As it was in 2017 in The Bahamas, so it was again in 2018 in Kingston as the Jamaican girls swept the sprint freestyle titles on the last day of the CARIFTA Championships on April 3.
The 11-12 girls started the Golden streak in record fashion. Starting the relay for Jamaican was Safiya Officer who touched in 29.35 with the chasing pack. First to the wall on the opening leg was Bermuda’s Elan Daley who was in awesome form throughout the competition. That advantage was eaten up by Isabella Sierra, a member of last year’s record setting team who was timed in 29.02.It was the final legs of the relay that changed the structure of the medal podium as Morgan Cogle with a leg of 28.96 and Aliyah Heaven who dropped the hammer with the fastest anchor leg, 28.14 that sealed the victory and record. The total team time was 1:55.47 .
That bettered the Championship and national age group record of 1:55.77 set by P’aige Lewis, Sierra Sabrina Lyn and Zaneta Alvaranga. Trinidad and Tobago won the Silver in 1:57.37. Martinique earned the Bronze in 1:59.54.
The 13-14 category saw the opening leg contested keenly between the Silver medallist in the flat 50 Naele Portecop of Guadeloupe and Bronze medallist Zaneta Alvaranga of Jamaica . It was the French Speaking territory that held the early advantage, with Portecop timed in 27.06 to Zaneta’s 27.65.Second leg swimmer Amore Hunter regained the advantage with a 28.46 clocking. Sabrina Lyn maintained the edge with a time of 28.51. Anchor leg and 50 freestyle Gold medallist Emily MacDonald removed all doubts as to who the winners would be with the fastest split of the relay 26.17 to push the team to a time of 1:50.79 just off the 1:50.77 Championship record .
In the final category the 15-17 age group Shaun Johnson got the proceedings under way with a 27.51 leg. The early advantage however, was held by the Bermudans who front loaded their relay with Bronze medallist Madelyn Moore who was timed in 26.44. Brianna Anderson took control of the event and took the lead for the Black , Green and Gold with a 27.17 effort. Naomi Eaton 27.58, withstood a charge from the Arubans in the form of Anahi Schreuders 27.17.It was now left to Gabrianna Banks to complete the sweep. She did not disappoint. She recorded the fastest split of the night 26.16 to help the Jamaicans to a Gold medal winning time and new national age group record of 1:48.42.
The old national age age group and senior national record of 1:49.07 was set last year.Silver went to Aruba in 1:49.68 and the Bronze to Bermuda in 1:51.09
At the 2008 CARIFTA championships in Aruba the 13-14 Jamaica team of Kendese Nangle Backstroke 1:12.20, Victoria Ho breaststroke 1:20.05, Alexia Royal-Eatmon butterfly and Raynae Hall freestyle 1:03.00 turned in a Gold medal winning performance in the 400 metre medley relay of 4:46.29 .That performance was also a national record effort.
Ten years later in Kingston Jamaica the 13-14 line up for Jamaica read Simone Vale backstroke, Sabrina Lyn breaststroke, Zaneta Alvaranga butterfly and Emily MacDonald freestyle. The team was supposed to be fast but what the quartet produced on Sunday April 1 at the National Aquatic Centre was phenomenal.
It was expected for the young ladies to challenge the record and do sub 4:45. But they went well below that passing 4:42, 4;40, 4:38 and beyond 4:35 to smash the national standard. En route to lowering the Jamaican record the fab four also smashed the 2017 CARIFTA record held by Trinidad and Tobago of 4:36.43. The final total time for the Jamaicans was 4:33.81.
Lead off leg Vale saved the best for last in the 100 metre backstroke .She recorded two personal bests in the 100 metre backstroke from the heats and the relay moving from 1:10.02 to her first sub 1 :10 time of 1:09.46.Up next Lyn added a breaststroke blast of 1:21.13. Alvaranga produced a butterfly split of 1:04.54 and MacDonald dropped the hammer with a split of 58.68.Guadeloupe won the Silver in 4:40.01 and Martinique the Bronze in 4:44.13.
The 13-14 girls posted the fastest female time in the event just bettering the time of their countrywomen in the 15-17 age group that won the Gold 4:33.87.
