Karen Beautle had fans at the Gibson Relays on the edge of their seats in 2000. They were all spellbound by her prowess in the high jump. The tall Jamaican kept clearing and then raising the bar and eventually cleared a Gibson Relays record height of 1.89 metres. With the Sydney Olympic Games not far off , Beautle was just 1 centimetre under the national record. Weeks later, on the same National Stadium high jump apron, Sheree Francis of Vere Technical High School upped the Boys and Girls Championships Girls Class 3 record to 1.83 metres. Long after, her Vere and Texas A&M University days were over, Francis took control of the national record that had eluded Beautle with a clearance over 1.93 metres at a meet at the GC Foster College for Physical Education in 2010.
Beautle and Francis are the most successful female high jumpers of recent years. Beautle took a bronze at the 2006 Commonwealth Games with Francis beating am injured ankle to win the silver at those Games in 2010. The Gibson-McCook record still stands and the women’s high jump remains in a state of underdevelopment in Jamaica. Francis believes the reasons for that are multi-faceted. She reckons these include the national focus on sprinting, a lack of high jump equipment in schools and a need for better technique among female jumpers. “Everyone wants to become a sprinter”, she said in a January interview. In addition, “I’ve been to a couple schools and I’ve realized that the schools don’t really have the equipment the athlete needs to train properly to become that successful as a high jumper”, she lamented of the absence of high jump landing beds and stands.
Often, high jumpers land on sponge but as Francis pinpointed, “that has no form of support and when you do land on the bag, you’re pretty much hitting the ground.”
She values interest and technique just as much. However, she thinks the long tenure of the records re-flects the demands of Champs. “I think the girls are really only doing high jump so that they can get a point when it comes to the Girls Championships”, she said. According to her, that affects their technique too.
In summary, she concluded, “for Jamaican athletes to make it to the World Championships and the Olympics to get medals, there has to be a lot more interest and focus on becoming that jumper where technique is concerned and you have to have the equipment.”
Bright days could be ahead. Kimberley Williamson won the US NCAA title in 2016 in her last year representing Kansas State University and standards were noteworthy at Boys and Girls Championships last year. The winning height in classes 1, 2 and 3 trended toward 1.80 metres, a Jamaican benchmark of promise.
Gavin James, high jump coach at Excelsior High School, is optimistic. “ The coaches that I talk to, they are so in tune with the jumps so they pay attention and say, coach we want to carry this to the next level”, he remarked. “Based on that, I know that the girls will go up”, he predicted.
On top of that, the national record holder has seen at least one jumper who could rise high. Asked what identifies high jump potential, she asserted, “I acknowledge the spirit within the person.” In reference to reigning class 3 champion Shantae Foreman, she elaborated, “I’ve seen her and I also believe she can be the next person.”
She’ll apparently be watching Foreman for a few seasons to come. “I also see her breaking my record if no one else does for Class 2”, she enthused. “That’s how highly I think of her”, she lauded.James coaches the tall Excelsior champion and thinks high jumps are within her compass. “For me, this year I’m pacing my girl, the Class 3
girl, Shantae, to jump at least 1.90.” In January, Foreman was well ahead of the early season marks of 2017.
He has high regard for the Edwin Allen Comprehensive High duo of Annia Ashley and Janique Burgher and other quality competitors. “My girls are watching Edwin Allen and Edwin Allen is watching us so everyone is gunning for guess what, I don’t want this person to beat me so I’m training hard”, he theorised. “I believe the girls are going to put on a show this year, even that record I believe will be broken”, he postulated.
He recommends the staging of jump clinics. “I think I would have a clinic where jumps is concerned, high jump, long jump, even pole vault”, he suggested. “A lot of people think that it’s just jumping”, he explained, “but it’s a lot of technical things.” “Correct those stuff and you find yourself jumping high”, he surmised.
HUBERT LAWRENCE has attended the Gibson-McCook Relays since the nineteen eighties.