The local sports year in review: Red-hot Reggae Girlz
The year 2018 in sports will be remembered for what the Reggae Girlz achieved on the football field on October 17 at the Toyota Stadium in Texas.
They stunned the world by becoming the first Caribbean team to qualify for FIFA’s Women’s World Cup, the 2019 edition, defeating Panama 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 extra time scoreline in the third-place playoff match at the Concacaf Women's Championship.
Much like their male counterparts 20 years earlier in 1998, the Reggae Girlz, were given little to no chance of qualifying but they rose above all odds, driven by belief in self and a determination to make themselves and their country proud.
Like the Reggae Boyz did, the Reggae Girlz will make their senior World Cup debut in France.
In the end it was quite an achievement for Jamaica as, in qualifying from the CONCACAF Women’s Championship behind traditional powerhouses Canada and the United States, the Reggae Girlz knocked out not just Panama but Mexico did not qualify. Both teams were favoured to advance ahead of them.
What was obvious from the statistics is that the Reggae Girlz turned up to perform. Their tally of 12 goals which ensured that they secured the third place spot was the third highest number of goals in the tournament.
And they did so while being fairly technical as they received just two yellow cards during the campaign. While Khadija Shaw was the most influential and technical player for the Reggae Girlz, Jody Brown, who impressed despite her teenage years, was the top scorer for the team with four goals. For her standout performances including scoring an extra time goal in the third place game, Brown won the tournament’s young player award. Shaw had given Jamaica the go-ahead goal in that game.
The team also tallied the third highest number of total assists (9). Another player who made her mark was Konya Plummer who led the tournament in interceptions (13).
Jamaica, ranked No. 64 in the world, re-started their women's national team program in 2014 after a six-year hiatus, boosted by the support of Bob Marley's oldest daughter, Cedella Marley.
Both Jamaica and Panama were vying for a first-ever trip to football's premier tournament.
Below are other accomplishments, highlights and events that marked 2018.
Jamaica’s best ever discus thrower Fedrick DaCres was arguably the country’s top sportsman for 2018 and should easily walk away with the RJRGleaner Sports Foundation National Sportsman of the Year Award on January 19, 2019.
Dacres had one of his best years in 2018 where he had a trio of major wins.
The 24-year-old won the discus gold medal at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia in a Games Record 68.20m on April 13. He followed up that victory by claiming the Diamond League discus title and US$50,000 at the Memorial Van Damme in Brussels on August 31 with a throw of 68.67m and then beat the world at the IAAF Continental Cup in the Czech Republic on September 8 with a throw of 67.97m.
Dacres won three of his four Diamond League meets in 2018 prior to the Final. He had the second-best throw of 2018, a Jamaican Record 69.67m set at the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, Sweden.
Dacres also won gold at the NACAC Senior Championships in Toronto on August 12. He improved the championship record by more than five metres with his opening throw of 65.89m. He improved to 67.39m in the second round and ended with 68.47m, his fifth best effort ever.
Alia Atkinson had another sensational year in the pool in 2018.
The 30-year-old earned Jamaica’s first medal at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in Australia with a silver in the 50m breaststroke on April 6. Atkinson clocked 30.76 seconds, just under a fifth of a second to the gold medal winner Sarah Vasey of England, who won in 30.60 seconds
Then at the 23rd Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games at the Eduardo Movilla Aquatic Complex in Colombia, Atkinson won three gold medals.
Atkinson’s third gold in Colombia came on July 22 when she clocked 30.19 seconds for victory in the women's 50-metre breaststroke final, distancing herself from Melissa Rodriguez Villanueva of Mexico, who took silver in 31.20 seconds and Venezuelan Merce des Toledo, who timed 31.99 for third and the bronze medal.
Atkinson’s other gold medal in Colombia came in the women’s 50m butterfly in 26.60 seconds and the women’s 100m breaststroke in a championship record 1:06.83.
At the FINA Swimming World Cup, Atkinson dominated her competition in the 25-metre pool. In five meets she won three gold and two silver medals in the 100-metre breaststroke and all five in a clean sweep of the 50-metre breaststroke.
Alia was also hot at the FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships in Hangzhou, China in December with two gold medals.
She won the gold medal in the 50m breaststroke. The world-record holder came from behind to win in 29.05 seconds on December 12.
Atkinson held off the challenge of long-time rival Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania who touched in 29.38 seconds. Martina Carraro of Italy won the bronze medal in 29.59 seconds.