There were doubts about how well Jamaica’s Emily MacDonald would do in the 200 metre freestyle as she was known in the region for sprinting exploits in the 11-12 age group .Her record underlined her sprint credentials 2016 CARIFTA Gold in the 50 and 100 free, Silver in the 100 freestyle last year. She had never made a Championship final in the 200 metre freestyle before now.
On April 1 her PB stood at 2:14.70 and she crushed that to post the top time of 2:10.81 and claim the number one seed and Lane 4.Still doubt remained ,as surely the Championship final would be different as questions would be asked of her sprint endurance over the last 100 metres. When the starter’s gun fired as expected it was MacDonald that surged to the front taking the early lead with the a split of 1:02.82 . She flipped and proceeded on the last 100 metres and persons awaited waning speed despite smooth and controlled swimming. They waited and waited. The only thing changing was the distance between Emily and the field .On the final turn she brought in her legs and changed gears and powered to the wall crushing her personal best and the 2009 CARIFTA record of Kimberlee John Williams of 2:09.51 to register a time 2:08.70 , the fastest time by a 13-14 girl at the CARIFTA Championships.
Silver went to Logan Watson-Brown of Bermuda in 2:10.60 and the Bronze to Audrey Moore of the US Virgin Islands in 2:12.23.
With expectations of her endurance firmly changed she is now closing in on a steady bearing on the national record of fellow Bolles alumna CARIFTA legend Olympian Janelle Atkinson (Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004) of 2:05.07 set way back on Dec 5,1997
Moments after watching teammate Emily MacDonald dominate the girls 13-14 200 free event to win Gold it was up to Britney Williams and Annabella Lyn to carry on the momentum for the Jamaicans in the 15-17 age group and that they did .
Both swimmers are known for being good middle to long distance for the nation and would finish strong. The question would be what tactics would be employed by their competitors. In 2017 in The Bahamas Williams and Lyn finished fourth and fifth respectively.
Annabella clocked 2:11.95 for the third seed into the Championship final while Williams was sixth overall with a time of 2:13.46.
In the final the race played to the strengths of the Jamaicans as the pace was not pushed and no swimmer threatened the minute mark.With 150 metres swum that is when Williams decided to make her move and break from a tightly bunched field and initiated the charge for the final wall. That move proved to be decisive as Williams shifted gears and the field started to separate. Putting on her charge of her own was Swarthmore College bound Lyn .Lilly Higgs of The Bahamas, also responded to Williams break to the front.
In the end Britney did enough to win and held on take her Gold in 2:10.32 ,Higgs outtouched Lyn to repeat last year’s Silver medal winning performance 2:11.03 to 2:11.09.
The joy was evident for Britney as she slapped the water and then waved to the crowd and they responded in kind to the Gold and Bronze by the home team.
From the 11-12 age group Zaneta Alvaranga was already the fastest age group swimmer Jamaica had ever produced when she clocked 28.74 to win the Gold at the 2017 CCCAN championships in Trinidad and Tobago in a championship record time. Since entering the 13-14 in January she has lowered the record twice taking from 29.57 then to 29.55 then 29.19. That would not compare to what she would do at the XXXIII CARIFTA Championships on April 1,2018.
In the morning heats she would blast her way to 28.63, the fastest age group time for a Jamaican girl. Following her under the old record was countrywoman and 100 metre butterfly Champion Emily MacDonald who recorded the third fastest time of the morning with an effort of 28.83. The top spot went to Bronze medallist Naele Portecop of Guadeloupe who broke Emma Harvey’s Championship record of 28.44 with a swim of 28.17.
The stage was set for a historic final in the evening. Portecop was determined to be on top of the podium after being denied the Jamaicans. Zaneta was gunning for the her first individual medal of the night. Emily was waiting in the wings with her customary strong finish if her two competitors did not start well.
That would not happen as Alvaranga and Portecop separated themselves from the field and blazed their way to the touchpads. In the end it the difference was a glide by Zaneta compared to a full stroke by Naele.
