Meet Zharnel Hughes: The 18 yr old has a shot a taking down Yohan Blake’s 10.21 and Usain Bolt’s 20.25 ‘Champs’ records

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Is The “Next Usain Bolt” Not Jamaican?  A Visit To The Kingston IAAF High Perfomrance Training Center 

by Steve Soprano
March 26, 2014

LRC note: Empolyee 1.1 Contractor 1.1, Steve Soprano, had never left the USA until this January. After travelling to World Indoors in Sopot, Poland two weeks ago, he had a one week stint at 2014 NCAA Indoors in Albuquerque, NM, and now he’s off to Jamaica for the IAAF’s Caribbean Day in the Life Project where he will spend the next 7-days in Jamaica meeting some of the world’s top sprinters like Yohan Blake and Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce and giving you an inside glimpse at their daily routine and training regimen. Steve will try and write a day-by-day journal plus provide more in depth coverage once he returns.

The IAAF had a similar program a few years ago in Kenya where we spent 20 days in Kenya with the likes of Geoffrey Mutai, Moses Mosop, Wilson Kipsang, David Rudisha, Mary Keitany: LetsRun.com Goes To Kenya – IAAF Day in the Life Kenya.

Editor’s Update: If you like this article, then you need to read what Hughes did later in the week: LRC Zharnel Hughes Does It – Takes Down Yohan Blake’s Champs Record At 10.12!!!
*MB: Zharnel Hughes run 10.12 @ Jamaica HS Champs

Kingston, Jamaica – On my second day in Jamaica, the first official day of the “Day in the Life” program, I had the opportunity to visit the IAAF High Performance Center on the University of West Indies campus to meet some of the up and coming sprinters of the track and field world including Anguilla’s Zharnel Hughes who some are hyping as the “next Usain Bolt“.

The next Bolt?

Jr. Sprint Sensation Zharnel Hughes (photo credit: Jean-Pierre Durand – IAAF)

The IAAF HPTC is an initiative set up by the IAAF to provide training facilities and coaching to help develop world-class athletes around the world. There are eight centers located around the globe and each has its own disciplines that it focuses on. For example there is one in Eldoret, Kenya which hosts distance runners and another in Dakar, Senegal that focuses on sprints/hurdles and jumps. Athletes come to these centers as young developing athletes, but hope to leave as Olympic and world medalists.

Naturally, the training center in Kingston, Jamaica is set up for sprinters. The center currently hosts 9 athletes from ages 18 to 23 from countries including Jamaica, Monserrat, Dominica, Mauritius and Anguilla. Of the nine, eight are 100 and 200 sprinters and one is a 400-runner. These athletes are not the stars of the sport, but the youngsters who could one day be stars if they get the proper coaching and facilities they need. (For an excellent NYTimes profile on 400m World Champ Amantle Montsho training at the IAAF center in  Senegal click here). They earn the privilege to train here by achieving certain performance standards or being selected by their federation.

High Performance Training Center = College Dormitory

High performance center or college dormitory?

High performance center or college dormitory?

“High performance training center” conjured up images in my mind of state of the art weight rooms, alter-G treadmills, and high tech VO2-Max testing equipment. I was badly mistaken. There isn’t anything state of the art about the IAAF HTPC in Kingston. That didn’t stop it from helping develop Usain Bolt.

The Jamaican HPTC is similar to the old, run-down dormitories on every college campus in the US. The ones that everyone in the housing lottery crosses their fingers hoping they don’t end up in, as they much rather want to live in the newer, more modern buildings that were actually built in their lifetime. (Personal Note: I actually was in one of the “old crappy” dorms my freshman year at Cornell and loved it.)

However, the HPTC sprinters aren’t in Jamaica to stay in a fancy hotel; they’re here to train and live at the center where they have access to training facilities and coaching they never would at home. They workout on the same track as Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake (sometimes even working out with them) and go to the same off-campus gym. They live in the same building and same rooms that once housed Bolt and Blake. They get the support they need while working to bring down their times to the level necessary to make it as a pro.

If this doesn't scream college track house I don't know what does.

If this doesn’t scream college track house I don’t know what does. (photo credit: Jean-Pierre Durand – IAAF)

It’s basically an IAAF college track house. College track ahtletes will know what I’m talking about. You live and train with a group of teammates for four years, doing the same workouts under the same coach and together you improve. Living together with other serious athletes creates an ideal training environment and the atmosphere needed to train optimally.

These guys at the HPTC are training at a very high level, getting up almost every morning for gym sessions followed by afternoon track workouts, often working out for four or more hours a day. Being at the HPTC helps them train at a level they likely wouldn’t be able to if they were at home training on their own, possibly with limited facilities and/or proper coaching.

Zharnel Hughes: Is The Next Usain Bolt From Anguilla?

