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Bright future for T&T in women's sprinting

BEIJING

The future of female sprinting in Trinidad and Tobago is in good hands.

A glimpse of what lies ahead was provided by Kelly-Ann Baptiste and Michelle-Lee Ahye in Monday's IAAF World Championship women's 100 metres final. There was a time, not long ago, when mere female representation at a major senior global meet was an achievement in itself. Now, for the first time, the country can boast of multiple finalists at the highest level.

Josanne Lucas was the first female T&T medallist at the IAAF World Championships, securing 400 metres hurdles bronze at the 2009 edition of the meet in Berlin, Germany. Baptiste followed up two years later, in Daegu, Korea with a medal of the same colour in the 100m dash.

And in 2015, Ahye joined Baptiste in the championship race, the T&T sprinters finishing fifth and sixth, respectively. Baptiste told the Express she is confident the country can go one better at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and field three women in the century final.

“I really think it could be done. The way we are running right now, in order to make the team, you're going to have to step it up. With that in mind, if we have three women running sub-11, definitely three of us could be in the final.”

Baptiste is the national record holder in the women's 100m at 10.84 seconds, while Ahye is just behind with a 10.85 personal best. Next in the T&T pecking order is Semoy Hackett, whose fastest run in the event is 11.10. She was a 100m semi-finalist here in Beijing, and also reached the penultimate round in the 200m.

Though she is just 17, Khalifa St Fort is fourth fastest of the current crop of T&T sprinters at 11.19 seconds, the clocking she produced in capturing silver at last month's IAAF World Youth Championships in Cali, Colombia.

Under the guidance of quadruple Olympic medallist Ato Boldon, St Fort lowered her personal best from 11.51 at the start of the 2015 season to 11.19.

Baptiste is very impressed with St Fort, and believes she has a bright future in the sport.

“I don't think she's good just because of the times, but I spent some time around Khalifa and she reminds me of myself. She's a little bit of a perfectionist. She likes to do everything perfect, she wants to get everything right.

“Even though that could be detrimental at times, it helped me to get where I was going because I was so stuck on doing everything right and having everything perfect. Khalifa's attitude is going to get her really far. She has already done great to be running 11.19 at 17 years old. That's a big accomplishment.”

St Fort, who followed up on World Youth silver with Pan American Junior Championship gold in 11.31 seconds, is part of T&T's women's 4x100m squad here in Beijing. Five of the six women in the relay pool are in the top ten on the all-time T&T performance list, and seven of the top ten are active sprinters.

Baptiste (10.84) and Ahye (10.85) are first and second, respectively, while Hackett (11.10) is fourth, just behind Angela Williams (11.09) who represented T&T in the 1980s and 90s. Another retired sprinter, Fana Ashby (11.12) is fifth. St Fort (11.19) is currently in sixth spot but, all things being equal, will surely be moving up.

Kai Selvon (11.21) is seventh. She is just 23 but had injury problems this season and is not at the World Championships. Selvon is expected to challenge for a spot on the T&T team for next year's Rio Olympics.

Reyare Thomas (11.22), who reached the 200m semi-finals at the 2015 World Champs, is joint eighth with Lou Ann Williams. Rounding off the top ten is Ayanna Hutchinson (11.26), who recently struck 100m gold at the World Masters Athletics Championships in France.

Baptiste said she is thrilled about the country's strength in depth.

“And now with Khalifa coming up, women's sprinting in Trinidad and Tobago is really stepping it up a notch. I'm excited for what the future has to offer. And it's good to know that whenever I decide to come out the sport there's always going to be others behind me who are running at a very elite level.”

Baptiste, Ahye, Hackett, St Fort, Thomas and Kamaria Durant are the women in the Beijing 2015 relay pool. At 12.08 this morning (TT time), T&T will run in the second of two heats. United States, Ukraine and Netherlands are three of their opponents in the race. Baptiste, Ahye, Thomas and St Fort, running in that order, are expected to be the four for the qualifying round, with Hackett coming in for St Fort if they advance to the final, scheduled for 8.45 this morning.

After press time, last night, T&T competed in the second of two men's 4x400m qualifying heats. The final is at 8.25 tomorrow (Sunday) morning.

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