The Jamaican set a new world record of 28.56 seconds, this year, lowering her own mark of 28.64 set in 2016.
Atkinson’s second gold medal came on December 16 in the 100m breaststroke. The world record holder won in a time of 1:03.51 and was followed home by American Katie Meili(1:03.63) and Australian and Jessica Hansen (1:04.61).
American-born Jamaican Briana Williams secured the women's sprint double on the fourth and penultimate day of the IAAF World Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland on July 14 by taking the 200 metres in a championship record time and new personal best of 22.50 seconds.
Favourite Lauren Rain Williams of the United States finished a distant second in 23.09 with Poland’s Martyna Kotwila taking bronze in 23.21, a national U20 record for Poland, over authorised neutral athlete Polina Miller, who clocked 23.32.
Just three months and few days past her 16th birthday, Williams arrived in Tampere as the youngest entrant and left as its most memorable star as her blistering 22.50 planted her at the No. 11 spot on the all-time U20 200m list.
She came home more than half a second ahead of her US rival. The winning margin was 0.59, the second biggest ever.
Williams arrived in Tampere with a 23.11 lifetime best, set when winning her age group at the Carifta Games in early April. Now, her ambitions are clearly expanding.
Two days before, Williams became the youngest to win the 100m crown in Tampere and the 200m victory makes her the youngest to claim the 100/200m title. That's notable enough in and of itself, but such an achievement is rare, too. Williams is just the fourth to claim the dash double in the championships' 17 editions, following Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown (2000), Bulgaria's Tezdzhan Naimova (2006) and Bahamian Anthonique Strachan (2012).
Damion Thomas won Jamaica’s first ever title in the 110m hurdles at a World U20 Championships. He achieved the feat on day three of the IAAF World Under-20 Championships in Tampere, Finland on July 12.
Thomas crashed out at the semifinal stage in Bydgoszcz two years ago but he made amends not only in his final race of the season but also in his final race over the U20 99cm barriers. The gold medal was the crowning moment of a long competition season for the Jamaican, which also included a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships where he was running for Louisiana State University.
Thomas and his teammate Orlando Bennett had already separated themselves from the field by the first hurdle which saw the demise of Spain’s Enrique Llopis but the outcome was decidedly more clear-cut than it was at the Jamaican U20 Championships in Kingston when just 0.01 separated the two protagonists.
On that day in Kingston, Thomas equalled Wilhem Belocian's world U20 record with 12.99 but on a decidedly cooler and cloudier evening in Tampere, a winning time of 13.14 sufficed for the title ahead of Bennett in 13.33.
Janieve Russell finished the year as the third best women’s 400m hurdler with a new personal best of 53.46 seconds. She achieved that time on July 8 when taking the runner-up spot in the women’s 400m hurdles at the Diamond League meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Russell topped the Diamond League point standing leading up to the Diamond League final with one win and four runner-up finishes in five events. In the Diamond League final in Zurich, Switzerland, Russell ran 54.38 seconds for the bronze medal behind the USA pair of Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad (53.88) and Shamier Little (54.21.)
Russell won two major titles in the year. Those titles came at the Commonwealth Games on April 12 when she crossed the line in 54.33 and at the IAAF Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic on September 9 when she won in 53.62.
Khadija Shaw cemented her position as the queen of Jamaican football in 2018.
Shaw overcame personal tragedy – losing four brothers, three of them to gang-related violence in a short period of time – to help guide the Reggae Girlz into their first Women’s World Cup and the University of Tennessee to the best season in their history.
The 21-year-old Shaw made her senior international debut in July before World Cup qualifying. She answered the call with 11 goals in nine appearances, including the opening goal in the 2-2 draw with Panama in the third-place playoff match at the 2018 Concacaf Women’s Championship on October 17 at the Toyota Stadium in Texas that went to a penalty shootout, where the Reggae Girlz punched their historic World Cup ticket.
Shaw also finished with 13 goals in 15 appearances for Tennessee as they reached the last eight of the NCAA tournament for the first time, landing in the year-end top 10 of all three national rankings, another first for them.
She was recently recognized internationally as the star striker was named as The Guardian Footballer of the Year for 2018.
The Guardian Footballer of the Year is an award given to a player who has done something truly remarkable, whether by overcoming adversity, helping others or setting a sporting example by acting with exceptional honesty. Shaw is the third winner following Fabio Pisacane in 2016 and Juan Mata in 2017.
