Sports

BAAA expecting exciting nationals

Fans allowed in the stands; over 400 athletes set to compete

With over 400 athletes from 10 countries registered to compete, the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations (BAAA) is anticipating a grand national championships event, proving that the spirit of athletics remains vibrant and active, even during these COVID times.

The 2021 BAAA National Junior and Senior Track and Field Championships are set for this weekend, June 25-27, at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.

According to BAAA President Drumeco Archer, all of the elite Bahamian athletes are in town, creating compelling matchups this weekend. The three-day meet will get underway at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday, and for the first time this season, fans will be allowed in the stadium. However, they must be fully vaccinated and already past their 14-day observation period.

Also, the Blue Marlin Last Chance Meet will be held on Monday, creating a final opportunity for Bahamian athletes and Bahamian relay teams to qualify for the rapidly approaching Tokyo Olympic Games.

“I’m excited because after two years of a terrible hiatus, track and field is back, and back in a way that we have never seen before. This is truly historic,” said Archer. “There are 430 athletes registered – that is the most ever, and with it being a combined nationals of youth, junior and senior, we look forward to some compelling matchups and some great performances. It’s going to be an exceptional track and field competition.”

Out of the hundreds of registered athletes, there are over 20 international athletes who will be competing. Athletes have registered from host nation The Bahamas, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, the United States, Guyana, Haiti, and as far away as Germany, Estonia and India.

“Athletes are looking of taking advantage of this opportunity to qualify for the Olympics,” said Archer. “Trinidad’s circumstance with COVID erupted to an unmanageable level, or a level that made their nationals impossible to take place, so as a result, a number of their athletes would have requested to take part in our nationals. It bodes well for us and it speaks well to the work that we as a federation has done to do our part to manage the COVID crisis here in The Bahamas. There has been no incident of contamination or infection of COVID-19 throughout the entire track and field season. That is also a testament of the work of the country in trying to manage COVID as best as it can.”

A couple of Bahamian athletes who competed at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon, two weekends ago, were on hand yesterday and spoke of what they anticipate for themselves at the nationals.

“I’m just happy to be home and I’m ready to jump,” said University of Arkansas senior LaQuan Nairn who finished tide for 17th in the men’s triple jump at the NCAAs. He’ll be competing in the long jump this weekend.

“This is my first time in this stadium since 2015. I’m just happy to be back. It’s been a long season, but I’m ready to make The Bahamas proud.”

Nairn broke the national record in the long jump indoors this year, and said he like his chances to qualify for the Olympics. The qualifying mark is 8.22m (26’ 11-3/4”) and Nairn has a personal best leap of 8.04m (26’ 4-1/2”), done for a third place finish at the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championships in College Station, Texas, this year.

Washington State University (WSU) junior Charisma Taylor said she is looking forward to the head-to-head battle with national record holder Tamara Myers in the women’s triple jump.

“The expectation is the same as always. I’m just looking forward to going out there and doing my best and putting it in God’s hands,” she said. “The goal is to qualify for the Olympics. I’m feeling great. Tamara is my training partner and I’m excited to go up against her. She’s excited as well and it’s going to be a great competition.”

Taylor finished 18th overall in the women’s triple jump at the NCAAs this year, but was fifth indoors. The versatile athlete has signed up to compete in both the triple jump and the women’s 100m hurdles at the nationals.

BAAA Special Events Officer Laura Pratt-Charlton, the meet coordinator, said she’s excited that they can finally welcome the fans back to the stadium. The cost of attendance is $10 per person.

“We’re looking forward to the fans coming back,” said Pratt-Charlton. “We’ve been given permission to have spectators but they have to be fully vaccinated, and it has to be 14 days after receiving their last shot. We’re opening up our competition this weekend. All of the checks will be in place. We will be checking vaccination certificates in addition to government issued photo IDs. All of the safety protocols will be enforced,” she assured.

One of The Bahamas’ elite athletes, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, and husband Maicel, of Estonia, are scheduled to compete. According to reports, Miller-Uibo will run in both the 200 and 400m at the nationals and will attempt to help The Bahamas’ women’s 4x400m relay team qualify for the Olympics at the Blue Marlin Last Chance Meet on Monday. No Bahamian relay team has qualified for the Olympics this far.

