It’s safe to say 2014 was another successful year for Jamaica. It wasn’t the blinding success we have come to expect in this the era of superman Usain Bolt and supergirl Shelly Ann Frazer-Pryce but it was spectacular in many ways. A number of our junior and senior athletes excelled globally.
At the junior level there were standouts like Jaheel Hyde who added a World Junior title and a Youth Olympic title to his Champs 2014 and Carifta titles; Tyler Mason and Martin Manley.
Among the seniors Kemar Bailey-Cole, Rasheed Dwyer, Kaliese Spencer and Stephanie McPherson all copped their first major outdoor titles at the Commonwealth Games where the nation’s athletes acquitted themselves well all round with sweeps in the women’s 400 metres and men’s 200 metres in Glasgow. Jamaica equalled its best output at the Games with 10 gold, four silver and eight bronze medals, the exact same breakdown as in 2006 when the island made its intentions known to the world that after years of being there or thereabouts it had finally arrived as a global power in track and field.
On the Diamond League circuit Spencer and Novelene Williams-Mills secured Diamond League titles for their respective disciplines.
Jamaica managed to accomplish all this with most of its major stars absent.
Bolt only ran two races this season but still managed to add another gold medal to his burgeoning collection; Asafa Powell has raced sparingly after missing most of the season because of a heavily disputed drug suspension; Nesta Carter struggled and has been less than his usual stellar self; Michael Frater raced less than a handful of races as he tried to fight his way back to full health following knee surgery and other injuries; and of course, Yohan Blake, was out because of injury that required surgery.
On the women’s side Shelly Ann Frazer-Pryce had her own struggles with injury that reduced her to being merely mortal in 2014, and Sherone Simpson, often a member of Jamaica’s medal-winning sprint relay squads returned from her drug suspension but has raced sparingly as she adapts to a new coach and new technique.
The success despite the relative absence of these athletic heroes can be viewed from two sides. One is that Jamaica is blessed with so much depth in athletic talent. The sprint factory, for example, at the inaugural World Relay Championships in the Bahamas, broke the 20-year-old 4x200m world record held by the Santa Monica Track Club without Bolt. The country also won the 4x100m without him.
Back in 2006, Jamaica dominated the sprints at the Commonwealth Games with its stars at the time – Asafa Powell, Brigitte Foster, Sherone Simpson, Veronica Campbell Brown, who were all the very best in the world. This time it was done with the emerging crop – Bailey-Cole, McPherson, Dwyer et al.
The other side is that it is worrying that as the World Championships in Beijing approaches in 2015, Jamaica’s elite athletes are in a race against time to get healthy for what is expected to be a serious challenge mounted by dethroned sprint champions the United States and several other countries. At the Olympics in London in 2012, Bolt and Blake held Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay at bay. In the 200 metres, Jamaica swept the medal places as Bolt, Blake and Weir were simply too good.
However, in 2014 Justin Gatlin demonstrated that he will not be a pushover come next year. Having dropped his body weight by several pounds while still maintaining his strength, Gatlin was easily the best sprinter in the world this year. He was so good, I daresay a healthy Bolt would have been hard-pressed to beat him. At the time of writing Gatlin has four of the six fastest times in the world this year. Only Richard Thompson 9.82 and Asafa Powell’s run last weekend of 9.87s managed to break Gatlin’s dominance of super fast times on the IAAF 100-metre lists.
Gay, too, will be dangerous in 2015. Back controversially from a drug suspension, Gay blasted 9.93s after not competing for more than a year. Both he and Gatlin will be hard to handle in 2015.
England also has a few up and coming stars in James Dasaolu and Adam Gemili, who, based on the evidence of this year, could be really fast in 2015 once they are healthy.
With Blake’s immediate future uncertain, even with Powell’s return to good health and form Jamaica could have it’s hands full in Beijing in both the individual sprints and the relays. I am not saying Jamaica won’t win, I am suggesting that it could be its toughest battle yet.
On the female side Jamaica faces an English duo of Williams’ that will join in the mix in the sprints where they will face a confident Blessing Okagbare from Nigeria, who it seems is willing to drop the leg-draining long jump for the more glamourous sprints where she will be a genuine contender for Frazer-Pryce’s title has world champion. There are those who scoff at the Nigerian’s credentials but I think the evidence is there for all to see that she will be a force to reckon with. I daresay the Pocket Rocket might need to break the 10.7 barrier to keep the Nigerian at arm’s length in Beijing.
Meanwhile, there are bunch of Americans Tori Bowie, English Gardener, Alexandria Anderson, and others who have been quiet this year as they prepare to launch a full onslaught on Jamaica’s best next year.
We would hope that our unhealthy athletes find fitness once again and that our emerging stars would have fully emerged by next season. There are signs that they are ready to evolve but only time will tell. Bailey-Cole, for example, has demonstrated that he ready for the big time and with youngsters like Kemarley Brown, who for a long time was the only Jamaican male to break 10 seconds this year, looking like he is ready again after a minor hiccup during the summer, the prospects are looking bright. However, for Jamaica to really shine brightly in 2015, it’s biggest stars must be ready to blaze once again.