Anthony Thomas was hot in 2018, transitioning from champion apprentice to jockey late September, enduring a brief lean spell after losing his weight allowance, then recovering to end the season on 96 winners, four shy of the magical 100-mark.
Dubbed ‘St Mary’ by his peers, after the north-eastern Jamaican parish from which he made the trek to be apprenticed at Welsh Soutar’s barn at Caymanas Park, the 26-year-old debuted among the Class of 2015 and went almost unnoticed until his breakout year, 2017, riding three winners on August 19.
After a windfall of three and four-timers, Thomas maintained his momentum, winning the Caribbean Sprint three months later aboard CHACE THE GREAT and was hours later handed what remains, to date, the biggest ride of his career, a chance to partner Triple Crown winner SHE’S A MANEATER, in the Superstakes, replacing three-time champion jockey, Dane Nelson, who had fallen ill shortly before the race.
Pleased with Thomas’ handling of SHE’S A MANEATER, which handed him his first Superstakes victory, champion trainer Wayne DaCosta rewarded the apprentice by making him a regular aboard his runners in 2018, especially with stable jockey, six-time champion Omar Walker, sidelined with a broken wrist from the previous year.
Thomas seized the opportunity and won over other trainers with his calm demeanour, hardly ever celebrating a victory, as his confidence soared while he took charge of the jockeys’ title race, going well clear of former champion Shane Ellis by mid-year with Panamanian Dick Cardenas emerging as a likely challenger, backed by the powerhouse barn of Anthony Nunes.
By September, Cardenas was charging at Thomas, riding six winners one afternoon, albeit a disqualification, to get within eight wins of the apprentice now turned jockey, who, on the return of Walker and the loss of his apprentice allowance, went through a dry spell for a week or two.
However, DaCosta and other trainers rallied to the youngster’s side and the winners started flowing again despite a sustained challenge from Cardenas, who ended the season 11 behind Thomas when the racing year closed on Saturday, December 29.
WAYNE DaCosta was hot in 2018, landing an 18th overall and 14th consecutive trainers’ title at Caymanas Park, rallying from the adversity of watching his champion filly, SHE’S A MANEATER, bolt at the start of the $13.9m Diamond Mile, allowing his great rival, Anthony Nunes, to take over the championship race on December 1.
However, 62-year-old DaCosta, who won his first trainers’ title in 1984 through the exploits of the brilliant filly, THORNBIRD, used his vast experience to mastermind the most brilliant comeback ever witnessed in local racing, capped by a five-timer on December 22, to regain the lead after which a dogfight ensued to December 29, the final race meet of the season.
After posting POKER STAR, BULLET RAJ, SERGEANT RECKLESS, RAMBUNCTIOUS LINKS and BRANDY, outgunning Nunes 5-1 on the 11-race card, DaCosta was still up against it, heading into the Boxing Day meet with his rival expected to sweep the $4m Jamaica Two-Year-Old Stakes with the powerful quartet of EARN YOUR STRIPES, SUPREME SOUL, CORAZON and UNIVERSAL BOSS against his main hope, RUN THATCHER RUN.
DaCosta again pulled off a remarkable feat as RUN THATCHER RUN, a half-brother to 2017 Diamond Mile champion and two-time Superstakes winner, SHE’S A MANEATER, upstaged Nunes’ quartet in the one-mile event, chasing EARN YOUR STRIPES into the lane in his first race beyond five and a half furlongs, before taking over and powering home to claim the $2.1m winner’s purse.
Nunes, however, wasn’t done and rallied two races later with Diamond Mile runner-up, BIGDADDYKOOL, who registered his first-ever win against SHE’S A MANEATER in the Miracle Man Cup at nine furlongs and 25 yards, the second race the super filly was running in 11 days after DaCosta had called on her to lead his fightback in a five and a half furlong event, which she had run her heart out to deny champion sprinter CHACE THE GREAT.
BIGDADDYKOOL’s victory over SHE’S A MANEATER left the title race delicately poised with DaCosta $1.57m ahead entering the final meet of the year, December 29, which resulted in a ding-dong battle, Nunes winning four events to DaCosta’s two.
However, the champion trainer had an ace up his sleeve, impressive imported two-year-old, STANGER DANGER, who romped the $1m Sweet Ruckus Trophy, which allowed DaCosta to stave off Nunes by approximately $649,800, keeping him atop the heap for yet another season.
WILL IN CHARGE
WILL IN CHARGE was hot in 2018, emerging from the shadows of top handicappers SHE’S A MANEATER, SEEKING MY DREAM and BIGDADDYKOOL to stamp his authority as a genuine grade one horse, toppling the top three in major races such as the Gold Cup and drama-filled $13.9m Diamond Mile.
