Tina Clayton, Brianna Lyston and Tia Clayton at the Boys’ and Girls’ Championships (© Athelstan Bellamy)
The 111th staging of the ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships (Champs) in Kingston, held from 5-9 April, was a tremendous success.
With the World Athletics U20 Championships Cali 22 on the horizon, many athletes produced inspired performances as 11 records were broken and two equalled over the final two days of competition, including all the sprint hurdles across the four age groups in the girls’ section.
The event marked the return of spectators for the first time since 2019, following the global pandemic that began in 2020. And title sponsors GraceKennedy Limited pledged 88m Jamaican dollars (US$570,000) in sponsorship for this year’s edition.
Kingston College and Edwin Allen High School were crowned winners after amassing 372 and 352 points respectively.
Leading the performances was 17-year-old Kerrica Hill of Hydel High, who completed the sprints/hurdles double. She won the 100m hurdles (76.2cm barriers) in a stunning world U18 best of 12.71 (0.8m/s). Earlier in the championships she won the 100m flat in 11.16 (1.2m/s) to equal the championship records in the girls’ class two category, moving to joint seventh on the world U18 all-time list.
“I just came out here to show everyone what I can do as I have been training very hard with Brianna (Lyston) and Alana (Reid), who came second,” said Hill, who finished seventh in the 100m and first in the 4x100m at the World U20 Championships in Nairobi last year.
“I am very happy as this was my aim to get both records,” added Hill. “I hope to carry this form into the World U20 Championships.”
The stage was set for an epic showdown in the 100m for girls aged 17-18 between the Clayton twins (Tina and Tia) and the returning Brianna Lyston of Hydel High. Lyston missed last year’s edition due to the Jamaican high school transfer eligibility rule, which states athletes (below 12th grade) who switched schools during the year must sit out the next championship.
Lyston, who ran 11.14 in March, created an uproar with a scintillating semi-final victory in 11.28 (-1.6 m/s), where she defeated world U20 champion Tina Clayton, who looked unperturbed.
In a thrilling final, Lyston, who was sandwiched between the Clayton twins drawn in lanes four and lane six, got a decent start, although not as explosive as the one a few hours earlier. She held a slight advantage all the way through to the 70-metre mark, until the sheer power and determination of Tina Clayton propelled her past Lyston for a remarkable victory in 11.23 (-2.8 m/s). Lyston made sure she separated the twins at the finish, registering 11.26 for the silver with Tia taking bronze in 11.47.
“It was a great final,” said Tina. “There was a lot of competition, but this is an energy-saving championship, so I held back in the semis knowing that I did not need to push hard to qualify. I gave it my all in the final and I’m grateful for the win.”
The Clayton twins joined Brandy Hall and Serena Cole to set a world U20 leading 43.28 in the 4x100m.
Lyston made amends when she battled a strong headwind to erase Simone Facey’s 18-year-old championship record of 22.71 in the 200m. She stopped the clock at 22.53 (-2.2m/s) to move to second on this year’s world U20 list.
“I came here to break the record,” said Lyston, whose winning time was just 0.03 shy of the Jamaican U20 record.
The ease with which Bryan Levell navigated the rounds of the boys' age 16-19 100m suggested he’d be a clear winner of the title. Jeevan Newby of Kingston College almost pulled off a monumental upset in the final, but Levell came through in the last five metres to narrowly win in 10.25 (-0.6 m/s) ahead of Newby (10.26), with De Andre Daley claiming third in 10.33.
“I was very confident coming into the final,” said Levell, who went on to win the 200m to complete the sprint double. “I did not get the perfect start, but I wasn’t worried, I just executed my race and pulled through.
Roshawn Clarke of Camperdown High School broke the first record of the championships when he registered a world-U20-leading 49.50 to win the 400m hurdles for boys aged 16-19. “I’m happy with the win because I've been training very hard for it; however, my primary goal is the World U20 Championships where I have unfinished business,” said Clarke. “I made a mistake in the semi-finals at the last championships in Nairobi where I failed to advance to the finals after easing down near the finish line, which allowed three athletes to go by me including one that dived. It was a tough learning experience.”
All the 400m finals were memorable, but the one that took pride of place was the final for girls aged 17-18. Dejanea Oakley, representing Clarendon College, won in 51.81 and joined an elite group of athletes to dip below 52 seconds at these championships. Only record-holder Sonita Sutherland (51.13) and Olympic bronze medallist Shericka Jackson (51.60) have done it in this age group.
There were several double winners including the irrepressible J’Voughn Blake, the captain of outgoing champions Jamaica College, who completed a gruelling schedule, first equalling the 800m record (1:48.58) two days after his 1500m triumph in 3:56.78. “The 800m is my pet event,” said Blake. “I am happy that I can leave Champs with the record, which has been my goal since I started competing.”
Elsewhere, 17-year-old world U20 triple jump silver medallist Jaydon Hibbert established a Champs record and world U20 lead in the event, when he bounded out to 16.66m (-0.2 m/s) on his first attempt, breaking the Jamaican U18 best and moving to fifth on the world U18 all-time list. “The first round is usually my best round in the triple jump. I asked for the crowd support and they responded and I produced a personal best.”
He showed his range by adding the long jump title after cutting the sand with a lifetime best and world-U20-leading 7.87m (1.2 m/s) on his final attempt, also equalling the national U18 best.
“Many people doubted my abilities in the long jump,” said Hibbert, who will be attending the University of Tennessee later this year. “I came into the event to prove a point, but I was not expecting such a big performance.”
Noel Francis for World Athletics