The times were Portecop in 27.78 and Alvaranga in 27.94. History was created as this was the first time girls were swimming the 50 butterfly under 28 seconds at the CARIFTA Championships. Both girls were under the Youth Olympics A time of 28.09. Only legendary Olympian and World Record holder Alia Atkinson (Athens 2004,Beijing 2008,London 2012 and Rio 2016) has swum the 50 butterfly faster than Zaneta for Jamaica.MacDonald returned a time of 28.89 under the Youth Olympics B time of 29.07 as the medallists from the 100 metre returned to claim podium spots in the 50 metre event. All the medallists are too young to qualify for the Youth Olympics as the age category is from 15-18 but the strength of their times points to the progress of Caribbean swimming
The Jamaican 100 metre butterfly age group national record for 13-14 girls continues to get faster through the efforts of Emily MacDonald and Zaneta Alvaranga, as both young ladies landed the Gold and Silver in the race .
In January MacDonald had laid down the gauntlet with a national record bid at the UANA Cup in Florida when she won the Bronze in that age category in 1:05.86 bettering the 1:06.19 she set in March 2017. Her countrywoman Zaneta would respond to that challenge by setting the marker at 1:05.81 in a time trial at the very last local meet in March to book her spot in the event.
The ladies would take the event to new heights by bringing their times to new lows as both young women bettered the 1:05.81 with their morning swims. Alvaranga punched the clock in 1:05.16 for the third seed while Emily grabbed lane 4 with a time of 1:04.89, They were separated by Guadeloupe’s Naele Portecop who registered a time of 1:04.95.
The final promised to be an exciting affair and it did not disappoint. Emily held an early advantage at the 50 metre turn and withstood strong late challenges from Naele and Zaneta to take Gold in a new national record of 1:04.28.
Zaneta was just a tick behind in a new personal best and also under the hours old record 1:04.49 with a time of 1:04.46 with Portecop taking the Bronze in 1:04.85. All three medallists are closing in on the Youth Olympics B qualifying time of 1:04.21
The final day of competition at the UANA Cup in Coral Springs Florida on Jan 21 saw Team Jamaica resetting the record books in the mixed 200 metre freestyle relay and Shaun Johnson recording a Youth Olympic B time in the 50 metre freestyle.
The 15-17 mixed 200 metre freestyle relay team of Shaun Johnson 27.37, Jesse Marsh 24.46 ,Gabrianna Banks 27.12 and Nicholas Vale 24.75 set a new senior and 15-17 age group record of 1:43.70 to place 4th overall. The team was the highest placed CARIFTA region quartet in their age group.
The previous record was set at the 2016 Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships when the team of Keanan Dols 24.62, Bryanna Renuart 28.13,Marsh 25.57 and Kelsie Campbell 26.93 touched in 1:45.25.
Shaun Johnson who was a member of the 2017 CARIFTA “Golden Girls” went under the Youth Olympics B qualifying mark of 27.39 with her opening leg. In 2017 Jamaica’s 15-17 girls dubbed the “Golden Girls” won all their relay events at the CARIFTA Championships winning the 200, 400 and 800 metre freestyle relays as well as the 400 metre medley relay.
When draftingthecaribbean caught up with Johnson she spoke about the race, the competition overall and being chosen as the flag bearer
“For the 4 x 50 freestyle relay, I was a little nervous because I had never done a mixed relay before and I rarely ever lead off. Coach Gillian (Millwood) decided to place me in the relay and said she was confident in seeing a great 50 time for me being the lead off especially considering I didn’t do the 50 free this weekend. Seeing 27.37 was surprising! My PB for last year was a 27.72 at CARIFTA and right now I’m in the middle of my high school season so things look exciting in that event. The rest of the team actually voted me to be the flag bearer and that was a fun part of the weekend as well! That was really cool”.
Britney Williams tied with Alison Jackson of The Cayman Islands as the top CARIFTA region performer in the 15-17 100 metre freestyle with identical 59.55’s for 5th place.
Team Jamaica finished the competition with 6 more best times on the final day to end with 20 new personal records overall, two age group records and one senior national record.
Emily MacDonald was the best placed Jamaican in the high point scoring for the age group placing 8th with 22 points.