Young Jamaican Female Brigade Ready to Rumble

Tina Clayton

There’s a small crew of young Jamaican female sprinters who seem mentally ready for the next level of sprinting; they are as talented and competitive as they are starry-eyed and fearless. Some are just out of high school, others are finishing their first year in college or as a professional, and, for the most part, have already gotten the better of seasoned athletes much older than they.

Take 18-yr-old Tina Clayton for example, who signed with Nike last year when she finished high school and is about to finish her first year under the tutelage of world-renowned coach Stephen Francis of the MVP Track Club.

Clayton joined the professional ranks with much public expectation. She is a two-time World under-20 100m champion with a 9.95 personal best (pb) and a member of the Under-20 sprint relay world record team. World Junior Champions usually transition into the senior ranks and do well, and Tina is set to be no exception. However, her coach, Francis, cautioned fans last year against expecting major fireworks from her in 2023. Now, days before the national championships, Francis said he expects big things from her next season but isn’t ruling out a big performance at this week’s championships.

It’s an open secret that Clayton doesn’t like to lose, and even if she leaves the blocks behind others, she can keep her composure and run them down, for she is quietly confident, even when she is nervous because she has heard pundits predict a defeat for her. Clayton last race as a schoolgirl proved her mettle.

She has taken on senior rivals and won, even running away with a US$10,000 prize money at the Gibson McCook Relays in February.

She is listed to compete in 100m at Trials which begins tomorrow with the finals set for Friday.

Kerrica Hill

Here’s a starlet who has oozed confidence in a nonchalant way after her final year in high school. Like Clayton, she took on the sprint hurdling world at the junior level and destroyed her opponents. A phenomenal 12.77secs in Cali, Colombia shot her right to the top of the podium and caused the world to pay attention. That performance made her believe that she should go pro instead of staying another year in high school to represent it.

But while many discussed whether she was ready, there was no doubt in her mind that she was, and she was not shy about letting fans know that. “Shelly [Fraser-Pryce] is someone that is going to push you and motivate you,” she told the Jamaica Observer, “and so, having her around is a big inspiration to me. I am the youngest one in the camp, so having everybody around me there is great for me.”

Hill is talented and fast over the flat 100m with a pb of 11.16 and 7.10 over 60m. Small wonder she ran the third leg of the world-record 4x100m relay in Cali, taking the baton for Tina Clayton, who had already left her rivals on the backstretch.

In April, she clocked a new senior-level pb at 12.75secs to win the women’s 100m hurdles at a Velcolity Fest meet in Kingston, defeating her training partner and Olympic bronze medalist Megan Tapper.   Before that, she competed in Florida, her first race for the season and her first big test. She was up against world record holder Tobi Amusan and former World champions Nia Ali and Danielle Williams, and she placed fifth.

Hill said earlier in the season that she would double at the senior trials, contesting the 100m. Former US sprint hurdler Gail Devers had done it, so why can’t she? The last time she competed was in June at the Racer’s Grand Prix with Amusan again in the line-up. But Hill ended her effort after the first hurdle and walked away with a limp. She is listed to contest only the 100m hurdles at Trials.

Serena Cole

This young lady has stepped out from the shadows of the Clayton twins. A serious long jumper, Cole made known her intention last year that she wanted to run the 100m. As the lead-off runner on the U20 world record team and for her school at Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships (Champs), Penn Relays as well as any other meet, she quickly covered many of her rival on the stagger.

In 2022, Cole began her impressive 100m trajectory in 100m in earnest and seemed to have come with a confidence that defied her disappointing experience at the 2021 World Junior championships in Nairobi, Kenya and a determination to become a force in the 100m. In Nairobi, she was on the track, ready to run the 100m when she was replaced by Hill. She worked her way down to 11.13 pb and then capped her 2022 season with a World U20 silver medal behind Clayton in Cali.

An impending 2023 Champs clash with Alana Reid this year didn’t materialize when she was injured in the 100m semi-final and ordered to stop competing. Subsequently, she ran an astounding lead-off leg for her school at the Penn Relay against Reid on that leg and then went pro. She is being conditioned by Stephen Francis at the MVP Track Club and will contest the 100m at Trials. Don’t be shocked if she clocks 10.8s or low 10.9s.

Alana Reid

And then there is Alana Reid, who has decided to become a professional athlete instead of accepting a US college scholarship. Her mother, Karen Chisholm, has assured the public that her daughter will continue her education even though she has turned professional. “It is clear that she wants to use her talent to lead but there is no compromise where education is concerned,” Chisholm told the Jamaica Observer newspaper.

Reid copped the 200m silver medal at last year’s Word U-20 championships and was catapulted further into the spotlight when she ran a blistering 10.92 for the 100m at Champs after telling her coach that she was going out to do sub-11. Having broken Tina Clayton’s national junior record set in August 2022, she was suddenly the national junior record holder for the event and became the fifth-fastest junior of all time and the 21st Jamaican woman to run under 11 seconds over 100m. She will be guided by her high school coach, Corey Bennett, in preparation for the National Championships to vie for a spot on the team to this year’s World Championships in August.

Reid’s last 20 meters is deadly, and her strides as she shifts to high gear recall those of US 200m record holder and World champion Noah Lyles as he transitions to the second half of any race.

Since Champs and Carifta Games, she has been running as far as in Japan to keep sharp, and some onlookers are concerned that she could be tired going to Trials for which she is down to do the sprint double.

According to her mother, she has nothing to fear from her opponents.

Ackera Nugent

This sprint hurdler has been on fire on the US collegiate circuit even before she transferred from Baylor University after a year to the University of Arkansas, a strategic move to push herself to the limit. At Arkansas, she hit the ground running and has had a season of records and all-time bests. Her achievements are major: World U20 hurdles champion, NCAA indoor hurdles champion twice, and outdoor champion once. In the NCAA Division 1 final this year, she ran a scintillating 12.25 (3.8m/s), and although the wind was above the legal limit, her time was ranked the collegiate all-conditions best time ever.

She’s a force not only in her main event with a career-best 12.43secs, but also in the flat 100m, boasting a pb of 11.09. She ended the season as the queen of college sprint hurdles, even though her championship-winning time and pb rank third in the event among collegians this season.

That she lost the race in heat and returned to win the final speaks volumes about her tenacity and ability to keep her composure under pressure.

Nugent’s coach told SportsMax earlier in the season: “I won’t let the cat out of the bag, but I think you will be very pleased when you see her run 100m. I think everybody is going to be surprised about what she is capable of doing.”

However, she is not listed to compete in the flat 100m at Trials.

The question is, after a taxing college season, how much does Nugent have left for a tough final if she gets there despite the absence of Word silver medalist Brittany Anderson?

As we brace for what four days of Trials will serve, we ponder how much these young ladies have adjusted to a different level of training and the demands that come with their new status. Being starry-eyed and fearless is one thing; being able to stand up to experienced fit world-class sprinters who’ve been ready for Trials is another. The answer is only fewer than three days away. -Desmond Palmer