No stranger to setting national relay records since making her first national team in 2016 Shaun Johnson had not set any individual national age group records. All that changed in a Bronze medal winning performance in the 50 metre butterfly on Sunday April 1 at the National Aquatic Centre in Kingston Jamaica at the 2018 CARIFTA Championships.
The Georgetown University bound student entered the competition with a personal best time of 29.24. She would register her first sub 29 seconds swim and do that in great fashion as she would also lower the 15-17 national record. The morning heats saw her swimming to a time of 28.72. In making the Championship final she lowered the 15-17 age group record of 28.87 set by Alia Atkinson at the CCCAN Championships in August 2005.
She would have more to offer in the final as she went faster clocking 28.52 to earn the Bronze medal.Silver went Elinah Philip of the British Virgin Islands in 28.29 and the Gold to Curacao’s Chade Nercisio. This performance shows marked improvement since 2017 when she placed eighth in the Championship final in 29.24
Draftingthecaribbean spoke to Johnson today and got her opinion about her record breaking performance and her last CARIFTA Championships .
“This CARIFTA was probably my best one yet- I was selected to be a team captain which was made to be a very easy job with the help of the other swimmers, coaches, and team managers. I’ve spent the past few weeks training at Pinecrest with their phenomenal coaches, and they really helped to make this CARIFTA a great one for me- I was able to get early exposure to swimming in LCM and swim alongside other CARIFTA swimmers from other countries as well as Jamaica.
I think it would be an understatement to say how surprised I am about how the butterfly events turned out for me; I haven’t been a flyer for some time now as I have had issues with accommodating stroke rate/strength with my height but Mariusz Podkoscielny really helped me out with that and after working persistently I had great results. I think I performed towards to the level that I have been training to but I will have to continue to work harder for Jamaica and I’m excited to see what that will look like in the future”.
After being denied the 50,100 and 200 metre backstroke sweep in her final year of the 13-14 age group in The Bahamas last year Danielle Titus of Barbados looks on course to achieve that here in Kingston Jamaica in national record breaking fashion .
In The Bahamas Titus earned the Silver in an age group and senior national record of 30.82 in the 50 metre event on the first day competition. Jamaica would prove to offer no problem at the first hurdle as the national standard was lowered to 30.22 in the heats. She would come close to that time in the final stopping the clock in 30.30 finishing ahead of Bermuda’s Madelyn Moore 30.90 and Jamaica’s Brianna Anderson 31.01.
Stage two of the mission was the 100 metre backstroke. She got through the morning heats easily posting the top time of 1:06.03, just missing the Championship record of 1:05.94 set by Lauren Hew of the Cayman Islands in 2017.
The final would witness the registering of a new PB, age group, senior national record and Championship record of 1:04.79.That performance bettered her national record of 1:05.61 and the Youth Olympics B time of 1:05.65. Silver went to Virginia Stamp of The Bahamas in 1:07.52 and Jamaica’s Shaun Johnson who recorded a new personal best time of 1:08.45.
The final leg of the sweep voyage will be the 200 metre backstroke and Titus will expect strong challenges from the Cayman Islands duo of Ella Plunkett and Sam Bailey as well as Stamp from The Bahamas.
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
Kael Yorke completed one stage of a feat that no other male swimmer has done in the 15-17 category twice and that is sweep all three butterfly races.
He made a positive start to that historic mission on Day one of the Championships on March 31 at the National Aquatic Centre by securing lane for the Championship final with a morning heats time of 56.43. He was the only swimmer under 57 seconds. Four other swimmers went under the 58 seconds barrier.
The final saw the field tightly bunched at the 50 metre turn. What would be the difference would be a fantastic turn by Kael utilizing most of the 15 metre allowed underwater he pulled away from the pack.That would be the game changer as Yorke, who is the reigning champion in the 200 metre event would not tire. He held on to that advantage to take the crown in 55.57, a new personal best time.It also bettered the automatic qualifying time of 55.59 for the Youth Olympic Games.
Outside smoke Jamaican Nicholas Vale, swimming from Lane 1 recorded his first time under 57 seconds to clock 56.29 for the Silver, the fastest time by a Jamaican this year in the event. It is also the fastest time recorded by a Jamaican at CARIFTA.
Countryman Jesse Marsh joined the sub 57 seconds with a personal best of 56.52 , the third fastest time by a Jamaican so far.The previous best was 56.31 held by Luke Gunning. Both Jamaicans will now have the 2014 age group record of 55.56 Justin Plaschka in their sights.
Recording a personal best for fourth place was The Bahamas DaVante Carey in 57.17. The top four finishers were all under the Youth Olympics B qualifying time of 57.54.
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
Since 2014 no other nation other than The Bahamas has won a breaststroke event in the 15-17 girls age group. Thanks to sweeps by Laura Morley in 2014, Albury Higgs in 2015 and the joint efforts of the Higgs sisters Albury and Lilly in the years 2016 and 2017 all other nations have been kept out.
With Laura and Albury now navigating in senior water the defence of the Bahamian streak is left to Lilly and teammate Victoria Russell.
Russell who made her first international final at last summer’s Commonwealth Youth Games will be looking to make her mark at her final year at CARIFTA. She is ranked second in the 50 and 100 metre events and fourth in the 200.
Lilly who has committed to swim for the University of North Carolina this September will be looking to lower the Championship record in all three races. Higgs who has is undefeated at these Championships will be looking to lower her records in the 50 and 100 as well as her sister’s in the 200.
Higgs and Russell will be looking to turn back the expected challenges of Aruba’s Anahi Schreuders, Curacao’s Chade Nercisio and Jamaica’s Bryanna Renuart along with other outstanding swimmers from around the region. After competing in Kingston, Higgs will jet off to make her senior international debut at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in GoldCoast Australia. Currently she is the only Bahamian swimmer to medal at the Commonwealth Games when she copped the Silver medal at the Youth Games at home in 2017.