Sprint star Alfred wants to make history for St Lucia on the global stage

By Cathal Dennehy for World Athletics February 18, 2024

 On the Instagram biography of Julien Alfred, there are three lines. The first says ‘Athlete’. The second is the flag of Saint Lucia, while the third says ‘Romans 8:18’ – a verse from the bible that states our “present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”


At the age of 22, Alfred has already experienced her fair share of suffering, and indeed glory.


There was the loss of her father, Julian, when she was 12. There was moving away from home, to Jamaica, at just 14. There was the death last December of her old PE teacher, Simeon Stephen, who first discovered Alfred’s talent and convinced her to stay the course in athletics.


Then there is the glory.


Alfred is the reigning NCAA indoor champion over 60m and 200m, the reigning NCAA outdoor champion over 100m and 200m. She’s the 2023 Bowerman Award winner, the prize given to the outstanding collegiate track and field athlete each year. She’s the fastest woman in the world this year over 60m and 200m, which makes her a huge contender at next month’s World Athletics Indoor Championships Glasgow 24.


At this time of year, she knows all about the link between suffering and glory, given a key part of her preparation is the over-distance work that few sprinters enjoy.


“I never considered myself a 200m runner,” she says. “Only last year I got better at it because I dedicated myself to running it more with the longer workouts, which I hated before.”


They’re still not her favourite, though to strike gold in Glasgow she knows they’re essential. A few months ago, when they circled the event on her calendar, Alfred’s coach Edrick Floreal noted that the three rounds of the women’s 60m will take place on the same day.


“So being the fastest woman doesn’t play as much of a role as being the strongest woman,” he says. “Being able to run 22.2 and 22.1 (for 200m), you’re not going to die of fatigue. I need the athlete to be strong enough to replicate the same performance three times in a row.”

Saint Lucia – a Caribbean island with a population of about 180,000 people – has never won a medal at the World Indoors before, its best result being a fifth-place finish in the high jump for Levern Spencer in 2016. But Alfred looks poised to change that. She clocked a world-leading 6.99 to take victory at the Millrose Games in New York, a World Athletics IndoorTour Gold meeting, last Sunday. The run was even more impressive given her relatively sluggish start.

She didn’t have a time goal in mind that day, the objective being to “work on my start, my execution and transition.” How did that go? “I have to go back to my coach and see how I did,” she said. “I’m sure he will say it wasn’t good.”

Alfred was right.

“The start was awful,” says Floreal. “She kind of stood up, so it’s back to work on that, but I like where things are – the fact she can mess up the start and still have the strength to deal with the charge.”

In her first year as a professional, that ability to stay calm under pressure could prove a key one.

As Floreal explains: “It’s (about) handling that anxiety. That’s my job: to help her win the race from behind so she doesn’t feel like she has to have a good start. When they think, ‘I need to get a great start to get a medal,’ they put tonnes of pressure on themselves to get that and sometimes you’re stymied by that in the race. Now, I can have a s***ty start and still run 6.99 – that helps with confidence.”

Alfred has been working with Floreal since the start of 2019, when she enrolled at the University of Texas. They first met a few months before that, at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, where Alfred won silver in the 100m. Floreal was the reason she chose Texas.

“While I was in high school in Jamaica, I watched him coach Sydney (McLaughlin-Levrone), Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, he was also coaching Keni (Harrison) at the time,” says Alfred. “Seeing him have a huge amount of great athletes, I wanted to be with a coach like that.”

Alfred grew up in Castries, the capital city of Saint Lucia, and her sprint talent was first spotted at the age of “six or seven” as she raced around the courts at school. Stephen, her PE teacher, made her race against the boys – she won – and after that she joined an athletics club, working with coach Cuthbert Modeste. Her childhood hero was Usain Bolt, and Alfred dreamed of one day doing similar things on the track. But following the death of her father, she fell away from athletics. It was Stephen who brought her back. “He saw the potential in me,” she says.

In 2015, she moved to Jamaica to attend St Catherine High School, where she came under the guidance of coach Marlon Jones. From there it was on to Texas, where she took a big leap forward, lowering her 60m PB to 7.10 in 2020 at the age of 18. The following year was lost to injury, with Alfred forced to watch the Tokyo Olympic Games from afar. But she bounced back better than ever in 2022, lowering her 100m PB to 10.81 and winning the NCAA title.

A false start in the 100m semi-final at the World Championships in Oregon proved a costly mistake, one she’s yet to repeat. Last year, her star truly went supernova, with Alfred setting collegiate records to win the NCAA indoor 60m title in 6.94 and the 200m in 22.01, both times putting her second on the world all-time lists. With another dominant sprint double at the outdoor NCAA Championships last June – she won the 100m in 10.72 (2.3m/s) and 200m in 21.73 (2.5m/s) – she closed out a magnificent collegiate career, then signed a professional deal with Puma.

Her goal at last year’s World Championships was to win a medal, but she came up just short in Budapest, finishing fifth in the 100m and fourth in the 200m.

