The 2016 edition of the National Individual Track and Field Championships always promised to be something special. Registered for the meet at the George Odlum Stadium were almost 20 athletes who are either professionals, current, former, or soon-to-be collegiate athletes in the United States or elsewhere.
The headliners were the island’s two confirmed 2016 Olympians, women’s high jumpers Levern Spencer and Jeanelle Scheper, along with Olympic hopefuls like combined events athlete Makeba Alcide, sprinters Corneil Lionel, Jahvid Best, and Rosen Daniel.
Scores of spectators, including friends and family of the international and local-based competitors, turned out to support their favourites and the sport at the two-day meet, which included over a dozen clubs and schools from Saint Lucia and Martinique. With the stands at the stadium condemned, all present braved the Vieux Fort sun, huddled in a cluster of tents dotted about by the organisers, or sheltered beneath the eaves of the superstructure.
Among those in attendance were soon to be sailing Olympian, Stephanie Devaux-Lovell; West Indies captain, Darren Sammy; International Olympic Committee member, Mr. Richard Peterkin; Minister for Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, Culture and Local Government, Honourable Lenard Montoute; Minister in the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, Culture and Local Government, Honourable Edmund Estephane; Minister in the Ministry of Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, Culture and Local Government, and president of the Saint Lucia Olympic Committee, Inc, Honourable Senator Fortuna Belrose; Permanent Secretary in the Minister for Equity, Social Justice, Empowerment, Youth Development, Sports, Culture and Local Government, Dr. Anthony George.
The feature attraction delivered in spades. Levern defended her national title and continued her strong season by winning with a height of 1.94m, the best performance ever recorded in Saint Lucia (a stadium record). It was also the first time an Olympic qualifying mark had ever been attained on domestic soil. Levern struggled at 1.91m with a calf injury, but it was a nice recovery for her, after she fought through her two recent meets under adverse conditions in Europe. Jeanelle, meanwhile, conquered 1.91m on her first attempt, marking her best effort for the season. Both ladies appear to be rounding nicely into shape ahead of Rio in a few weeks. Disappointing, though, was the lack of participation aside from Levern and Jeanelle. Only two other athletes entered the event.
Conversely, Makeba Alcide achieved the best Heptathlon mark ever seen on island, 5852 points, but did so amongst the biggest combined events field ever for a local meet. Six athletes, including four teenagers, two of them trying combined events for the first time, faced the starter. And that group did not even include either Tennesse Tech freshman Sharnique Leonce or national junior champion Marva Herman. Makeba’s 5852 was also her best mark since she last reset the National Record and Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) record of 6050 in 2013. She had one of her best outings in High Jump (1.82m), good efforts in Shot Put (12.91m), 200m (24.46), and Long Jump (5.86m).
The only event she did not win was Javelin Throw, where silver medallist Shamalyn Albert and bronze medallist Rochelle Etienne are comparatively strongest, but even there, her mark of 36.15 is a decent showing, and a run of 2:24.76 took her just out of record contention. With one more chance to qualify for Rio, Makeba is looking strong.
The men’s sprints featured a first-time matchup between Jahvid and Corneil, the former NFL running back and the former Abilene Christian University student athlete appearing to hit it off at once. Corneil, the defending champion, recaptured the men’s 100m title in 10.35, with Jahvid three hundreds of a second back. Former CARIFTA finalist Jovan Stephen crossed in 10.64 to finish third. Jovan won the 200m, however, finishing in 21.58, as Corneil – the National Record holder – pulled up lame, and Corneil’s former university teammate, Rosen Daniel, faded. Rosen had had enough, though, to run 47.26 for victory in the 400m. The youth (under-18) boys’ sprints saw Jean Meachel Etienne doing the 1-2 double, and Reuben Nichols running a personal-best 50.82 in the 400 to beat Randy Serville.
Amongst the women, the clashes were between Jamaica-based youth sprinter Julien Alfred, Wiley College freshman Natasha Poleon, former collegian Pernell Joseph, and scholarship hopeful Allana Paul. Julien doubled up in the 100 and 200, beating Pernell and Isha Blanchard in the one, Allana, Natasha and Verlyn Taylor in the other. Allana held Natasha off on the home straight to take the 400 title. The youth races were won by Desray Desir, and Britney Benjamin doing the 200-400 double.
Another keenly anticipated contest was the men’s 800m, where Wiley College runner and National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) champion Marbeq Edgar and Coppin State University’s Michael James have both gone under 1:50 this season, whilst Holy Family University’s Taurai Augustin and home-based athlete Daniel Eugene have dipped under 1:58.
Taurai and Daniel ran personal-best times in the final, but it was all about Marbeq and Michael, the tousle-haired Marbeq getting the win in 1:49.88 (fastest time ever by a Saint Lucian on home soil), with Michael fewer than two seconds behind him in 1:51.25. It was a far closer contest than the 1500, where Marbeq simply ran away from Michael and Taurai. Randy Serville was victorious in the boys’ 800m, over Reuben Nichols.
Although she did not attend university on a sports scholarship, veteran athlete Theodora Henry is indeed a degree-holder, having graduated from Grambling University. She pushed Kamillah Monroque to a new personal-best in the 1500m run, before Kamillah came back to win the 800m and 5000m with very little resistance. Still, Kamillah is yet to achieve a true breakout season, and she will be looking for far stronger performances in 2017.
Michael Mega Boost Biscette has been building a name for himself in distance running around the region, and he upheld that good name by winning the men’s 5000m.
Kevin Norville ended up doing the Triple Jump as an exhibition event, whereas the men’s Long Jump had eight athletes. University of Wyoming graduate Lenyn Leonce built on what has been a strong season to date, winning in 7.34m, with Cal State Fullerton-bound Desran Desir second with 7.25m, a personal best.
Also of note – Ace Louis won men’s High Jump over Mickey Ferdinand. Neema Leon cleared a personal-best 5.75m to win women’s Long Jump. Amber Lucien won all three women’s throws. Jean-Pierre Frederick won both boys’ Shot Put and Discus Throw, with a personal best in Shot Put. The men’s throws were woefully and sadly undersubscribed, with two competitors in Javelin Throw, one in Shot Put, and none in Discus Throw.
The juvenile (under-15) athlete had a wonderful opportunity to rub shoulers with their storied compatriots, and they took full advantage. Perhaps inspired by being in the company of so many local luminaries, they too turned in some top marks. Rising stars Zoe Dorville, Kemuel Pelage and Danzel Philbert, young rockets Miguel Charlery and Thomyka Valcent, Shirniah Emmanuel and Asa Francis, Joy Edwards and Youry Goldery of Martinique all excelled over the course of the two days.
Next up for several of the elite athletes will be the OECS Championships this coming weekend in the British Virgin Islands, and the North and Central American and Caribbean Under-23 Championships in El Salvador, where Jeanelle and Marbeq could be among those to feature.