcoming her fears of running scared and vowing to make up lost ground.
She proved once again that she is amongst the world’s elite sprint hurdlers claiming Jamaica’s most unlikely medal in Bydgoszcz instantly evoking memories of Danielle Williams’ golden run at the Beijing world championship.
Burton’s scintillating run smashed the 13-second glass ceiling shaving 0.10 off the previous record 12.97 by Daeshon Gordon the only other Jamaican sprint hurdler to have achieved the feat. Her positive thinking and school’s motto (Only the best is good enough) exemplified her achievement.
The sprint relays provided the country an opportunity to hunt more medals and again hear the national anthem. However, as so often the case, these events spring up unforeseen casualties and hiccups.
The sprint nation suffered the indignity of not winning a medal in any of the one-lap relays. The women’s 4x100m disqualification for a lane infringement by the lead off runner perhaps denied the country of a medal.
The men’s equivalent final was earmarked as one of the most explosive contests and it certainly lived up to expectations. The Jamaicans fought gallantly but came up short in 4th spot; nevertheless, it was a fascinating race on many levels.
The fact that bronze medallist Germany ran an identical time (39.13) meant Jamaica became the first country to run that fast and not win a medal in the competition’s history.
It is Jamaica’s 4th fastest ever U20 clocking behind the national junior record 38.97 done in 2012, 39.05 in 2006 and 39.12 in 2014. Interestingly, Jamaica ran 39.15 to claim silver at the 2002 World Junior Championships in Kingston with a rangy 15-year old Usain Bolt on anchor.
After Jamaica’s female quartet knocked off the previous world leading time set by Team USA in the mile-relay heats, a tantalizing final was expected. Jamaica led after the first two changeovers and garnered lofty expectations of a famous victory. To say the strategy employed by the inexperience Stacy-Ann Williams on the pivotal third leg backfired would be putting it mildly. It effectively created an insurmountable gap that required Junelle Bromfield on anchor to replicate Novelene Williams-Mills’ heroics at last year’s world championships in Beijing. Bromfield is no Williams-Mills (at least not yet) so Jamaica had to settle for silver in a season’s best 3:31.01 behind Team USA 3:29.11.
The men’s mile-relay bronze medal run of 3:04.83 was a satisfactory effort based on the opposition. It is the second fastest time at that level in the country’s history coming 14 years after the incomparable Usain Bolt led a crack unit featuring Sekou Clarke, Jermaine Myers and Germaine Gonzales at the 2002 World Junior Championships to set the national junior record 3:04.06.