These days, athletics has her full-time focus, with Alfred putting her spare time to use by doing driving lessons. Since the autumn, she has trained alongside Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, the 2019 world 200m champion, along with her long-time college teammate Rhasidat Adeleke of Ireland, the reigning NCAA 400m champion.

“It’s competitive, which makes it fun,” says Alfred. “Iron sharpens iron.”

Saint Lucia has never won an Olympic medal in any sport, and Alfred knows the hype is building as the Games approach. But the only pressure she feels is from within.

“I don’t really pay attention to the media but I do have a lot of supporters back home who give messages to my family and they transfer to me,” she says. “I definitely want a medal in Paris – a gold, silver or bronze in the 100m and 200m.”

 The path to an achievement like that is filled with hard work and tedious, painstaking repetition. In addition to her start, Alfred has been focusing on improving her strength and her technique. “Sometimes late in the races I use my shoulders too much,” she says.

It’s something Floreal drills into her at every workout. “The main thing is good mechanics, being able to hold that under fatigue,” he says.

Success at major championships also requires a strong mindset. What is Alfred like in that department?

“She’s fantastic,” says Floreal, who’s been highly impressed with how Alfred has handled the transition to the pro ranks. “It’s a difficult adjustment a lot of kids are not able to do; there’s a lot of people pulling at you.”

While she’s already donned her nation’s colours with pride on the global stage, the difference this year is that without an extensive NCAA schedule, she can give such championships her full focus. First up is Glasgow, then all roads lead to Paris. Saint Lucia might never have won a medal at those events, but Alfred isn’t concerned about the past, thinking only of the future.

“I’d love to be the first,” she says.

Related items

  • Jamaican government contributes JMD$10 million to inaugural Jamaica Athletics Invitational Jamaican government contributes JMD$10 million to inaugural Jamaica Athletics Invitational

    The Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the Honourable Olivia Grange, has announced a significant contribution of  JMD$10 million (approximately USD$64,000) from the Sports Development Foundation to support the staging of the inaugural Jamaica Athletics Invitational Meet, scheduled to take place at the National Stadium in Kingston on May 11, 2024.

    Minister Grange expressed full support for the Invitational, highlighting its importance in providing athletes with a platform to assess their status and make necessary adjustments ahead of upcoming competitions, including the Olympics.

    "This Invitational Silver Continental Category Meet, as per World Athletics Standard, will allow athletes and coaches to accurately assess their status and make the necessary adjustments to achieve the preferred results in good time for the upcoming Olympics," Minister Grange stated.

    She emphasized the significance of hosting international athletes from the Caribbean, United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Europe, fostering healthy competition and camaraderie among participants.

    Minister Grange extended a warm welcome to all athletes and emphasized the dual focus on performance and positive social interactions during the meet.

    "Competitions of this calibre force all athletes to participate at peak performance while forging positive social interactions and camaraderie. So while great focus will be placed on the performances, an after party awaits you," Minister Grange added enthusiastically.

    The Jamaica Athletics Invitational Meet has already confirmed participation from international stars such as World Indoor Champion Julien Alfred of St Lucia, Dina Asher Smith from Great Britain, 2022 World 100m champion Fred Kerley, Trayvon Brommel, and rising triple jump star Jaydon Hibbert.

    With the support from the Sports Development Foundation and the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, the inaugural Jamaica Athletics Invitational promises to be an electrifying event, showcasing top-tier athletic talent and promoting the spirit of sportsmanship and competition.

    “Let the games begin!” the Jamaican sports minister declared.

  • JAAA president silent on Adidas' record-breaking investment proposal for Jamaican athletics JAAA president silent on Adidas' record-breaking investment proposal for Jamaican athletics

    The President of the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA), Garth Gayle, has refrained from commenting on an ambitious investment proposal put forward by global sports giant Adidas that could revolutionize Jamaica's track and field landscape.

    Nationwide News broke the story on Wednesday detailing Adidas' proposal, which includes a staggering JMD$5.7 billion investment over the next eight years to bolster athletics at both elite and grassroots levels in Jamaica. Despite this significant development, President Garth Gayle declined to provide a statement on Thursday, citing the association's existing contract with Puma.

    Adidas's proposal, as outlined in documents obtained by Sportsmaz.TV, involves substantial financial support, equipment provision, infrastructure development, and athlete incentives aimed at enhancing Jamaica's athletic programs.

    However, while President Gayle opted not to comment, Jamaica's Sports Minister expressed enthusiasm for any deal that benefits Jamaica and its athletes, indicating a potential willingness to support such initiatives.

    “All I can say is anything that is going to further enhance brand Jamaica and enhance the performance of our athletes, motivate them and inspire them to better, I am for it,” the minister told Sportsmax.TV.

    Adidas unveiled the ambitious plan that could potentially transform Jamaica's track and field landscape with a groundbreaking USD$38.8 million or JMD $5.7 billion investment proposal over the next eight years. This proposal, aimed at revolutionizing both elite and grassroots athletics, has stirred significant interest and discussions within the Jamaica's track and field fraternity and raised questions over whether the JAAA is seriously considering accepting or is keen on negotiating with Adidas.

