It was more than a Dream!
As athletes braced sporadic showers and fans “oo-hed” and “ahh-ed” as lightning lit up the overcast skies over the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Trinidad and Tobago’s ace sprinter Jereem “The Dream” Richards smashed his personal best time in the 200m event at the NGC-NAAATT National Open Championships on Sunday to win gold in a time of 19.83 seconds.
As Jereem ran away in jubilant celebration, the roars from the crowd alerted him that he had achieved something special—a new Championship record and, of course, a new PB in his pet event.
Just three months ago, Jereem turned dreams into reality for scores of Trinidad and Tobago track fans when he won the 400m event at the World Indoor Championships in scintillating fashion in Serbia.
On Sunday afternoon, on a wet Hasely Crawford Stadium track and with minimal wind behind him, Jereem felt right at home as he absolutely torched the field, leaving fellow Olympians Kyle Greaux and Dwight St Hillaire in his dust—or a puddle.
Greaux was a distant second in 20.56 secs, while St Hillaire finished third in 20.68 secs. Both Greaux and St Hillaire copped Pan-Am Games medals in their respective careers to date. But on Sunday, “Jereem The Dream” was in a class of his own.
Two-time Olympic medalist, Keshorn Walcott, who himself smashed a Championship Record with a javelin throw of 85.17m on Saturday afternoon, joked that Richards clocked 19.83 secs while running all by himself. And as he salivated about his own medal prospects for the upcoming IAAF World Championships in Oregon, Walcott reminded T&T that they better not sleep on The Dream.
“Jereem, tell me something,” chimed an elderly NAAA volunteer, as she caught the attention of the World Indoor Champ near the athletes’ tent—after his phenomenal 200m run. “What do I need to do to get that type of form?”
Catching his breath after his blistering run, Jereem smiled as he responded: “You don’t have to do anything, your form is good already.”
Jereem’s 19.83 secs run is the joint 5th-fastest time in the world for a 200m athlete this year, and he’s hopeful that his current form can take him all the way to a medal at the World Championships in Oregon, which gets underway from 15 July.
Jereem wasn’t the only man at the Hasely Crawford Stadium to have run 19.83 secs over 200m this year though.
The photographers and videographers at the venue may have come close, as they tried to scamper out of the rain to preserve their equipment. Instead that achievement belongs to Liberia’s USA-born sprinter Joseph Fahnbulleh, who clocked his personal best of 19.83 secs at the NCAA Championships in the US earlier this month.
Richards and the 20 year-old Fahnbulleh were both 200M finalists at the Tokyo Olympics last year—where they finished behind Canada’s Andre De Grasse. And it will be little surprise if the two lock horns again in Oregon next month.
But for now, Fahnbulleh can brag about the 4×100m relay win which his Liberia team got over a Team TTO outfit that included Richards and Eric Harrison—the latter was crowned the Men’s 100m champ on Saturday evening with a time of 10.08 secs.
Fahnbulleh was not the only African sprint sensation in Port of Spain, as Murielle Ahoure-Demps of the Ivory Coast showing Trinidad and Tobago’s sprint queen Michelle-Lee Ahye a clean pair of spikes in the preliminary round of the Women’s 100m event on Saturday to win in a time of 10.92 secs—though the tailwind was later adjudged to be illegal.
With multiple World Championships medals to her name, Ahoure-Demps returned to the track on Saturday evening to show that her earlier run was no fluke. She won the Women’s 100m B Final in a time of 10.95 secs.
Ahye was a no-show for the A Final, which Leah Bertrand won in 11.38 secs—as se just edged out a brimming Khalifa St Fort (11.39 secs).
St Fort posed on the track and soaked up the adulation of fans, as though she had just won Olympic gold. Once a bronze medalist at the 2016 World Under-20 Championships in Poland, perhaps she was just in her glee to be competing before her home supporters.
Both Jereem and Keshorn spoke to the adrenaline rush of performing before a local audience. And perhaps it was the extra push from the fans or the strong tailwind which caused Keshorn to foul on his first two attempts in the Men’s Javelin—the first of which was well in excess of 87m.
Keshorn was just getting his rhythm though, and by his fifth throw, he landed the Championship Record mark of 85.17m.
In previous NAAATT National Open Championships, the ace javelin thrower admitted to using the events as training exercises. On this occasion though, Keshorn meant business and he was in a big mood.
With impressive medal feats at the London and Rio Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016, Toco’s golden boy is hoping that his current rhythm could spear him to a podium finish in Oregon. A World Championship medal is still on Walcott’s bucket list and the 29-year-old would love to get that nagging “monkey off of his back”.
“In the past, I’ve felt as though I put too much pressure on myself,” Walcott said, as he embraced the ambiance of the Hasely Crawford Stadium VIP Lounge. “If it’s to happen, it will happen.”
All around the Hasely Crawford Stadium on the weekend were scores of young, emerging athletes who would love to emulate the achievements of Ahye, Richards, Walcott or the late Deon Lendore. Through the NGC-NAAATT Youth Elite Programme (YEP), the country’s top ten, high-performing juniors athletes are afforded strategic and technical support towards that goal.
