Elaine Thompson and Yohan Blake claimed dramatic victories in the blue riband event at the Jamaican Championships in Kingston on Friday night (1), sprinting away from their respective rivals over 100m to ensure their selection for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
World and Olympic 100m champion and world record-holder Usain Bolt reportedly sustained a grade one hamstring tear during his semifinal win and was forced to withdraw from the final. But on a night of drama it was Thompson who stole the show, winning the women’s 100m in a world-leading 10.70 (0.3m/s), which equalled the national record set by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce when winning this same event back in 2012.
The 24-year-old now joins her Jamaican teammate as the joint fourth-fastest woman of all time.
Thompson gave an indication that such a performance was imminent when cruising to victory in her semi-final in 10.85, just 0.01 shy of her previous best. In the final, she dominated the field over the latter half the race and came home a clear winner. “I’ve been doing well since the start of the season and I’ve been preparing well for the trials,” said Thompson. “I’m obviously happy with the time. I’m crying.”
Despite being dethroned domestically, Olympic champion Fraser-Pryce dispelled fears concerning her form by running a season’s best of 10.93 to claim second place.
“I’m satisfied," she said. "It has definitely been a rough season. Coming into this meet I’ve not trained in my spikes; it was just track shoes and I came out here tonight and wasn’t giving up and decided that whatever is going to happen will happen. I never gave up.”
The third spot did not go according to script as Veronica Campbell-Brown, who came into the championships as the fastest Jamaican sprinter this season with 10.83, was upstaged by Christania Williams, who ensured a clean sweep of the top three spots by MVP Track Club athletes. Williams produced a lifetime best of 10.97 to relegate Campbell-Brown, who ran 11.10, to fourth.
In Bolt's absence, Blake seizes golden chance
The men's final proved equally dramatic, albeit for different reasons.
Having won his semi-final in 10.04, Usain Bolt reported a hamstring injury and did not make it to the start line for the final.
This paved the way for a scramble between his rivals to secure a spot on the team for Rio, but the pressure cooker atmosphere inside the national stadium produced an incident of almost disastrous proportions.
Yohan Blake, the double Olympic silver medallist from London four years ago, was charged with a false start that led to a lengthy delay, and the 2011 world champion protested his innocence vehemently. The initial decision was finally reversed and the entire field cautioned. It was later discovered that the blocks programmes for lane one had been positioned in lane four, and vice versa.
The final eventually went off without any further drama from the blocks; however, the end results produced a surprise.
Blake won in 9.95 (0.7m/s), narrowly defeating Ashmeade, who was runner-up in 9.96. Newcomer Jevaughn Minzie, who improved his personal best in every round at the championships, muscled his way into third place in 10.02 and edged out veteran sprinter and former world record-holder Asafa Powell, who was fourth in 10.03.
Blake, who through injury and poor form missed the past two outdoor global championships, was ecstatic with his performance.
“Hallelujah," said Blake. "Four years ago I was national champion and I did it again. I’ve been battling injuries for two-and-a-half years now and not running the way I want to but tonight I kept my composure and just come through and won it.”
Blake also offered his account of the false start. “It messed with my mind because I saw my whole Olympic dream flash in front of me and I said I can’t have this, I won’t move.”
On the other hand Asafa Powell, the only Jamaican sprinter to appear in three consecutive Olympic 100m finals, will be missing out on an individual Olympic spot for the first time in his 13-year career. “I’m running with an injury so for me to finish all three rounds, I’m still proud of myself,” said Powell.
Despite his withdrawal from the final, Bolt can still secure a spot on Jamaica's Olympic team if he proves his fitness and form, as per the selection policy of the Jamaican Athletics Administrative Association.
Shortly after the race, the 29-year-old released a statement on Twitter noting that he still intends to secure selection on those grounds.
"After feeling discomfort in my hamstring after the first round last night and then again in the semi-final tonight I was examined by the chief doctor of the National Championships and diagnosed with a grade-one tear," it read. "I have submitted a medical exemption to be excused from the 100m final and the remainder of the National Championships. I will seek treatment immediately and hope to show fitness at the London Anniversary Games on July 22 to earn selection for the Olympic Games in Rio."
Whyte and Tracey take 400m hurdles titles
Elsewhere Annsert Whyte was a runaway winner in the men’s 400m hurdles in 48.66, taking the victory ahead of Jaheel Hyde, who set a personal best and world U20 lead of 48.81 in second.
Whyte's winning time of 48.66 is the second fastest of his career and a run which moved him to second on the 2016 world list, behind USA's Johnny Dutch.
Not to be outdone, Hyde produced a breakthrough performance in second, his 48.81 clocking putting him well on course to retain his title at the IAAF World U20 Championships Bydgoszcz 2016 later this month. The 19-year-old athlete sliced 0.20 off his previous best of 49.01, but wasn’t too excited about his race.
"From a technical standpoint, it was my worst race and I’m shocked at the time knowing the type of race I ran," said Hyde. "I improvised and used my foot speed throughout. I’m 19 I made it to the Olympics, so that’s one of my goals completed, and I’ll now focus on the World Juniors."
In the women’s 400m hurdles, Ristananna Tracey took control early and proceeded to dominate the field, which included four-time Diamond Race winner Kaliese Spencer.
Tracey began shifting gears at the top of the final bend and moved away from the chasing pack to win in a season’s best of 54.75. Spencer, whose form has been questionable this season, was demoted to third by the talented 23-year-old Leah Nugent, who swept by her to clinch second in 55.44, a personal best. Spencer stopped the clock at 55.83.
Kemoy Campbell won the longest event of the championships, the men’s 5000m, in 13:43.21. The national record-holder, at 13:20.39, could easily bemoan the lack of competition for not going faster and achieving the Olympic qualifying standard (13:25.00), having run alone since early in the race.
The men’s triple jump was a historic occasion for Clive Pullen, whose winning effort of 16.90m made him the first Jamaican man in more than four decades to qualify for the Olympics in this event, the last being Henry Jackson in 1972.
Noel Francis for the IAAF