Kingston College (KC) and Edwin Allen High are favoured to retain their respective titles at the 2023 Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls’ Athletics Championships, which starts on Tuesday at 9:00 am and ends on Saturday.
Thirty-one preliminary round events are scheduled for Tuesday’s opening day of action at the National Stadium, with several top athletes getting the chance to make an early impression.
Last year, KC ended the championships with 372 points, 71.17 points clear after the 42 finals to dethrone Jamaica College (JC), which finished second with 300.83 points.
Well, based on what has taken place in the qualifying meets, there will be no room for complacency and no margin for error when KC athletes take the track.
KC, which will be looking for their third title in four years and 34 overall, are tipped to win by a very slim margin a year after their big margin of victory.
The experts are predicting that Calabar High, which finished third last year – 202 points behind KC – will be the North Street-based school’s biggest rival at the five-day track and field spectacle, popularly called ‘Champs.’
Calabar looked very good at the Corporate Area Development meet earlier this month when they improved from third last year to finish second, just 12 points behind KC.
The battle for the girls’ crown will be a straight fight between Edwin Allen High and Hydel High, which is coached by Corey Bennett the same man who is at the helm at Calabar.
Holmwood Technical have been improving this year and are expected to figure very prominently. They will score heavily with Class Two middle distance runner Ugandan Florence Nafamba, who is expected to win the 2000m steeplechase and the 3000m open events, and Class One athletes Rickiann Russell (200 and 400) and Jodyann Mitchell (800 and 1500). Moya Oakley is strongly poised to dominate the 100m and 70m hurdles in Class Four.
The momentum is with Hydel, which were declared champions of the Central Athletics Championships by a half point following an adjustment to the Class Two 100m hurdles results, 24 hours after Edwin Allen had defended their regional title by 1.5 points.
History has shown that the team that wins at Central Championships normally triumphs at Champs and Hydel have all the right to be confident of denying Edwin Allen their ninth straight title and 10th overall.
Hydel, however, will be without their two biggest stars – Kerrica Hill and Brianna Lyston – who helped the St Catherine-based school to second place last year.
The 18-year-old Lyston, who smashed the 200m record at Champs last year and then nine days later secured the gold medal at the Carifta Games at the National Stadium, is now at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Hill, who is now 18, entered the professional ranks by signing with Elite Performance Track Club a week after she clocked a championship record 12.77 seconds to win the gold medal in the 100m hurdles at the World Under-20 Championships in Cali, Colombia.
As a 17-year-old at Champs last year, Hill smashed the Class Two 100m hurdles record with 12.71 seconds, a day after she equalled the record with 12.89 in the preliminary round.
Despite the momentum in their favour from Central Championships, Hydel – which finished 57 points behind Edwin Allen last year – will find it very hard to dethrone the Clarendon-based school without Lyston and Hill.
The Clayton twins, Tina – the World Under-20 100m champion – and Tia from Edwin Allen also ended their junior campaigns by signing professional contracts with MVP Track Club.
However, unlike Hydel, Edwin Allen have overcome the departure of the Clayton twins.
World Under-20 100m silver medallist Serena Cole, who has been in the shadow of the Clayton twins, has filled the void.
Cole entered Champs as the top-ranked Class One 100m sprinter. She has the two fastest times – 11.18 and 11.22 from the Carifta Trials on March 10.
The preliminary round of the 100m races is scheduled for Tuesday’s opening day with the semifinals and finals set for Wednesday.
Although Cole has the two fastest times she will face stiff competition from Hydel High’s Alana Reid, the world Under-20 bronze medallist.
The two stars will face off for the third time in three weeks.
Cole suffered her first defeat this season when soundly beaten by Reid at Central Championships on March 1. Reid made all the running into a negative 2.3 metres-per-second wind to pull off a big upset victory in 11.39 seconds while Cole, who conceded defeat just by slowing down, finished second in 11.93.
Cole avenged the defeat 10 days later at the Carifta Trials on March 11 in impressive fashion, clocking 11.18 seconds in a negative wind of 0.6 metres per second. Reid had to settle for second in 11.24.
The Boys’ Class One 100m will also grab the attention as it features KC’s star Bouwahjgie Nkrumie, easily the fastest at the distance. He has the two fastest times – 10.18 and 10.19 – going into Champs and will be racing against the clock.
Nkrumie is unbeaten since he clocked a big personal best of 10.02 seconds to break the national junior record. The national junior record was achieved on August 2, 2022, at the World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Cali, Colombia.
The 10.02 seconds in Cali handed the 18-year-old the silver medal and came two hours after he clocked 10.11 in the semifinals to equal the record held jointly by Yohan Blake (2007) and Christopher Taylor (2018).
Deandre Daley of Herbert Morrison Technical is the third fastest with 10.26 achieved at the Western Championships.
Some 88 boys’ teams and 91 girls’ teams will take part in Champs.