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Three South Florida high school track phenoms took center stage in major national and international meets this past weekend and lived up to expectations.
Northeast junior Damion Thomas, 16, won the gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the Jamaica National Junior Championships and qualified for the July 19-24 IAAF Under-20 World Junior Track and Field meet in Poland.
American High freshman Tyrese Cooper, 15, broke his own freshman national record to win the 400-meter title at the New Balance National Track and Field Championships in Greensboro, N.C.
Northeast freshman Jan'Taijah Ford, 15, the youngest runner in the field, took a silver medal in the 400 at the Brooks PR Invitational in Renton, Wash. in her final track meet of the 2016 season.
Cooper was competing for Miami Gardens Xpress. Ford and Thomas are members of Trinity Elite Track Club.
JAMAICAN NATIONAL JUNIOR TRIALS
Thomas, a dual U.S. and Jamaican citizen and Jamaican junior national team member, will make his debut at next month's IAAF Under-20 World Track and Field Championships in Poland.
Ranked third in the nation in the 110-meter hurdles in 13.42, Thomas qualified in style at the junior trials. Despite a strong negative head wind (-4.6), Thomas topped an impressive field to win the gold medal in 13.50.
The field featured Rohan Cole, the CARIFTA under-20 champion ranked fifth in the world, and Jamaica under-16 high school champion Dejour Russell.
His mother, Duchane, accompanied her son to Jamaica. His father, Damion, joined Ford in Washington. Both coach the cross country and track programs at Northeast, girls state track runner-up to Miami Northwestern this season.
"I was amazed at Damion's race, the competition was tough," his father said. "The three of them battled to the line. They all are champions. Just the time itself was fast because of the type of wind they were facing. That made it even more amazing. That's how it is in track and that's how it happens when you have the best competition trying to make the world team."
After running 14.00 in prelims, Thomas was the top seed for finals.
"You have to be at your best no matter what the weather conditions are," Thomas said. "It comes down to who wants it the most."
After a false start, the race got off clean with Thomas putting in a surge in the final 20 meters and out-leaned the field at the tape.
"He knows how to show up in the big race," said Thomas, whose son is undefeated in Florida. "He's always poised. When he gets on the track he doesn't let anything bother him. He craves that competition and accepts the challenges."
The younger Thomas said good competition brings out the best in him.
"It feels great to know I can beat boys who are two and three years my senior knowing that I have another chance at World Juniors in 2018," Thomas told reporters after the race. "The wind affected me but at the end of the day, it affected everyone so it's up to whoever can push through to their best. I am very excited."
Thomas has also been chosen by TD Ameritrade, a U.S. Olympic sponsor and mentor to the "next generation" for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, to attend this summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and experience the Games firsthand. He was one of only four 2020 Olympic hopefuls selected for all sports. Thomas will also receive mentoring, education and training opportunities from mentor and Olympic hurdler David Oliver.
NEW BALANCE OUTDOOR NATIONALS
After Cooper, one of the nation's most dominant quarter milers, won the 200 meters in the emerging elite division at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C. on Saturday, he turned it on for Sunday's 400. Cooper won the 200 in 20.90 despite stumbling but recovered nicely on the curve. He ran 20.96 in prelims.
Cooper came back and crushed his own record of 45.94 to win the 400 in 45.69 on Sunday. He pushed hard off the last curve and pulled away in the final 20 meters.
The indoor and outdoor national record holder was emotional after his jaw-dropping finish, tumbling to the track and covering his face with his arms. The top five finishers were under 47 seconds.
"I felt great with some great competition, I had two 46s behind me," Cooper said. "This is the fast race I was looking for. It felt great."
The 200 victory avenged Cooper's loss to Maxwell Willis of Archbishop Carroll DC. A few weeks ago, Willis ran 20.71 for second and Cooper finished third.
Also on Sunday, South Dade Express (Southridge) won the championship girls' division in the 800 (100, 100, 200, 400) Sprint Medley Relay in 1:41.85. Relay members were Shakyra Garnett, 18, Shaniya Williams, 17, Symone Mason, 17, and Kayla Johnson, 17.
BROOKS PR INVITATIONAL
Ford may have been the youngest in her race in front of a huge crowd at Renton Memorial Stadium, but it didn't show with an impressive second-place finish in the 400 in 53.83, against the nation's best in 59-degree weather.
It was her final meet of the 2016 season. Even though she has the qualifying time to try out for the junior national team she is too young to compete at U.S. Junior Nationals (for 16-19 year-olds).
Thomas, who gave up spending Father's Day with his wife and son in Jamaica to make sure Ford was prepared at the meet, was impressed with his young middle distance runner and how she adjusted to competing against older runners in unaccustomed cold weather.
"I thought she did an excellent job," Thomas said. "She was only a freshman running up against five seniors and she was in Lane 2. At that level just to be in a lane that says a lot, especially being in ninth grade."
"She had to adjust to the weather when it dropped in the 50s," Thomas said. "I made sure she warmed up properly at the right time. It wasn't a rolling schedule so knowing exactly what time she would run was a lot easier to get her ready."
Thomas said she stayed with her race plan from start to finish.
"She was a little nervous before the race, but everybody was nervous. Once the gun goes off she wasn't nervous anymore. She went out in 25 seconds and put herself in the race. At that point, she was competitive moving from fourth place, picking it up on the turn and catching people in the last 100. She did a phenomenal job. She doesn't have that much experience in big meets. I was very excited and happy for her. It was a great experience."
Ford, a 3A state high school champion and Golden South winner, was all smiles after the meet munching on fresh strawberries her Grandma Gloria gave her.
"This was a big opportunity for me to get out and race older people and see where I am at," she told Dyestat after the race. "The wind picked up the first 25 meters so I knew I had to get out. I had to make my move on the curve. At first, I was nervous but once I got on the track everything went away. I love the athletes I just ran with. They are going to some big colleges."
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