May 2013 Volume 10

Kingston College, Jamaican High Schools Dominate Penn Relays

Barrington Salmon
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For the first time in 23 years, Kingston College’s Keneil Grant eased across the finish line in the Championship of America Boys’ High School 4x100m relay.

 The team of Keneil Grant, Omar McLeod, Antonio Henry and Tevin-Lloyd Thompson ended the season on a winning note, finishing the season undefeated. Thompson, who ran the anchor leg, looked to the right and to the left as he crossed the tape, spread his arms wide and then pop a pose for the camera, on Saturday, April 27.

McLeod, a former Manchester High School student who transferred to KC during the current academic year, also stormed to a win in the 400m hurdles on the final day of action at the Penn Relays at Franklin Field in west Philadelphia.

The team and coach Richard Thomas savored the relay win, reflecting on all the hard work that led to the triumph at the 2013 edition of the relay carnival. “It’s great feeling,” said Thomas, as some members of the KC team posed for pictures on a podium in near the Team Jamaica Bickle tent. “We’ve been working so hard for so long. Last year we thought we had it but it didn’t work out. I have to thank the Father, parents and supporters. We really wanted to give the sponsors some return.” 

KC, which finished third in this year’s Boys’ Champs, also won the long jump competition.

U-TECH also won the College Men’s 4x100 race. Jamaica’s Hydel High School replicated U-TECH’s feat, winning while competing in Philadelphia for the first time.

Jamaica’s dominance was illustrated in the High School Boys 4x100m category, where five teams from Jamaica – Kingston College, Wolmers, Munro, Green Island and Calabar – finished in the top five spots.

Further, Gleneve Grange destroyed the women’s discus record, adding an astounding 11 feet to the previous record of 167 feet 1 inch. Grange’s throw of 54.39m was a national junior record and a new meet record. For this feat, Grange of Holmwood Technical High School, was named the 2013 Penn Relays High School Girls’ Athlete of the Meet for individual events. Tara-Sue Barnett, of Edwin Allen High School, came second with a throw of 164 feet-1-inch.

Grange’s record was the second national junior record set in the past four years at Franklin Field. In 2009, K-Don Samuels of Jamaica College broke the pole vault record. On Saturday, Calabar’s Jevon Francis also earned the title of Penn Relays High School Boy Athlete for Relay Events after he blazed a sizzling 44.9 second anchor leg to ensure that Calabar secured the Championship of Americas 4x400m title. The win was Calabar’s sixth and the time of 3.09.22 was the second fastest time ever. Francis pipped Munro College’s Delano Williams by two-one-hundredths of a second, bringing the crowd to its feet as both anchors struggled to best the other.

The spectre of the Boston bombing did little to quell the almost rabid enthusiasm of almost 50,000 fans who made it to Franklin Field on the last day of the Penn Relays.

Close races at every level – high school, collegiate and professional – had spectators jumping out of their seats, encouraging the runner on, screaming themselves hoarse as they yelled support for individuals and teams.

All around the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field, spectators enjoyed the atmosphere, color and ambience of the 119-year-old event. As has become commonplace at the relay carnival, the colors of the Jamaican flag dominated. Green, black and gold dotted the landscape in the form of clothing, bandanas, sneakers, earrings, scarves, capes, T-shirts, shades and running gear. Not to be outdone, American supporters held the corners of a large flag in the upper reaches of the bleaches and proudly donned their national colors. Prior to a number of races, the chants of USA! USA! USA! bounced off the rival cheers of JA-MAI-CA! JA-MAI-CA! JA-MAI-CA!  

More than 15,000 athletes from track clubs, colleges and high schools around the U.S. and points abroad, vied for supremacy and bragging rights during the three-day competition, site of America’s oldest and largest international track and field competition.

Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie said Penn Relays holds a special place for him. “The Jamaican crowd in the stands is a sight to behold — a symbol of unity reminiscent of independence celebrations and dancing in Half-Way-Tree during the Olympic Games,” said Vasciannie, who has represented Jamaica in the US since last summer. “I still remember the black and white photograph of Lennox Miller, Tony Keyes and other icons of the Kingston College glory years as they posed with the Penn Relay shields which they took home from Jamaica’s first foray into the distinguished event in the 1960s. This was early evidence of Jamaica’s role in the globalization of school sports, and a harbinger of great achievements to come for the country as a whole. If you look at the records of Penn Relays, Jamaica’s prominence, indeed dominance, is a matter for superlative praise. Long may this tradition of success continue and long, long may male and female athletes, from country and from town give their best at the Relays.”

