An Athlete-Friendly COVID-Era Champs in Jamaica

The Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Athletics Championships is widely referred to as the greatest high school track-and-field meet in the world.

It is so dubbed due to the incredible number of outstanding Olympians to have emerged from the over century-old event, popularly known as ‘Champs’.

But even as the meet has spawned numerous world-beaters, many are convinced that its manner of construction has had an equally debilitating effect on many athletes over time. It is an issue that has sparked many public debates but has often been quietened by the powers that be, who believe that if it isn’t broken there is no need to fix it.

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The major point of contention has always been the workload placed on the athletes. And, even as the local governing body the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) has intervened, many believe it has not done enough to significantly solve the problem.

The problem is that the JAAA had mandated that athletes participate in no more than two individual events and two relay events. But many sprinters, particularly those at schools seriously vying for championship honors, would contest the 100m semis and finals on Friday night, then the 200m final on Saturday, followed by the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.

At the end of the night many of these athletes would be exhausted, and the long-term effects far more significant.

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Some years ago, a suggestion was made to the authorities responsible for Champs to model the meet after the schedule seen on the international scene. It was thought that the remodeled schedule would be more athlete and spectator-friendly, but the ISSA officials did not budge and stuck to their grueling schedule.

It is often said that sometimes good things emerge from bad situations, and COVID-19 may have unintentionally been a saving grace. For this year’s edition of Champs, which started on Tuesday and will end on Saturday, major changes have been made to the schedule.

For starters, 16 finals were contested on the first day Tuesday, an unprecedented move. Somehow, the authorities now believe that this schedule will be more athlete-friendly due to the interruptions caused by COVID-19. We maintain that with or without the COVID-19 impact, an effort should have been made long ago in the best interest of the athletes.

The new schedule has 16 finals on Tuesday, five on Wednesday, 18 on Thursday including all 100m events, 11 on Friday including all 400m hurdle events, and the rest of the totaling 37 on Saturday. That, I dare say, represents relief and friendliness to the competitors.

It is long overdue. But, as they say, it is better late than never. We only hope the authorities don’t revert to the old schedule post-COVID-19.


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