Josanne Lucas reserved her own chapter in the Trinidad and Tobago history books when she secured bronze in the women’s 400 metres hurdles final, at the 2009 World Championships, in Berlin, Germany.
For all T&T’s on-track success at the World Championships and Olympic Games, the country had never before produced a female medallist at this level.
But while Lucas’ latest World Champs experience was particularly satisfying, she does not have fond memories of her Olympic debut, in Beijing, China, in 2008. The Alabama-based athlete clocked 57.76 seconds to finish sixth in heat four in the opening round of the women’s 400m hurdles, and did not advance to the semis.
“I don’t see it as a disappoinment but more of a learning experience…of what I needed to do to compete at that level.”
Lucas learnt quickly!
Just 12 months later, she was third best in the world, improving her personal best by more than two seconds and climbing to number 17 on the all-time world performance list.
“My personality plays a great part in my athletic career. In everything I do I strive for perfection and it’s difficult for me to accept failure. I always try to remain open-minded and to see the bigger picture in any situation. For example, if I make any mistakes I try to learn…(so) that the mistake is not repeated. That attitude helped in school and my athletic career.”
A career in athletics, however, was not always on the cards for Lucas.
“I have always been interested in sports, but my first passion was football since I grew up watching my dad (Durly Lucas) play and coach. Before I pursued track, I played football for one year.
“It was never my intention to pursue a career in track and field. And when I did, my main goal was to participate at the Olympic Games.”
At the 2012 London Games, Lucas will be 28 and, all things being equal, should be well positioned to climb the rostrum.
“It has always been my dream to attend an Olympic Games. After having been to one already, my goal for the upcoming Games is to qualify for the finals and medal. I have a dream of medalling at the Olympics regardless of the colour medal or if I am the first T&T woman to do so.”
Though at the time Lucas did not envisage a future on the track, the foundation for her career was laid while she was a student at Lambeau Anglican Primary School.
But she only realised how good she could become while attending Bishop’s High School, Tobago. As a 15-year-old, she was selected to represent T&T at the 2000 Carifta Games, in Grenada.
“I competed in both the long jump under-17 girls event as well as the 100 metres hurdles, having only made the standard in the long jump. With only my second time running the 100 metres hurdles, I qualified for the finals where I placed fourth.”
The one-lap hurdles, though, is the event that has become Lucas’ specialty.
In 2003, she seized silver at the Pan American Junior (under-20) Championships, in Barbados, in 58.43 seconds.
The 2006 season was a particularly productive one for the Carnbee, Tobago hurdler. At the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) Championships, in the Dominican Republic, she earned gold in the 400m hurdles in 55.99 seconds, silver in the 100m hurdles (13.26) and bronze in the 4x400m relay (3:44.23).
Lucas was even more impressive at the 2006 Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games, in Colombia. She secured silver in the 400m hurdles in 55.60 seconds. Only 1999 world champion, Cuba’s Daimi Pernia (55.32) was better than Lucas on the day. Among the athletes who saw the T&T athlete’s back was Jamaica’s Melaine Walker, the bronze medallist in 55.97.
Earlier in the season, Lucas, representing Auburn University, had finished behind Walker at the NCAA Finals, in California, USA. But Walker, the first athlete past the finish line, was disqualified, and Lucas was promoted from third to second.
Walker went on to be crowned Olympic champion in 2008 and world champion in 2009.
Following Lucas’ success at the 2006 CAC Games, Walker got the better of her T&T rival in their next 11 head-to-head clashes.
But on May 26, 2010, Lucas halted the losing streak. At the Sesi Caixa Grand Prix meet, in Uberlandia, Brazil, she triumphed in 55.25 seconds, while Walker was third in 55.90.
Victory over the second fastest woman in history is a timely confidence booster as Lucas prepares for the October 3-14 Commonwealth Games, in Delhi, India. The adidas-sponsored hurdler is targetting a medal in Delhi.
“The timing of the Commonwealth Games does make things challenging, but I have faith in my coach (Henry Rolle) to structure workouts and competitions in such a way for me to be ready for Commonwealth.”
Lucas has been coached by Rolle since 2002 - when she entered Auburn University and has no plans to part company with the Bahamian.
“I am blessed to have attended a great university where I further developed my hurdling skill. I entered college running 62 seconds and left running 55 seconds in the 400 metres hurdles. I am blessed to have such a wonderful and understanding coach who believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself, and was the only coach to offer me an athletic scholarship.”
The Biomedical Sciences graduate places great importance on the values passed on to her by her parents Durly and Juliet Lucas. She also acknowledges the input of those who coached her before she took up her scholarship at Auburn.
“Many individuals played a part in my success. From my parents’ support in every aspect, to the different coaches that worked with me Mr Gerard Franklyn, Stephen Stansiclaus, Heathcliffe Thorne.”
Though based in Alabama, home for Lucas is still the tropical paradise called Tobago.
“I am fortunate enough to return home at least twice a year. I still live in the house I grew up in in Carnbee, Tobago.
“Seeing the vast amount of natural talent on the island inspires me to work harder so I can be an inspiration by example.”
While Lucas is a focused professional, she is not one-dimensional, and takes advantage of the travelling opportunities that go with her job.
“I have interests in culture and the arts, so whenever time permits I try to sightsee and take pictures.
“I have several interests outside of track - cycling, photography, reading. And most recently I’ve started playing the guitar. With our schedule it’s difficult to pursue these interests as often as I would like but I do find the time for them. It is my release from track, and at times I find myself immersed in them for hours!”
As she prepares for the Commonwealth Games, Lucas is likely to do battle several times with the women who beat her to the line at last year’s World Championships Walker and American silver medallist Lashinda Demus. But revenge is not on the T&T athlete’s agenda.
“My goal is to improve on my personal best time. I am working diligently on that and not other individuals. I can only control my performance.”
Speaking of personal best (PB) times, there is a strange statistic that appears alongside the name Josanne Lucas. Her PB in the 400m hurdles, 53.20 seconds, is faster than her best ever time in the 400m flat event, 53.59. Does she plan to address that anomaly in 2010?
“I have been asked that question several times,” says a laughing Lucas. “Every time I compete, regardless of the event, I aim to run a personal best. Unfortunately, in the past my focus has been the 100 metres hurdles and the 400 metres hurdles. We will have to wait and see if I run any 400s this year. Certainly it is something to look forward to.”
Prepared by Kwame Laurence for the IAAF “Focus on athletes” project. Copyright IAAF 2010
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