In one of the most anticipated races of the day, the Jamaican national women’s team – comprised of three Olympic silver medalists – beat the USA women’s Blue Team in one of signature US vs. the World events. Jamaica crossed the finish line at the end of the 4x100m race in a sparkling time of 42.42 seconds. Anchor Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was ecstatic after the win in for the sprint quartet ended a nine-year drought against their American rivals.

“This was great. Every year, we came 2nd, 2nd, 2nd. This year was special. We came out and decided that we’d do our best to win,” said, Fraser-Pryce, two-time Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 100m. “It was a team effort. We had four girls showing grit, determination and good execution. We’re doing well going into the World Championships.”

“This definitely bodes well for the future.”

Fraser-Pryce was joined on the podium by Kerron Stewart, Sherone Simpson and Anneisha McLaughlin, cheered on by the throaty cheers of their Jamaican supporters and all who love track and field events.

Former 100m world record holder Maurice Greene watched the races from the infield and shook his head when asked about the Jamaica-US rivalry. Jamaica, he said, Jamaica has surpassed America as a sprinting juggernaut.

“We’re in trouble and it will take some time to come back,” said Greene, who still holds the world record in the 60m dash and who coaches UCLA’s track team. “I’ve always seen the talent they have. They’ve really dominated and it didn’t just happen.”

Thomas agreed, saying Jamaica’s future continues to look bright. “It all started with U-Tech, MVP. We decided we’d keep our athletes at home,” he said. “We’ve seen the results in the last two Olympic games.”

A sports enthusiast agreed. “Our emphasis on sports in Jamaica has largely been at the high school level (especially for track and field),” said the longtime observer of Jamaica track and field. “The University of the West Indies and U-TECH have traditionally not devoted resources or effort to encouraging sporting excellence (in contrast to the US college system). Thus, it's not surprising that our college teams have had difficulties matching US college teams.”

“But this is changing or has changed. Coaches Stephen Francis, Glen Mills and others have encouraged star athletes to stay at home, and have taken them to the highest levels. And both U-Tech and UWI have embraced these initiatives. GC Foster [has also contributed much to improvements in this area. Thus, we see the quality at the high school level continuing, but now joined by U-TECH taking the gold in the 4x100m.”

Activity around Franklin Field stadium was as busy as on the field inside. Nike occupied a large tent which housed the Penn Relays Speed Burst, where passersby could get advice from coaches and world-class athletes on how best to fly out the blocks. Sensors and cameras measured their efforts and videos captured each attempt, a Nike analyst explained. Sprint phenoms Allyson Felix, Jamaican-born US sprinter Sanya Richards-Ross and two-time 400m Hurdles Olympic champion Felix Sanchez stopped by to coach some participants on the finer points of their techniques. Sanchez’s time on Friday was the top time for male participants on the leader board.

Accompanied by loud, pulsating up-tempo music, prospective shoppers and the curious strolled around the tent. In the back, shoppers could pick up Nike sneakers, T-shirts, customized socks, shades, shoe laces and other paraphernalia. Many were Jamaica-themed with the flag’s color predominating. Next door, a DJ livened up the proceeding with smooth reggae sounds and he constantly reminded passersby that they could sample plantain and banana chips, soup and natural coconut water.

Athletes and visitors lounged in the grass, some played with a Frisbee, others tossed a football.

At the TJB tent across campus, a steady stream of athletes, coaches, officials and others enjoyed meals provided by volunteers.

Vincent Hosang, founder of Royal Caribbean Bakery and his daughter Sabrina, oversaw the operation, providing 700 athletes with three meals a day for the duration of the relay carnival.

Hosang said he had to install hot and cold water, buy a generator and run electricity to make sure that his staff could provide the meals for the athletes. Hosang was self-deprecating as he explained his role.

“I contribute just a small slice of this,” he said. “If people didn’t support my business, I couldn’t do this. God has blessed me and I’m happiest when I’m giving back.”

Hosang has spent well over $1 million out of his own pocket in the 19 years since Team Jamaica Bickle began providing meals, transportation and other amenities to Jamaican and Caribbean athletes.

Natalie Neita-Headley, a Minister who holds portfolio responsibility for Sport in the Office of the Prime Minister, was effusive in her praise of the competition.

“I was very pleased with the results. Jamaica performed with distinction,” she said. “It was amazing to see the number of supporters in the stands in green, yellow and black. It was a great Diasporic indicator that clearly Penn Relays is the Jamaican relays.”

“I was happy for the warm weather and elated that as a group, the student/athletes and teams did so well. As a country, we’re showing that we continue to dominate and that in 49 of the Penn Relays’ 119 years, we continue to play a pivotal role.”  

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