By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
Ever since I split two Jamaicans for Carifta Games 400m silver in 1978—the BVI’s first medal— I’ve been waiting for us to have a sprint gold medal in the premier regional U17 and U20 competition, now in its 48th year.
Male sprinting has not been our strong point within the region. On reflection since my U20 Boys medal in 1978, it wasn’t until 1990 that Keita Cline won an U17 Boys 200m bronze. In between, Derwin Scaltiffe made the U17 Boys 100m final.
It would take 26 years for another sprint finalist when Rikkoi Brathwaite made his 100m debut in 2016. Finally, in his last Carifta Games in 2018, Brathwaite ended a 42-year drought when he secured the Territory’s first U20 Boys 100m bronze medal. While Brathwaite was climbing the podium, Jaleel Croal debuted with an U17 Boys 100m berth, but missed the 200m final. It marked the first time since the BVI debuted in the Carifta Games with four athletes in 1976 in the Bahamas, that two male athletes had made a sprint final. The Carifta Games were founded by Sir Austin Sealy of Barbados, in 1971.
While our boys had not been successful sprint finalists, our girls would bag five medals within seven years, starting in 2007 with Shanice Hazel’s U17 Girls 100m silver in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Nelda Huggins would add her name to the sprint pool when she claimed 100m U17 Girls bronze in Jamaica in 2011. She would add U17 silver in Bermuda in 2012, another U17 Girls silver in the Bahamas in 2013 and then an U18 bronze in Martinique in 2014, during the temporary age change, but no one had won sprint gold.
In the lead up to this year’s event, Croal said it would mean a lot for him in winning a medal and he also wanted to erase the painful memory of not making a final in his favourite event—the 200m.
Croal, one of 16 athletes who would represent the Territory at the event in the Cayman Islands, took to the track in the 100m heats, while Djimon Gumbs was in the midst of bagging U20 Boys Discus Throw bronze with a heave of 54.76m and twin brother Diamante would place fourth after his 52.85m effort.
With a second placed heat finish in the 100m prelims in 11.09 seconds, Croal booked his spot in the final, joining Brathwaite as only the second male sprinter in 43 years to have made consecutive U17 Boys 100m finals.
As he waited for his final to end Day 1 of the three-day competition with athletes from 26 countries, soon to be 15 year old debutant Khybah Dawson leapt 6.83m to grab Long Jump silver.
Then Akrissa Eristee earned U17 Girls 400m silver with her run of 54.10 seconds—the No 6 performance on the BVI’s Women’s All Time List. Eristee, fifth in 2018, advanced after running 55.32.
Lined up in Lane 7, Croal got away with the field, held his ground then placed third with the Territory’s first U17 Boys 100m bronze medal in its history. It was also the second time that BVI athletes had won four medals on opening day, joining the 2013 delegation.
“It’s amazing and I worked hard for it,” he said, noting that he saw his teammates winning medals. “I wanted to add one to the team so I went out and did that. The main thing that was on my mind, was to execute my drive, when I came off my drive, push hard and I did that and I surprisingly came third.”
Returning to action on Day 2, Croal advanced to the 200m final after a second-place finish, running 21.84 seconds to secure his finals berth. Drawn in lane eight in the final, Croal exploded from the blocks, ran a scintillating curve, didn’t allow any of his pursuers to erode his edge on the straight, then punched his right fist in the air as he crossed the line in a personal best of 21.43 seconds, to win the U17 Boys 200. It marked the first time that a BVI athlete had ever won a track and field sprint gold medal since the territory’s 1976 debut. In 1991, Cline won the first gold in the Long Jump.
“It means a lot and I’m so happy,” Croal said after snatching gold in his favourite race. “In qualifying, it gave me a boost that I had a chance to get a medal for the BVI. From the start of the race, I was saying ‘drive, drive, drive.’ I did that and executed it throughout the whole race.”
Asked when he knew he had it won, Croal said with 50m left, he didn’t see the Jamaicans or anyone else.
“I ran through the line and couldn’t believe it at all, but, it felt very good,” he said, noting that the 400m was instrumental in his preparations. “My coach used that to build my confidence in my races, the 100 and 200 and I became confident when I ran 50.19.”
Immediately after Croal’s 200m gold, Beyonce DeFreitas ran 23.79 seconds to snatch U20 Girls bronze, becoming the Territory’s first female 200m medalist in either division of the championships in its history.
“It means a lot as I’ve been working hard for this for about five years now and I finally got the medal,” DeFreitas said. “In the heats, I didn’t finish as strong as I normally do, so in the finals, I had to make sure I finish as strong as I could.”
A medal slipped from Diamante’s grasp in the Shot Put final round, when Jamaica’s meet favourite, Kai Chang, threw 17.58m to snatch bronze, as he did not improve his 17.05m effort.
In the BVI’s final event of the meet, Jahtivya Williams anchored the U17 Girls 4x400m Relay to a silver medal, fending off Trinidad and Tobago’s Natasha Fox at the line as Fox fell, to win by .02 seconds, in 3 minutes 44.89 seconds, the No 6 All Time mark. Eristee led off, Kaelyaah Liburd was on second leg, and Ariyiah Smith third as they battled with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Bermuda.
It marked the first time in 43 years that BVI athletes had won medals every day of the competition and Croal had led them to their most successful sojourn. Their seven medals was one shy of the 2013 delegation that won eight—four silver and four bronze—as they placed sixth on the medal table.