How The Jamaicans Exceeded Expectations in Doha

Jamaicans were concerned about their would-be performances in Doha, but as it turned out, it was totally unfounded.

At the Jamaican Trials in late June, for example, hurdling revelation Danielle Williams was charged with a false start in the women’s 100m final, and was accordingly thrown out of the race, a la IAAF false start rule instituted since 2010 (Rule 162.7).

Ms. Williams, the surprising 2015 World Champion in the event, refused to abide by said stipulation and subsequently held up track proceedings for an inordinate 45 minutes. The Jamaica Athletic Administrative Association (JAAA) was not amused and she deemed ineligible to represent Jamaica at the September World Championships.

Despite or in spite of that, Williams went on a tear and won every single race she entered thereafter, culminating in her first Diamond League Finals win, and a National Record 12.30secs, followed by a disappointing bronze medal for third place, in Doha.

Briana’s Summer of Agony

Continuing with the women and, incidentally, another Williams, young sprinter Briana Williams, the new darling of Jamaican track, lit up the world wherever she competed. But at the Trials in June, a funny thing happened after she sped to a lifetime best of  10.94secs, in Kingston, behind Olympic Champion Elaine Thompson (10.73secs) and two-time Olympic Champ and then three-time World Champion, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (equal 10.73secs), fastest time in the world for 2019. It was a breathtaking final.

Young Williams did not contest the 200m at the Trials because she had come down with a cold a day before the 100m. The 200m was won by Elaine Thompson in 22.00secs, while Fraser-Pryce ran a season’s best of 22.22secs for the equal runner-up spot.

As the season progressed into the summer, news came that Briana tested positive for an over-the-counter cold medicine given to her by her mother, Sharon Simpson. The World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) banned the non-performance enhancing medication HCTZ) because, according to the experts, it can be used to mask the presence of anabolic steroids in the system. These steroids were the preferred stimulants used by the East Germans during their reign as track and field superpower.

Williams, the 17-yr-old sprint dynamo, was essentially ‘pulled’ from the team although she was provisionally selected by the JAAA to run the short sprint. This was humane thinking on the part of the Jamaica federation because the young charge would not be able to fully engage in training while her career hung in the balance. But the selection was understandable and importantly backed by an adoring Jamaican public.

The bottom line is that Williams went through a summer of agony but came through the medical trial review with, as expected, a public reprimand and no period of ineligibility, meaning that she was free to compete on the spot, after the 26 September Independent Anti-Doping Panel decision. They concluded that there was no intent, on her part, to gain an unfair competitive advantage. Williams was not eligible to compete in Doha, as, according to Anti-Doping Rules (article 10.1 and 10.8) all of her results at the Trials should be nullified after the positive test. I feel that even if she were able to run legally, the impact of the violation was too burdensome to overcome with such short mental preparation.

A Blessing and a Curse

If there were concerns about Williams, and the women’s sprint relay, the men’s team was even more troublesome. There was no outstanding male performer in the caliber of 2008 to 2017 when winning anything ‘less’ than a gold medal was considered a ‘loss.’ The Bolt area was a blessing and a curse. Back in the ’80s and ’90s, a couple bronze medals would be glorious; expectations have risen considerably.

Everyone fed off of Bolt. His heir ‘apparent,’ Yohan Blake, could not seem to regain the form that took him to 9.69secs and 19.26 secs in the 100m and 200m, respectively. Since Blake’s early 2013 hamstring injury, he had lost many races that he ‘should’ have won. It would have been unfair to expect Blake or anyone else to motivate the team in the place of the indomitable Usain Bolt. When his era ended so effectively, so did the careers of another would-be star Kemar Bailey-Cole and the veterans Asafa Powell, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter, to name a few.

As the above unfolded, pundits, along with the Jamaican public predicted the demise of the number of medals that the team would win in Doha. Although the staples were expected to have ‘top three,’ finishes, very few expected a medal haul in the neighborhood of the 13 won during the Bolt period. When Usain left the sport in 2017, after a series of serious physical injuries that prevented him from being at his best in the latter stages of his career. The Big Man had set a very high standard.

So this 2019 team, comprising a good mixture of veterans and youth had a lot to prove. Jamaicans can be very unforgiving although they have matured admirably over the years. Everyone stepped up to the plate and the 12-medal win, the second most ever at these Championships, is proof.

Some of the most memorable performances came via Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who burned of the Doha track with the fastest ever first round heat ever run. In a dazzling display of supreme sprinting from gun to tape, the Rocket rocketed to an astonishing 10.81secs, unchallenged to the line. The semifinal was as demonstrative as the first round. Again, the Queen of sprinting blasted to 10.82secs.

Meanwhile, the struggling Elaine Thompson made it through to the final, finishing second in an uninspired 11.00secs, behind the Ivory Coast’s Marie Josee-Ta Lou’s 10.88. The third Jamaican entrant, the debutante Jonelle Smith, also made the final. The final was no serious contest as the 32-yr-old Pryce got a blistering start and won unchallenged with a season best of 10.71secs.

PBs for Gayle, Jackson

Long jumper Tajay Gayle won his event in a major upset, 8.69m. And with a best of 10.42secs in the 100m, his coach Stephen Francis declared that he will run some 100m races in 2020. If anyone can spot unheralded talent, Francis is the man. He can do for Gayle what he did for Asafa Powell. But Gayle seems fearless so he may be a better candidate than Powell, for sprint gold.

Shericka Jackson’s bronze and a personal best of 49.47secs in the 400m, and two medals in the relays; that’s commendable. The women’s sprint relay, which outclassed the field in 41.44secs, the eighth fastest of all time, and without the services of the aforementioned Elaine Thompson and Briana Williams, was special.

With Pryce at her best, along with a fit Thompson, Williams, and Jonelle Smith, Jamaica might be able to challenge for the world record. Thompson was pulled from the 200m because of injury but she should be back to defend her Olympic titles. Fraser-Pryce was questionably withdrawn from the 200m. This robbed her of another medal and the chance for her first sub 22.00secs clocking.

Believe that new stars will be born, and eyes will again be peering at next year’s Olympic Games and the Worlds in 2021.