Track and field development in Jamaica can be divided into two parts – pre- Beijing and post- Beijing.
The athletics section of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing China, will forever be remembered as one of the greatest sporting achievements for the small island with a population of under three million people.
With some spectacular performances inside the ‘Bird’s Nest’, Jamaica further demonstrated its prowess as a world athletic power, but more importantly it highlighted the success that can be achieved by athletes who trained in Jamaica. Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Melainie Walker, Sherone Simpson all won individual medals, four being gold.
For decades in the pre- Beijing era of Jamaican track and field, the majority of the country’s best prospects headed to universities and colleges in the United States to further their education and to compete on the college circuit.
They made the move with the hopes that the more professional environment and elevated levels of competition would propel them to professional careers in the sport.
However, the spectacular performances of the Beijing Oympics showcased a different option.
Several top prospects chose the once thought irrational option of training locally, under the guidance of two of the world’s finest track and field coaches. Glen Mills, coach of the world’s fastest man Bolt, started the Racers Track Club, which is based at the University of the West Indies campus.
While Stephen Francis, coach of the world’s fastest woman Fraser-Pryce, was one of the founding members of the MVP Track Club, based at the University of Technology, which is among some of the most successful universities in recent Penn Relays history (see chart).
Just last year, Jamaica’s top two youth sprinting prospects Michael O’Hara and Jaheel Hyde turned down several scholarship offers from prestigious universities overseas, deciding instead to stay in Jamaica and train with local coaches while attending UWI Mona.
But are there any revealing indications since the paradigm shift started?
In the first of a two part piece, the SBTN team decided to take a look at the Jamaican Collegiate team performances in the marquee Championship of America college events at the Penn Relays from 2007 to 2016.
The main objective is to decipher if the collection of talent and further development of legitimate track and field programs at the local universities and colleges have begun to show results on the international stage.
In some cases, there are positive signs of progress over the past decade, which is a testament to improved coaching and a richer talent pool.
In the past, Jamaicans lit up the Franklin Field track in Championship of America races while representing American universities. However, despite that still being the case, with the emergence of top talent from the University of Technology (UTech) and G.C. Foster College, the tide is turning.
College Men at the Penn Relays
The men from UTech easily have been the most successful at the relay carnival, winning seven out of the total 11 championship titles won by the university. Sprinter Andrew Fisher was named ‘Athlete of the Meet’ last year.
Fisher was an integral part of UTech’s 4×100 team that won Championship of the Americas titles three years in a row before placing fifth yesterday. That race was won by the quartet from G.C Foster College.
Prior to that run of titles, they finished fifth in 2008, sixth in 2009 and second in 2010.
FIG 1. Progression graph illustrating Jamaican College/Universities’ placings in Chamionship of America races at the Penn Relays from 2007 – 2016 – SBTN
FIG 2. Table illustrating Jamaican College/Universities’ (MEN) placings in Chamionship of America races at the Penn Relays from 2007 – 2016 – SBTN
After no entries in the 4x200m race between 2007 and 2011, UTech has won it three of the past five years. Last year (2015), they were followed home by G.C Foster, whose previous best had been an eight place finish in 2010.
Results in the 4x400m relays have not progressed at the same pace, though G.C Foster’s quartet finished third on Saturday, a significant improvement from sixth the previous year.
UTech’s results in this race include a best of third place in 2009 and numerous non-entries. However, with the current crop of impressive young quarter milers, who may also choose to stay home, improvement in this event may be coming.
College Women at the Penn Relays
On the women’s side, UTech clearly has had the most success over the past few years, with more frequent participation in all the races. They have won four championship titles, all since 2009 (see above chart)
FIG 3. Progression graph illustrating Jamaican College/Universities’ (WOMEN) placings in Chamionship of America races at the Penn Relays from 2007 – 2016 – SBTN
FIG 4. Table illustrating Jamaican College/Universities’ (WOMEN) placings in Chamionship of America races at the Penn Relays from 2007 – 2016 – SBTN
They have finished in the top three in the past two 4x200m Championship of America races after no previous involvement in any of the years studied.
The school has also seen three top three finishes in four years in the 4x400m event, a race in which GC Foster has not had a team take a spot on the starting line during the period studied.
Results in these two events for UTech have shown the most improvement on the female side, which comes as no surprise with the likes of 2015 IAAF Word Championships 400m bronze medallist Shericka Jackson, finalist Stephanie McPherson and 400m hurdles finalist Janieve Russell all being part of those teams.
Which is a clear sign of the potential of that particular program to adequately develop top talent into world beaters at that distance.
In the 4x100m, UTech have been steady. They finished fourth in 2008 and third in 2010. A second place finish in 2013 followed by a third place finish in 2014, are their latest involvement in the race.
So considering obvious incremental progress and projected further development, will Jamaican college s and universities dominate the Penn Relays as their high school compatriots have?
Ofcourse, only time will tell.
But the continued growth of the UWI program along with the attachment of Bertland Cameron’s Cameron Blazers track club to Mico College, will also present further opportunities for young athletes to develop their talents in Jamaica.
Also, the additional flexibility to become brand ambassadors and compete on the professional circuit might also be a decisive impetus for student-athletes, as they are not able to do this on the US collegiate circuit due to strict NCAA rules.
With a promising crop of athletes set to leave high school in the next few years, interesting times are ahead for track and field development in Jamaica.
What is clear is that a more concrete infrastructure for the post- high school careers of Jamaican athletes is being developed locally.
Its effects are already being felt in the performance of local-based athletes on the international stage such as the Penn Relays.
Data Source: pennrelays.com (all research and calculations were done by SBTN)