Catching late train to Mexico
By Sherrylyn A. Toppin | Wed, May 02, 2012 - 12:03 AM
When the letter arrived in August 1968, it was probably the last thing Angus Edghill expected to see.
The letter, from the local swimming association, informed him he had been selected to compete as part of the historic first Barbados delegation to the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, Mexico.
But that was the farthest thing from Edghill’s mind.
He was paying his own way through university in Winnipeg, Canada, and had taken a summer job in Quebec.
“In early 1968 [March], I contacted the swimming association here and gave them the times that I had done that year. I told them I would be interested in going to the Olympics because I knew I had made the qualifying times in the 100 free and 200 free. I never heard back from them,”
Edghill said as he reminisced about those Olympic Games from his office in the Wildey Industrial Park.
“In those days there were no emails, no phone calls. Everything was done either by cable or by letter, urgent things were sent by something called a cable. I went back right away to the university in Winnipeg and I trained for about four weeks before I left for Mexico.
It might have been six weeks, which was totally inadequate for a competition like that.
“Obviously, with that level of training, I didn’t do too well, although I had better times in the 100 than Paul Nash and Geoffrey Ferreira.”
He was referring to Jamaican Nash, the father of former West Indies vice-captain Steve Nash, and Trinidadian Ferreira.
Edghill has always been around the water after growing up in St Lawrence, Christ Church with the sea at his back door. He doesn’t remember a time when he wasn’t swimming.
Then in “1955 or ‘56” he swam at the Harrison College Inter-House sports and one year later, won the Division 4 Boys’ 33 1/3 metres freestyle and the 33 1/3 metres breaststroke, the only two races in his division, at the first Inter-School Championships.
Fortunately for him, there was a newly-built pool at the university when he arrived in 1965 to pursue studies in civil engineering. Edghill competed in the Western Canada Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association competitions and even advanced to the Canadian Inter-Collegiate finals where he won as part of the relay teams.
And so it was off to Mexico with runners Ezra Burnham and Hadley Hinds; cyclists Colin Forde, Kensley Reece, Richard Roett and Michael Stoute; shooter Milton Tucker and weightlifting giant Anthony “Mango” Phillips.
Burnham, Roett, Tucker and Phillips are all deceased.
Although the opening ceremony was “very long”, it was “a fun time”. Edghill did not know some of his fellow athletes before those Games and they spent time together liming and supporting each other at their events.
Soon, he was up in the 100 free, drawn in lane one against American Mark Spitz, who was in lane three.
“It went fairly well, I was with him up to the turn. Towards the end I was pretty tired, but I finished sixth in my heat. The heat was won by Spitz,” Edghill said.
His fastest time was 55.7 seconds, but he clocked 58.1 and Spitz did 54.6. The world record at that time was 52.6 and the Olympic record 53.4.
“My time was better than I thought I would do. It was certainly off my best time by a couple of seconds mainly because I didn’t train enough for it, not being near a pool for the whole summer.”
With some time to regroup ahead of the 200 free, he and the Barbados team went to watch a bull fight, but he committed the cardinal error of eating from a vendor.
“I met a fellow called Montezuma who gave me a hard time,” he said with a laugh.
“I was between the bathroom and the bed all day long for about three days. I got up out of bed to swim the 200. I felt I was there and I should do it, but I didn’t feel too good.
“Anyway, the first 100 was alright. The second hundred I blew up and finished last in the heat. What can you do? You were there and you wanted to compete. Nobody told us you shouldn’t drink the water or eat anything on the street. Those things are commonplace now.”
Spitz went on to become one of the greatest Olympic swimmers, winning 11 medals, including nine gold, between 1968 and 1972 in Munich.
Edghill was not in the stadium when Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave their Black Power salute on the podium after the 200 metres, but he was there when Jim Hines did the first sub-ten in the 100 metres (9.95) and when Bob Beamon leapt an incredible 8.90 metres in the long jump.
“I didn’t actually see the jump, but I saw all of the commotion afterwards . . . obviously something momentous had happened.
“Just being there around the village and you see all of those people you read about – Kip Keino from Kenya, some of the Canadians I knew – liming with the two swimmers from Jamaica and Trinidad; just being there was great,” Edghill said.
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