    Details of the proposal, first reported by Nationwide News on Wednesday, outline a comprehensive investment strategy that includes substantial financial support, equipment provision, infrastructure development, and athlete incentives.

    According to the documents obtained by Sportsmax.TV, the proposal earmarks nearly USD$3 million annually to the JAAA, covering operational costs and athletic program enhancements. Additionally, Adidas plans to allocate USD$2,180,000 worth of equipment each year, ensuring Jamaican athletes have access to world-class gear to uphold the nation's track and field legacy.

    A notable aspect of the proposal is the inclusion of a 10 per cent royalty bonus from the sales of Adidas apparel associated with Jamaican athletics, offering a potential revenue stream to further bolster the sport's development in Jamaica.

    Adidas further proposes an annual retainer of USD$2.5 million for the JAAA, along with a dedicated budget of USD$250,000 for infrastructure repairs and upgrades across Jamaica.

    The sponsorship extends beyond financial support, with provisions for executive travel budgets to ensure representation at international meetings and events. Athletes achieving global success can expect significant rewards, with podium finishers at the Olympics and other major championships receiving substantial bonuses.

    According to the proposal athletes would be rewarded with a bonus of USD$25,000 for winning Olympic gold, USD$15,000 for silver, USD$10,000 for bronze.

    For World Championships gold medallists would earn USD$15,000 for gold, USD$10,000 for silver and USD$8000 for bronze. Jamaican athletes winning gold at the World Indoor Championships would earn a bonus of USD10,000, silver medallists would collect USD$8000 while bronze medallists be rewarded with USD$7,000.

    Jamaica’s junior athletes will not be left out as gold medal winners at the World U20 Championships would receive a hefty bonus of USD$7500 while silver and bronze medallists would take home USD$5000 and USD$2000, respectively.

    USD$7500 would be reserved for relay gold medals with silver and bronze medals earning USD$5000 and USD$2000, respectively.

     

     

     

  • Star-studded line-up confirmed for inaugural Jamaica Athletics Invitational Star-studded line-up confirmed for inaugural Jamaica Athletics Invitational

    The excitement is building for the inaugural Jamaica Athletics Invitational (JAI), set to take place at Kingston's National Stadium on May 11, 2024, with a stellar line-up of track and field stars ready to dazzle the crowds.

    Among the highly anticipated events is the men's 110m hurdles, featuring Olympic champion Hansle Parchment and Commonwealth Games champion Rasheed Broadbell. They will be joined by standout American hurdler Daniel Roberts, promising a thrilling battle over the barriers.

    In addition to the hurdles spectacle, the sprint events will showcase talents such as recently crowned World Indoor 60m champion Julien Alfred, making her return to Jamaica after her high school years. Joining her are international sensations like Great Britain's Dina Asher Smith and two-time world champion Abby Steiner, ensuring top-class competition on the track.

    The men’s sprints is promising to equally captivating with Zharnel Hughes, Marvin Bracy, Trayvon Brommel, Abdul Hakim Sani-Brown and Fred Kerley confirmed for the meet.

    The 400m races will see world championship gold medalist Alexis Holmes taking on Jamaican quarter-milers Charokee Young and Stacey-Ann Williams in the one-lap sprint, while Commonwealth Games medalist Matthew Hudson-Smith leads the men's charge.

    Two-time world championship 400m hurdles bronze medallist Rushell Clayton will go to head to head with the outstanding Shamier Little while Pan American champion Jaheel Hyde will take on World Championship bronze medalist Kyron McMaster over the 400m hurdles.

    Field events will be equally captivating, with Jamaican prodigy Jaydon Hibbert and Donald Scott confirmed for the triple jump. Two-time world championship silver medalist Shanieka Ricketts will clash with 2024 World Indoor Champion Thea Lafond of Dominica in the women's event.

    Fedrick Dacres, the 2019 World Championship silver medalist, will add excitement to the men's discus event.

    Ludlow Watts, chairman of the local organizing committee, emphasized the significance of the JAI in showcasing international talent in Jamaica. 

    “Those who might have thought that the days of staging of international events by the JAAA are over you will now know we jus’ a come,” said Ludlow Watts, who is chairman of the local organizing committee. “JAI will feature 14 international events; 10 running events and four field events. The international segment will be held between 7:30 and 9:30 pm. There will also be a developmental segment between 6 and 6:30 pm. That segment is to provide opportunity for those who did not get into the main event.

    "We want every Jamaican to be in the stadium. We would like a full cheering stadium."

    Ticket prices have been designed to ensure that the National Stadium will be filled to capacity for the meet. As such finish-line tickets for the Grand Stand will be sold for JMD$3000 with seats in all other sections of the stand fetching a price of JMD$2500. The Bleacher seats will be free.

    Tickets for the event will be available online from April 22 to May 4 and can be purchased at the Jamaica Pegasus in Kingston and the National Stadium Ticket Office from May 8 to 11.

     

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.