Jamaica searches for Bolt heir at national championships

Kingston (Jamaica) (AFP) –


The hunt for a successor to Usain Bolt gets under way on Thursday as Jamaica stages its National Championships looking to unearth a new crop of sprinters capable of challenging for major titles.

For the first time in more than a decade, Jamaica is preparing for a World Championships without Bolt, the eight-time Olympic gold medallist and 100m and 200m world record holder.

At his peak, Bolt was the most celebrated product of a Jamaican sprint factory which had churned out an array of talent, which also included the likes of former world record holder Asafa Powell and 2011 100m world champion Yohan Blake.

But in the years since Bolt hung up his spikes after the 2017 World Championships in London, Jamaican men's sprinting has been in the relative doldrums.

No Jamaican man has come close to threatening the world's fastest times over 100m and 200m in 2018 or 2019, where a new crop of US talent led by Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles and Michael Norman has emerged as the dominant force.

More than 70 entries will line up in Kingston this weekend chasing one of the three spots in the 100m for the World Championships, which take place in Doha, Qatar this year from September 28 to October 6.

So far, however, none of the entries has indicated they have the pedigree to fill the void created by Bolt's departure.

While Olympic champions Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce look set to keep Jamaica in the medals hunt in the women's short sprints, the same cannot be said for the men.

- Motley crew -

Blake heads a motley crew comprised mostly of US college standouts and sprinters that have yet to make a mark on the global circuit.

Tyquendo Tracey won the 100m at last year's inaugural IAAF Athletics Cup in London but is only the 75th fastest over the distance this season.

Blake meanwhile has the fastest 100m time of any Jamaican this season, clocking 9.98sec in Florida in May. That though remains substantially outside Coleman's world-leading time of 9.85 set in Oslo.

Other hopefuls include US college athlete Andre Ewers, Purdue University senior Waseem Williams as well as Raheem Chambers.

Powell, meanwhile, is also listed as an entry with the 36-year-old chasing a spot on his fifth World Championships team.

While the hunt for a successor to Bolt goes on in the men's events, the only question on the women's side will be establishing who joins Fraser-Pryce and Thompson for a place in Doha.

Seventeen year-old Briana Williams, the IAAF Under-20 double sprint champion in Finland last year, is ranked number eight in the world with a National Junior record of 11.02 seconds set two weeks ago.

Jonielle Smith, who anchored the women's team to silver in the women's 4x100m at the World Relays, Nataliah Whyte and Rene Medley lead what is expected to be the next generation of female sprinters.

Fraser-Pryce meanwhile says expecting any of her male counterparts to replace Bolt is unrealistic.

"I don't think any athlete should try and pressure themselves to fill Usain's shoes," Fraser-Pryce told AFP last month.

"What he did was remarkable for the sport, so for us it's just a case of trying to do our best."

Away from the track, Jamaica may also challenge for medals in field events, with discus thrower Fedrick Dacres leading the world this season with a mark of 70.78m set in Rabat on Sunday.

O'Dayne Richards, a bronze medallist in the shot put in Beijing in 2015; Danniel Thomas-Dodd, the Commonwealth Games champion and fourth place finisher in London 2017 are also eyeing podium spots in Doha.