“We know that many Bahamians are panicking, but I can almost promise that we will have some qualifiers coming out of this year’s nationals,” said Archer. “We have a star-studded Bahamian cast and we expect fine performances from them. We’ve had a long break, but we’ve had some fantastic results during this period and the showdown is on. There is so many talent on display that this is going to create compelling matchups that the fans would want to see.”

Archer said the BAAA policy has generally been that athletes are required to run in the event at the nationals that they intend to take part in at the Olympics, and it’s likely that will be their stance again.

“We have a unique scenario where the nationals carry a certain amount of points in the world ranking system. That has been a stimulus to attract athletes back to the nationals,” said Archer. “I believe that you will see the best of the best competing at these nationals. Our position is that the top three would advance to Tokyo once they would have qualified. The Bahamas will definitely have its share of world-class performances this weekend, to the point where you would almost feel like you are in Tokyo at the Olympic Games.”

Shaunae’s husband Maicel Uibo, the world championships decathlete silver medalist, will compete in the men’s decathlon, thereby pushing Bahamians Kendrick Thompson, the new national record holder, and former national record holder Ken Mullings toward Olympic qualification.

In addition to qualifying for the Olympics, junior athletes will be attempting to qualify for the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletic Association (NACAC) Under-18 and Under-23 Championships, set for July 9-11, in San José, Costa Rica; and the World Athletics (WA) World Under-20 Championships, scheduled for August 17-22, in Nairobi, Kenya. With the cancellation of the CARIFTA Games, organizers of the NACAC Championships have implemented an under-20 division this year.

“It’s unprecedented the number of qualifiers that we have for the world juniors, and a number of them are world ranked,” said Archer. “They are punching far above their weight class. If COVID protocols allow, we intend to send teams to the world juniors and the NACAC Championships. NACAC has added an under-20 component because of the cancellation of the CARIFTA Games and that will be an invitational category to mitigate the absence of the CARIFTA Games. We intend to have full representation.”

BAAA 2nd Vice President Rupert Gardiner said this is the first time in a long time that they have had all of the top sprinters in the country together in one place and that should help immensely in The Bahamas’ hopes of qualifying relay teams for the Olympics.

“We’re looking forward to a great meet,” he said. “The men’s 4×4 will run on Sunday evening and the others will run on Monday. We see no reason why we won’t be able to qualify at least three of our relay teams this weekend. This is the best women’s 4×4 team we have ever assembled and we look forward to them being one of the teams to qualify. The Bahamas loves the relays and we are not going to disappoint the fans.”

Archer said the chemistry and camaraderie among the athletes is as strong as it’s ever been.

“The athletes work well together and the way that we create synergy is by touching, moving the baton around the track and embracing the spirit of what the Olympics is all about. I believe that is what we are trying to encourage in the federation. The chemistry is great and we could feel the excitement in the air,” he said.

Offering its usual support, the Bahamas Olympic Committee (BOC), represented by its secretary-general Derron Donaldson, is anticipating a competitive meet in which more Bahamian athletes, and relay teams as well, will qualify for the Olympics.

“We give our usual support in being here,” said Donaldson. “We’re in our biggest year, and the big show is the Olympics. It’s great to see sports vibrant and back in this country. There is a lot going on and the Olympic committee is here to support in whatever way that we can. We wish the BAAA a successful event this weekend and we hope to have more qualifiers.”

The Bahamian delegation at the Olympics will be headed by the country’s first female Chef de Mission Cora Hepburn, and the BOC’s stance remains safety first for the athletes, coaches and team officials.

The Olympics are set for July 23 to August 8, in Tokyo, Japan. Donaldson said that they will ratify The Bahamas’ team sometime next week. 

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Sheldon Longley

Sheldon Longley joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2001 as a sports reporter. He was promoted to sports editor in 2008. Sheldon has an extensive background in sports reporting. He covered three Olympic Games and three world championships, along with multiple smaller regional and local games.

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