The Briana Williams/Boldon Coaching Conundrum

Jamaica’s national senior and junior athletic trials – known also as the Olympic trials – concluded recently with some sterling performances especially from the female athletes.

One of the outstanding accomplishments at the trials was that of top 400 metres runner, Shericka Jackson.

Jackson opted out of her usual event to take 2nd place positions in the 100 metres and 200 metres, both in personal best times and thus booking her ticket to Tokyo. Both sprint races were won by the great Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce with defending Olympic sprint double champion Elaine Herah finishing third.   

In achieving those best times Jackson joined a select group of female athletes to run sub 11 seconds for the 100 metres (personal best 10.77 seconds), sub 22 seconds for the 200 metres (21.82 seconds) and sub 50 seconds for the 400 metres (49.47 seconds).

Many fans and pundits were surprised by Jackson’s performances at the trials. But if you know how her track club MVP operates those observers should not have been that amazed.

Jackson hinted at this new found speed at the shorter sprint distance in May when she ran a then personal best (11.02 seconds) in the 100 metres at a meet held at the National Stadium.

Jackson’s ascendancy at the trials was at the expense of the rising star Briana Williams who many expected to take the third spot in the sprint events behind Fraser-Pryce and Herah.

Williams,19, ran a personal best time of 11.02 seconds for the 100 metres on the same day as Jackson did a similar time in May.

By national trials in the 100m finals Williams’ (who finished 4th) time was 11.01 compared to Jackson’s astonishing 10.82. Williams also made the 200m finals at the trials but did participate.

Williams’ rise has been staggering under the tutelage of Ato Boldon, himself former Olympic sprint medalists and now coach as well as a sports broadcaster.

But in Williams’ two biggest races of her short professional career – the Jamaican national trials of 2019 and 2021 – Boldon was nowhere to be seen in the stands to lend support to his number 1 athlete and most prominent client due to his media commitments.

[In 2019 Williams also failed to make the individual 100m team for the World Championship. She came third in the 100m trials but was reprimanded after testing positive for the banned diuretic hydrochlorothiazide that she took during the trials after feeling unwell.]

Boldon also works a commentator/analyst for NBC in the United States. NBC  covers the annual US National track and field trials with Boldon and the likes of  Sanya Richards-Ross in the commentary booth.

Both the US trials and the Jamaican equivalent happens generally around the same week and thus Boldon was in Oregon providing colour commentary for US TV audiences.

But given Williams’ star quality and potential, should Boldon have been in Jamaica to assist in her preparation for the trials? Yes.

A number of the US-based Jamaican athletes that took part in the trials spoke in glowing terms of the US college coaches who took the time to be there with them  in Jamaica.

Can Williams really have a coach who is not there with her in person for the big races?

This is an issue that the Williams camp will have to consider going forward as there are major championship events coming up annually. The speed at which Jackson has caught up with passed Williams must have taken them by surprise and raise cause for concern.

One thing we know and expect from MVP track club – that farmed out Jackson as the surprise package – is the churning out of more top female sprinters in the coming years.

It will be difficult to see Jackson ever revert to running the 400 metres given from her high school days 200 metres was her pet event. In Hungary recently, Jackson gave Shaunae Uibo-Miller her first defeat in a 200 metres race in over 3 years.

Given how fiercely competitive female sprinting has suddenly become – locally and globally – do not be surprised if the Williams camp decide to change tact in the medium term and opt for a more hands-on coaching setup to help in Briana’s development.

(See how quickly the Jamaican track media fraternity/public has suddenly forgotten Briana’s name since the trials )

There is nothing wrong or disloyal about top athletes changing coaches at such a young age. Maybe Boldon has taken Williams as far as he can. We know there are very good sprint coaches around who may be able to eke out more speed to get Briana into even the top 3 in Jamaica.

Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce switched coaches from MVP to join Reynaldo Walcott’s Elite Club in April this year. In the twilight of 34 year old Fraser-Pryce’s long career she is now running the best times of her life including sub 22 seconds for the 200m.

We saw at the recent US trials where Sydney McLaughlin, 21, decimated the 400 metres hurdles world record. In a post-race interview McLaughlin praised the work of her new coach the great Bob Kersee.

The 2022 World Athletics Championship will be held next July in off all places Oregon, USA, the home of Nike. As a Nike sponsored athlete Williams will be dead keen to represent Jamaica and her brand in the individual sprint events.

If the Jamaican and US trials are held over the same period next year – which is highly likely – the Williams camp should expect some guarantee from now that coach Boldon will be in Jamaica to help prepare Briana.

It is just not a good look when a young talented promising athlete such as Briana is thousands of miles from her coach during those career defining races.

About africanherbsman1967

Funking all over the globe
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