Having twice stopped champion stayer BIGDADDYKOOL in consecutive 10-furlong stakes races in 2017, carrying 106lb, WILL IN CHARGE proved he was no lightweight bully by outgunning the big three in 2018 when carrying heavier imposts.
Owned by Wilbert Bagwandeen, trained by Robert Pearson and partnered by Robert Halledeen, giant-killer WILL IN CHARGE started off 2018 by flooring 2017 Horse of the Year SHE'S A MANEATER in a gate-to-wire run in the 1820-metre Legal Light Trophy, clocking a stakes record 1:54.4 on April 21.
Burdened by topweight 57.0 kilos in her first handicap, SHE'S A MANEATER chased the five-year-old horse relentlessly from the off but got burnt in a match race from which BIGDADDYKOOL was scratched.
In June, Halledeen rode the perfect race aboard WILL IN CHARGE to turn back SHE’S A MANEATER’s stablemate, two-time Diamond Mile winner, SEEKING MY DREAM in a stirring stretch duel, defying topweight 126lb to land the Chairman's Trophy at odds of 9-2.
His most awesome performance was in October over seven furlongs, beating SHE’S A MANEATER into third place, clocking the second-fastest Gold Cup time ever to floor the Horse of The Year by four lengths, clocking 1:23.1, two-fifths of a second off EROS' 24-year track record.
However, with the handicaps swung in her favour after allowing WILL IN CHARGE seven pounds in both losses, SHE’S A MANEATER gained revenge in November’s 10-furlong Superstakes, beating her rival by a short head after a thrilling stretch duel.
The Diamond Mile was dubbed as the race to answer all questions on December 1 with SHE’S A MANEATER going for back-to-back victories. However, she bolted at the start, leaving WILL IN CHARGE and BIGDADDYKOOL to battle it out.
High drama followed as the connections of WILL IN CHARGE, who ran through in the stretch run to win the event, had to endure tortuous minutes, awaiting the photo-finish to know whether showboating jockey Halledeen had lost the event, oblivious to a fast-finishing BIGDADDYKOOL, who failed by a short head down along the rail with Dick Cardenas.
CALABAR 4X400M RELAY TEAM
Calabar High 4x400m relay team was red-hot in 2018.
The team clocked the fastest ever time recorded by a Jamaican High School team at the Corporate Area Championships, the second regional meet of the Digicel Grand Prix Series on February 16 at the National Stadium.
The quartet of Anthony Carpenter, Christopher Taylor, Shemar Chambers and Malik James-King clocked an eye-popping 3:05.04 seconds to erase the previous best of 3:06.56 seconds set 21 years ago.
Jamaica College set the previous Jamaican High School record at the Mutual Life Game at the National Stadium. The quartet comprised Rudolph Mighty, Edward Clarke, Carl McPherson and Rupert Eldemire.
The 4x400-metre team also recorded the second fastest time by a Jamaican High School team after clocking a 3:06.37 at the Digicel Grand Prix Finale – G C Foster Classics – on March 10 at the National Stadium.
Following those two performances, it was a safe bet for Calabar High to break the Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships’ 4x400m open record.
Calabar scored an emphatic victory to shatter the record but were disqualified.
Calabar High, with Christopher Taylor on the anchor leg, had completed the victory in 3:05.60 to erase the previous record of 3:06.76 they set in 2015.
Petersfield High, which had finished second in 3:10.64, were awarded first place.
JC (3:10.93) moved up from third to second, while Rhodes Hall High (3:11.06) moved up from fourth to third.
JAMAICA RUGBY LEAGUE TEAM
Jamaica qualified for the Rugby League World Cup for the first time after beating the United States in the final of the Americas Championship in Jacksonville, Florida on November 16.
A 16-10 victory sees the Reggae Warriors become the 11th nation to reach the 16-team 2021 World Cup, to be held in England.
Both Jamaica and USA scored two tries, but four goals by London Skolars half-back Jy-Mel Coleman proved decisive.
Leeds full-back Ashton Golding was named the man of the match after defying a neck injury to play a key role in Jamaica's victory.
The USA, who played in the 2017 World Cup, will have a second chance to qualify via a repechage competition in 2019.
The Jamaican team had to self-fund its trip to Jacksonville to compete in the American Championship, where they played Canada and China in addition to the US.
NOTE: The stories are not ranked in a particular order.