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Previews18 Aug 2014

World’s top teenage talent set to shine at Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing


Jamaican hurdler Jaheel Hyde (© Getty Images)

To illustrate the relevancy and strength of the fledgling Youth Olympic Games, all we need to do is check out the athletics roll of honour from the inaugural edition in Singapore four years ago.

Among the winners inside the Bishan Stadium were Ethiopian 800m runner Mohammed Aman, 400m sprinter Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic and Russian high jumper Mariya Kuchina, all of whom have  subsequently gone on to land senior world and Olympic medals in their respective events.

And there is little reason to assume the gifted crop of teenage athletes aged 16-17 (athletes eligible have to be born between Jan 1 1997 and Dec 31 1998) competing in the Chinese city of Nanjing for the second Youth Olympic Games will be lacking any less quality than the class of 2010.

The multi-sport competition – which mirrors the full Olympic programme with 28 sports – opened on 16 August and the seven-day athletics programme will launch into action on Wednesday (20 August) as a total of 680 athletes fight for 37 sets of medals.

All races up to and including the 3000m flat are on the timetable with boys and girls racing over 2000m steeplechase. All eight traditional field events will be contested and race walks (5000m girls and 10,000m boys) will also be part of the programme, but there are no combined events.

The competition format is run in a similar vein to the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in that the first three days of the schedule are evening sessions comprising heats and qualifications only. Days four to six of the athletics programme boast both morning and evening sessions which are devoted purely to finals. The two race walks are the only events run as straight finals.

The only medal event on the seventh and final day will be the innovative mixed 8x100m relay held at a specially constructed street venue on Yanshan Road. Each team comprises four boys and four girls with three athletes from the sprint events, two from middle distance or race walking, one jumper, one thrower plus one athlete from any other event forming the eight-strong team.

Qualification has been determined by a series of competitions in the five traditional athletics areas (Europe, Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania). Each area is guaranteed one athlete per event. However, each event is weighted to reflect the strength of that area in that particular discipline. Therefore, the endurance races, for example, will have a strong representation from Africa.

The quality of the competition at the second edition of the Youth Olympic Games is reflected by the fact that three athletes fresh from winning gold medals at last month’s IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene are descending on Nanjing, chasing a second global title of the summer.

Leading the way is the precocious Jamaican hurdler Jaheel Hyde, winner of the 400m hurdles title in Oregon. The versatile 17-year-old, who also secured the 2013 world youth title in the 110m hurdles to become the first man in history to land global titles in two different hurdles events across two age groups in successive years, is clearly an athlete used to making history.

Now the gifted Caribbean athlete has set his sights set on re-writing history again by winning not only the Youth Olympic crown but also lowering the 12-year-old world youth best for the 400m hurdles of 48.89, set by LJ van Zyl. That performance was set over the senior-height barriers, but if Hyde were to eclipse it then it would establish a world youth best for the youth-height barriers (84cm), bettering the 49.01 set by USA’s William Wynne.

Another world junior gold medallist entered in Nanjing is Ethiopian teenage sensation Yomif Kejelcha. The 17-year-old, who cruised to 5000m gold at Hayward Field, will now set his focus on the 3000m title in Nanjing, a distance in which he recorded the second-fastest time ever by an under-18 athlete with 7:36.28 in Ostrava in June.

A third recently-minted world junior champion Konrad Bukowiecki will be chasing more gold at the Nanjing Olympic Sports Centre Stadium. The giant Polish shot putter devoured the opposition in Oregon with an effort of 22.06m to slot into third on the all-time junior rankings with the 6kg metal ball. Reverting back to the 5kg implement, it will be interesting to see if the 17-year-old can improve upon his best ever mark of23.13m and challenge the world youth best of 24.45m set by New Zealander Jacko Gill.

Besides Hyde and Kejelcha, a number of other gold medallists from the 2013 IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk will also compete in Nanjing and one or two have a point to prove.

Jamaican sprinter Martin Manley, the 2013 world youth 400m champion, boats a season’s best of 46.24 to sit second on the 2014 youth world lists. However, he disappointed at the recent World Juniors, failing to advance from the semi-finals and he will be looking to make amends in China.

Another athlete seeking redemption in Nanjing will be Venezuela’s world youth pole vault champion Robeilys Peinado. The 16-year-old no-heighted in qualification at the World Juniors in Eugene but she will be hoping to bounce back to win the Youth Olympic crown as the most high-profile entrant in her event.

Kenyan steeplechaser Rosefline Chepngetich has carved out a big reputation as an outstanding age-group performer, winning world youth gold over the 2000m distance and world junior silver last month in Eugene over the 3000m distance. Reverting back to the shorter 2000m distance, she will take all the beating in Nanjing.

The men’s long jump also boasts an outstanding entrant in world youth champion Anatoliy Ryapolov of Russia, who heads the 2014 youth world lists with a best of 7.79m.

In total, 17 world youth leaders will appear in the 36 individual events (Hyde is No.1 in the boys’ 110m hurdles but has stated he is competing in the 400m hurdles).

Among some of those world youth leaders expected to make an impact will be the Hungarian hammer duo Bence Halasz and Zsofia Bacskay. Halasz posted a stunning boys’ world youth best of 87.16m in Baku in May. Meanwhile Bacskay scuttled up to third on the all-time girls’ hammer lists with a prodigious 73.97m effort with the 3kg implement in March.

Watch out also for Alena Bugakova in the girls shot. The Russian landed the 2013 world youth silver medal and is the owner of the six longest throws in the world this year in the under-18 division.

Other world youth leaders entered include Bacha Morka of Ethiopia (800m), Elvira Herman of Belarus (100m hurdles) and Turkey’s Eda Tugsuz in the women’s javelin.

Steve Landells for the IAAF