By Christopher Hunt
Some of New York and the nation’s best will compete as United States as members of Team Jamaica Bickle at the Gibson Relays in Jamaica next Saturday.
Catherine McAuley’s Phyllis Francis, NSIC indoor 800-meter national champ and her sister Claudia Francis, the Nike Outdoor National 800 winner, will highlight an all-star group that also includes Columbus senior Whitney Fountatin, who leads the country in the 200 after running an astounding 23.60 at the Valentine Invitational in Boston last week, the 10th fastest scholastic time in U.S. history.
It is the second year that Team Jamaica Bickle will sponsor American athletes at what TJB chairman Irwine Claire called “Jamaica’s version of the Penn Relays.”
Team Jamaica Bickle is a non-profit organization that’s responsible for bringing Jamaican athletes to the Penn Relays each year. With a connection from Sean Phillips, who is involved with TJB and Awesome Power track club, Team Jamaica Bickle brought its first American squad to Gibson Relays.
Phyllis Francis, who committed to the University of Oregon earlier this season will join her sister Claudia, who doesn’t run with her high school team but owns the nation’s fastest 800 time this season, will make up one half of a dream team-style 4x800 relay. The Francis sisters will be joined by Marielle Hall of New Jersey’s Haddonfield, who finished second in the junior 1,000 at the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in 2:52.52, and Sacred Heart’s Dana Walsh, who has an outdoor 800-meter best of 2:13.72.
Both Phyllis and Walsh competed at Gibson Relays last year.
“It’s like a concert,” she said. “It’s like we go to a Lady Gaga concert. (Jamaicans) go to a track meet.”
Claudia Francis missed the meet last year to help Cardozo win the PSAL City championship, but has since left the team and run unattached this season.
“(Phyllis) didn’t brag about it,” she said. “She just told me that it was fun. I’m exciting to be going.”
Elizabeth Briasco, who attends Queens High School for Sciences, which doesn’t have a track team, will race the 1,600 meters, along with Foot Locker Cross Country runner-up and sophomore 2-mile national record holder Chelsey Sveinsson of Greenhill in Texas.
Briasco hasn’t raced much indoors but said he is in good shape and racing international competition will be a great tune-up for the remainder of her season.
“I think this is a really good precursor for indoor nationals,” she said.
Walsh agreed. She said racing at Gibson Relays could turn around a rocky season for the senior, who committed to the College of Charleston.
“It’s a really big confidence booster,” she said. “I wrote my college essay on it. It’s just a great experience. I kind of took it with me. “
Fountain said: “What gets me most is the crowd,” she said. “I love crowds. Even if they don’t cheer for me. It feels crazy in there. It helps me run even after.
What will also help her run faster are the quality of her teammates. Fountain, who also clocked a nation-leading 6.89 in the 55 at the PSAL Bronx Championships Feb. 18, joins a 4x400 and 4x200 relay pool that includes outdoor national 400 champ Ebony Eutsey and runner up Briana Nelson (S.C.) as well as top sprinters Aurieyall Scott and Afia Charles of Maryland powerhouse, Eleanor Roosevelt.
“It’s very dynamic,” Fountain said. “Just to put a relay like that togetheris really special.”
USA Relay Start lists:
4 x 800m & 1600m
PHYLLIS FRANCIS: 2010 Millrose Games pro 800m – 3rd. 2010 USA #1 600m & CHSSA indoor Champion (Armory). 2009 National Scholastic Indoor Champion (NSIC) 800m.
CLAUDIA FRANCIS: 2010 USA #1 800m & Colgate Women’s Games Champion. 2009 Team USA 800m World Youth Games Semi-Finalist- Italy. 2009 Nike Outdoor Nationals (NON) Champion in the 800m. 2009 Winner Reebok Grand Prix High School 800m.
MARIELLE HALL: 2010 USA #2 800m & Colgate Women’s Games Champion. 2009 Team USA 800m World Youth Games Semi-Finalist- Italy. 2009 Foot Locker Cross Country Finalist. NJ #3 2009 NJSIAA 800m.
CHELSEY SVEINSSON: USA #2 2009 Footlocker Cross Country National Champion. 2009 Pen Relays –mile Champion. 2009 NON Champion- 2-mile. 2009 Team USA 1500m World
Youth Games -Italy finalist- 4th.
ELIZABETH BRIASCO: USA #2 National Scholastic Indoor Championship (NSIC) 2009 5000m. USA #2 NSIC 2mile Champion.
DANA WALSH: NY State #4 -2009 1000m Champion. 2009 Reebok Grand-Prix #5 800m.
4 x 400m and 4 x 200m
BRAINA NELSON: 2009 Nike Indoor Nationals (NIN) 400m Champion. 2009 Nike Outdoor Nationals (NON) Runner-up 400m. 2009 USATF Team USA World Youth finalist- 4th -Italy.
AURIEYALL SCOTT: 2008 Caribbean Scholastic
Invitational (CSI) 100m Champion. Maryland #1 -MPSSAA East 300m Champion.
WHITNEY FOUNTAIN: 2010 USA #1- 200m. 2009 Nationals Scholastic (NSIC)
Champion 200m- 2nd. 2009 US# 1 time in the 300m.
AFIA CHARLES: 2009 Finalist at the World Youth Championship in Italy finishing 8thplace. 2010
US leading time for the 500m Indoor.
EBONY EUTSEY: 2009 Nike Outdoor Nationals (NON) Champion 400m. 2009 USATF World Youth National 400m Champion.