Some of the island’s top athletes made their season debuts at the Grace Jackson Invitational at the UWI/Usain Bolt track in Mona on the weekend. While some did not perform as promised, most of them showed up and delivered solid performances.
Asafa Powell and Michael Frater were no-shows. Up to late last year Powell was still suffering from the back injury that curtailed his 2010 season so perhaps his handlers thought better than to allow him to participate. This is after all, a championship year and all precautions need to be taken to ensure that he is healthy when the championships roll around in August.
World and Olympic 100-metre champion Shelly Ann Fraser whose six-month ban was lifted on January 7, the same day she became Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, did not take to the track as expected. She explained that she was feeling some discomfort in her hamstring and chose to err on the side of caution and stay off the track.
Sherone Simpson, too, was feeling some discomfort with regards to her hamstrings but she toughed it out and ran a solid 4o0-metre race winning in a decent 54.33seconds. It wasn’t the 51-point that she produced in 2006 but she was satisfied with her time and performance. Two knee surgeries in 2006 and 2008 have compromised the integrity of her oft-injured left knee. This has left her unable to maintain her leg strength over the past four years, but she reveals that for the first time since 2008 she has been able to do Plyometric exercises (which enhances explosive power) and this is the strongest she has felt since 2006, the year when she ran personal bests 10.82 and 22.00 in the 100 metres and 200 metres respectively.
Simpson easily disposed of upcoming star Carrie Russell who wasn’t as impressive running in the same heat. Aniesha McClaughlin, however, who won her heat looked quite impressive winning hers in 53.78s. She won by the proverbial city clock. McClaughlin, who after establishing the best-ever career as a Jamaican schoolgirl, was derailed by a combination of injury and lack of focus, began to remind detractors and herself at the World Championships in 2009 that she can be competitive on the world stage.
She finished fifth in the 200metre finals in Berlin; this year she has the opportunity to go for a medal in the event in Daegu once she continues to improve. Based on the signs seen on Saturday she may well be on her way.
Kaleise Spencer dominated the Diamond League circuit over the 400 metre hurdles in 2010. In the absence of World and Olympic Champion Melaine Walker, who spent most of the season recovering from injury and to a lesser extent American Lashinda Demus, who also spent a portion of the season recovering from ailment, Spencer demonstrated why she could very well be the one to beat over the distance this season.
Winning the Diamond League title gave the Mannings High past student a nice fillip going into this season and on Saturday the confidence shone through when she unleashed a command performance over the 800 metres Open. She totally dominated the field that included Walker and World 400 metre silver medallist Shericka Williams. Her time of two minutes eight seconds is not going to raise eyebrows but in winning she demonstrated that she possesses the power and the confidence to take on the best in the world this season and could be one of the favorites for a medal in Daegu.
Walker, who is returning from injury, was tenacious as usual and showed the kind of grit that earned her World and Olympic titles and made her the second fastest woman of all time over the 400-metre hurdles.
If there was a disappointing performance from the MVP athletes on the weekend, it would have to be Williams who looked disinterested in the 800. Four hundred metre runners do a lot of 600-metre runs in over-distance training in preparation for their seasons so it was a little surprising to see that Williams, who for reasons unknown had a very disappointing season last year, was not even in contention up to 600 metres. She seemed content to remain at the back of the pack in the 800 metres and looked a shadow of the spirited fighter all Jamaica knows she is.
If she is ill or nursing an injury she is not saying but we can only hope she awakens from this slump very soon.
All in all, it was a pretty decent showing from the ‘big guns’ and we now await future performances as the 2011 season unfolds and nears its climax between August 27 and September 4 in South Korea.