Yohan Blake. Warren Weir. Delano Williams. Track and field has been searching for the heir apparent to Usain Bolt ever since Bolt started breaking world recods in 2008. Bolt has done a good job of keeping his rivals at bay as he is undefeated at major championships since 2008 (minus the 100 false start DQ in 2011).

Should we throw a new name  –Zharnel Hughes – into “the next Usain Bolt” mix?

The Anguillan sprinter Hughes, who runs for Kingston College (a prominent all boys high school in Jamaica), is undeniably the current star of the Kingston HPTC. (Quick geography lesson, Anguilla is a British overseas territory of just 13,000 people that lies 935 miles due east of Jamaica. Anguilla does not have its own Olympic Committee, so that means Hughes most likely will have to compete for  Great Britain)

As a 16 year old, Hughes ran a ridiculous 20.90 for 200 (admittedly it was one day before his 17th birthday). Now the 18-year old has PRs of 10.23 for the 100, 20.79 for the 200 and is one of the favorites in both events at this week’s ISSA Boys and Girls Athletics Championships aka ‘Champs’ (essentially the Jamaicans high school nationals). There is lots of talk about how he could possibly break both Yohan Blake’s 10.21 and Usain Bolt’s 20.25 ‘Champs’ records (Editor’s Update: Hughes beat Blake’s time).

Hughes has had past international success as well on the junior level as last year he won the Pan Am Junior Championships as well as the CARIFTA Games. He clearly is motivated by the Bolt comparisons.

“In 2012, I was blessed to get a scholarship to come here. And then when I got here I heard that Usain Bolt was once in this building,” said Hughes about coming to the HPTC he said .”And then (I actually) trained with him – (so) it says something. Probably sometime in the future, I might be the next Bolt. Well I want to make my own name instead, so look out for me.”

Six minutes of video of Hughes talking to press appears on the right.

Hughes has been getting plenty of attention as even JAAA head Dr. Warren Blake has taken notice. Dr. Blake said, “We have a number of future stars who are going to the [HPTC]. … [Hughes] is one to look out for in the upcoming champs. … The times he is running, I dare to say I’m sorry he’s not Jamaican. Because he’d be something to look forward to as a replacement for Usain Bolt. … He’s running some times now where he’s going to challenge some of the best that Jamaica has to offer.”

As far as what Hughes plans on doing after he finishes high school this year, he hasn’t really figured it out. He might go pro while continuing his education and staying in Jamaica, but he’s also being recruited by some top NCAA schools like Florida State, Texas A&M and Arkansas.

Quick Take #1: The comparisons of any up and coming sprinter to Usain Bolt are inevitable but unfair.

Hughes is very, very good, but it’s hard to stack up to Bolt. The good news for Hughes on the Bolt comparison is he’s pretty tall like Bolt. The 6’5″ Usain Bolt has been described as a “tall freak who was a child prodigy”. Hughes isn’t quite that tall – he’s 6’3″ – the same height as former world record holder Asafa Powell.

Another thing that benefits Hughes is that that Bolt was primarily a 200 runner when he was a junior, so there are no 100 meter times from Bolt to compare (Tilastopaja.com doesn’t even list a 100 PR for Bolt before 2007 when he ran 10.03).

Looking at 200 times, before Bolt had even turned 18, he already had set the World Junior record at 19.93-seconds and was the World Junior and World Youth Champion at 200.

If Hughes wants to be the next Usain Bolt he’s definitely in the right place as he’s already training and being coached by the best.

Dr. Blake said that Hughes “is a product of the training center” and Hughes agreed as he credits with training at the center for making him faster, stronger and more focused as an athlete. He said, “To train with the big guys like Bolt, Blake, Warren, it’s just an amazing feeling. Sometimes I’m at the track and I feel like giving up. I look at those guys and when they’re finishing their program they’re falling down, they’re getting back up and continuing so that’s my motivation. I like being here training with them.”


Editor’s Update: If you like this article, then you need to read what Hughes did later in the week: LRC Zharnel Hughes Does It – Takes Down Yohan Blake’s Champs Record At 10.12!!!

More from Outside LetsRun: More on Zharnell Hughes: Is he be the region’s next star? “My mother is here for ‘Champs’, and I’m so happy with that, because I always runwell in front of her. With ‘Champs’ I’m not used to the atmosphere and that’s the only thing I’m worried about.” His mother is Jamaican so it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he ultimately competes for Jamaica.

*More on IAAF High Peformance Training Center (HPTC) Half the athletes are far, far away including four from Mauritius.

Editor’s note: LetsRun.com paid for Steve to get to Jamaica. The IAAF pays for Steve’s accommodations and in country travel while in Jamaica. They have no say on what we publish or what he writes.


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