Alex Mills takes a look ahead to what we might expect from Team Jamaica at the Commonwealth Games
Two years on since reigning supreme at London 2012, Team Jamaica are back in Britain hoping to reassert their track dominance at Glasgow 2014.
Appearing rather fresh-faced and inexperienced in comparison to their previous major championship teams, this young squad offers arguably the first insight into life after Usain Bolt for the Caribbean nation.
While Bolt is of course still running at the event, his bit-part role in the relays offers the likes of Warren Weir the chance to take on the mantle of poster boy.
It’s not only the youngsters who will go into the event not knowing what to expect either, for several of the more experienced athletes such as Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce this will also be their first taste of a Commonwealth Games. In fact, only eight of the 68 chosen for the team have previously competed at the event formerly known as the Empire Games.
Speaking earlier this year about what she was expecting from Glasgow, Fraser-Pryce said: “I’m looking forward to the Games. I’ve never been there before so you can imagine me trying to actually get there just to see what happens. Everybody says ‘the only title you don’t have is the Commonwealth title, when are you going to win it?’ so who knows what will happen?”
Though if the two-time Olympic gold medallist is to win a title it will only come in the form of relay gold after injury prevented her from attending the Jamaican trials meaning she wasn’t eligible to run in an individual event. Luckily for Fraser-Pryce, who had said all along that she wanted to compete at the Games, she was given a place in the 4x100m through the discretion of the selectors.
“They are committed and they put in the work so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens” – Fraser-Pryce on the young Jamaica team members
Asked at the Diamond League in Monaco about the Jamaica team, she said: “It’s a young team but inevitably I think that they’ll do well. They’re motivated and they are committed and they put in the work so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.”
The sprinter’s absence from the main events will no doubt further fuel the skeptical idea that the competition has become diluted. Yet despite the sprints being bereft of the US powerhouses, the throws short of more than a few European monsters and the Kenyans given an easier ride without that contest with their East African nemesis the Ethiopians, the fields are, in places, still world class.
Challenging the Jamaicans, particularly on the track, will be the likes of Grenada, Nigeria and Botswana – all upcoming nations in track and field who are all bringing arguably their best ever squads to the Games. Add to this Canada, Kenya and of course all of the home nations and the standards start to look a lot higher.
While of course their small nation’s main challenge will come in the sprints, it would appear that Jamaica now possesses a genuine all-round team that could come very close to topping the athletics medals table come August 3.
The Games will provide an opportunity for the likes of 400m hurdles world leader Kaliese Spencer, triple jumper Kimberly Williams, sprint hurdler Hansle Parchment and 400m runner Novlene Williams-Mills to have their best chance of winning their first individual gold medals.
As for what we can expect from Bolt, the world’s fastest man could also only offer his services for the relay, after he too missed the Jamaican trials through injury. Unsurprisingly the selectors obliged to his request.
Although Bolt running in the relay may knock the chances of England winning gold, they will be buoyed by the news that at least two of Jamaica’s usual 4x100m team will not race, with Yohan Blake, Nesta Carter and Asafa Powell all missing.
All of which leaves Weir, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Nickel Ashmeade, Rasheed Dwyer and Jason Livermore with a chance to shine.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, almost as if we’re in Jamaica” – Andrew Riley on the reception he and his team mates might get in Glasgow
As part of the Glen Mills trio that so famously cleaned up in the 2012 Olympic 200m final, Weir is probably the best known name of the group and, having run the second-fastest time of this year with his 19.82 from New York, he will surely be the favourite. However he hasn’t had it all his own way this season, his most notable defeat coming at the Jamaican trials where he lost to Dwyer, twice a World Universities medallist, who won in 20.04.
Speaking in New York it seemed clear that Weir was enthused by the idea of running in the country where his surname originates. However, he also admitted he didn’t know much about the place: “Well my grandmother is of Scottish origin but I don’t know much about Scotland, I just know that there are bagpipers and that skirt, that I think is called a kilt.”
In the women’s sprints it’s two old heads that will lead their nation’s challenge as Kerron Stewart and Veronica Campbell-Brown look to add their first Commonwealth golds to their already glowing collections. Campbell-Brown is a proven championship performer and should provide a stern test for compatriot Stewart and the likes of Trinidadian Michelle-Lee Ahye, Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare and English trio Asha Phillip, Ashleigh Nelson and Bianca Williams when she runs in the 100m.
Williams-Mills, the current Diamond League leader in the 400m, will be hoping to extend her excellent form this season. She has already run 50.05 and will be joined by Christine Day and Stephanie-Ann McPherson. For the men’s 400m runners a relay medal, potentially even gold, would appear a more realistic target for a team that includes six runners that have gone sub-45.6 this year.
Aside from the flat races, Jamaica’s best chance comes in the 110m hurdles as Parchment, who recently became world leader after running 12.94 in Paris, will attempt to head a historic 1-2 from team-mate Andrew Riley. Riley is joint ninth in the world this year and the second fastest in the Commonwealth.
Speaking in Lausanne about the reception he and his team mates might get in Glasgow, Riley said: “It’s going to be an awesome feeling having the whole team there; it’s going to be a great atmosphere, almost as if we’re in Jamaica.”
While it might be hard to imagine Hampden Park becoming engulfed in a mixture of bagpipes and reggae music, it’s certainly an idea that should excite fans, especially if we do at any point experience weather similar to Kingston, Jamaica.