The Open Championship allowed those YEP athletes to show their own championship mettle alongside the ‘big boys’.
Aged 19, one YEP athlete, Shakeem McKay, certainly oozed confidence as he competed in the Men’s 400m Final against some more established counterparts.
With 400m national record holder Machel Cedenio absent due to a medical exemption and former national champ Renny Quow pulling up lame around the 200M mark, McKay seized his opportunity and notched a bronze medal behind the pair of St Hillaire (45.46 secs) and Asa Guevara (46.16 secs).
McKay’s time of 46.74 secs was a new personal best, with the John John, Laventille resident eager to show what he’s made of on the global stage at the World Athletics Under-20 Championships in Colombia this August.
With the ‘Magnum est’ blood of QRC running through his veins, McKay draws his inspiration from former Royalian, Lendore.
“[I’m] thankful for a personal best of 46.74 seconds and third place finish running with the big dawgs,” McKay tweeted on Monday afternoon.
Another YEP athlete who caught the eye was Concorde’s Revell Webster. The wiry 18-year-old, who was a finalist at the Carifta Games 100m event earlier this year, achieved a new personal best in the 200m during the prelims on Friday (21.26 secs), while he followed suit with a 10.47 secs run in the 100m semifinals on Saturday.
Carifta 2022 bronze medalist and YEP athlete Shaniqua Bascombe also thought she had a new personal best in the 100M on Saturday, as Ahoure-Demps and Ahye pulled her to an 11.46 secs time in their rapid race, which was adjudged to have an illegal wind.
Bascombe did cop bronze in Saturday’s 200M event, although her time of 23.88 secs saw her finish well behind winner Mauricia Prieto (23.31 secs).
The term ‘one for the future’ is often clichéd, but the NAAATT will definitely hope that YEP athlete Gianna Paul is able to fulfil the promise shown in her fledgling career to date.
The spunky Concorde athlete copped a bronze medal in the Heptathlon event at this year’s Carifta Games and was the measure of composure and confidence over the weekend, as she dominated the competition in most of the seven events to finish in first place with 4,310 points overall—bettering her Carifta points haul of 4,245.
As Paul brought an end to proceedings on Saturday evening with a win in the 200m Heptathlon event, her time of 25.59 secs would have seen her qualify for the Women’s 200m proper.
Meanwhile, her winning leap of 5.36m in the Heptathlon Long Jump event on Sunday, would have been good enough for bronze in the Women’s Long Jump event which was won by Olympian Tyra Gittens (6.27m) and saw fellow Concorde athlete Janae DeGannes (5.69m) finish second.
With the Heptathlon Long Jump event and the Women’s Long Jump event happening simultaneously, perhaps it was poetic that Paul could learn from Gittens—T&T’s top heptathlete—and exchange ideas with her Concorde compatriot and fellow YEP athlete, DeGannes.
The camera shy DeGannes explained that she was pushed into track and field after being a bit of a mischief-maker in the classroom in her earliest school days. Now, at 16, she is using that youthful exuberance to good effect out on the track, and in the field as well.
DeGannes placed fifth in the 100m finals at the 2022 Carifta Games in a time of 12 secs flat, a time she would better at the NGC-NAAATT National Open Championships with her 11.89 secs clocking in the prelims on Saturday.
The Petit Valley youngster’s leap of 5.69M in the Women’s Long Jump was also an improvement from her Carifta jump, which landed her a fourth placed finish. The one-time troublemaker will make ‘mas’ in the sand pits and on the tracks if she keeps this up.
Standing at an imposing 6 foot 10, it’s fair to say that 17 year-old Aaron Antoine, the Carifta 2022 gold medalist, sees things his own way. A high-jumper by day and basketball player by night, Antoine’s lanky frame grabs the attention when he walks into any room, or stadium.
Antoine copped gold in the High Jump event at the Carifta Games with an impressive 2.16m leap—a National Under-20 record, which was just a centimetre behind the National Open record set by Kareem Roberts in 2017.
On a wet Sunday afternoon, as he nonchalantly passed on the heights from 1.75m through to 1.95m, Antoine set his sights on Roberts’ National record. All of the competitors had bowed out of the event by the time Antoine entered, and he simply strolled over the 2.00m and 2.05m heights as if they were hurdles.
Just picture two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo executing a layup over a smaller guard. Antoine himself plays at centre on the basketball court, and there was nobody to guard his efforts at the stadium.
As he tackled the 2.10m height though, Antoine said he rolled his ankle and his coach advised him to leave Roberts’ five-year record for another day.
At present, the Presentation College (San Fernando) student and Neon Wolves athlete prefers high jump to basketball but it seems a matter of time before Antoine dunks over Trinidad and Tobago’s High Jump record, which currently stands at 2.17M.
Whether he’s representing Spartans TT on the basketball court or Neon Wolves on the track, everyone looks up to Aaron Antoine. YEP.
As one spectator remarked, “How’s the air up there, Aaron?”