LEAD UP TO LONDON OLYMPICS: Relay medal that got away
By Philip Spooner | Wed, June 06, 2012 - 12:00 AM
HE STANDS behind a line.
But it’s not your ordinary line. It’s a line of destiny. According to how quickly he can cross that line, his life could change – forever.
“C’mon, get it to me,” he calls out to a teammate racing towards the line. The quicker his mate reaches him, the better chance he has of crossing the line in good time. He was young, strong and energetic, and the world was watching.
That's where 20-year-old Richard Louis found himself in the summer of 1984 as he ran the second leg for Barbados in the final of the 4x400 relay at the 23rd Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
For Louis it was a rough run. He collected the baton last from David Peltier, who ran his quarter-mile in a less than ideal 46-plus seconds.
Back then Louis was slim, weighing just over 150 pounds, and had just a few years before dominated the Carifta Championships winning the 100, 200 and 400 metres.
He was living in Carlton, St James, and had come through the Wibisco Club where he benefited from the expertise of coach Jerston Clarke.
Today, he is almost 50 pounds heavier, greying slightly at the top, but still carrying his trademark youthfulness, which have made him a favourite with the Bajan community in Brooklyn, New York, where he now lives and works as a social worker.
“I came back in 44.9 (seconds) and caught up with one or two and that helped to put us in the mix,” said Louis as he remembered his day of glory.
He handed over to Clyde Edwards, who stayed in the hunt. Elvis Forde, this island's best ever over the distance, tried to make up the difference, but the
Bajans had to be content with fifth place.
It was the first time and team wearing the blue and gold had made it to an Olympic final. But there was disappointment.
“We were congratulated everywhere we went. People were saying we had done a fantastic job, and we did,” said Louis, now 37. “Some people, however, were disappointed.”
“We honestly felt we could have medalled.
It was not just a hope.
We felt we could.”
It was this self-belief, which was instilled in the team by veteran Edwards and coach Orlando Greene, that gave the team their will to win and put their names and faces on the world stage.
“You know, when you look back, there are many things you could change and maybe we should have. Before the race we looked at the teams and we identified the teams we had to beat,” Louis said.
The Americans, always strong at home, were the favourites.
“But England’s top runner Roger Black was out. The Aussies’ top runner was injured and they were hurting. We thought we could get a medal. We were fit, very fit and focused.
“On reflection, I thought we put too much pressure on Elvis having him run the final leg after he reached the (individual) semis. Either he or myself should have run the first leg.”
Louis said the final leg should have been left to Edwards, who he thought was a strong man with a big heart and who carried Barbados in his soul wherever he went.
“That way Peltier’s 46 (seconds) could have been a 45 and we would have definitely have been in the mix-up at the end. He (Peltier) would have received the baton in the middle of the crowd and would be required to just hold on.”
For Louis it was not just the race but “everything else” about the Games which he will cherish for the rest of his life.
“The final was in the evening. We had warmed up away from the stadium and I, as we got off the bus, you could sense the occasion. We walked down the tunnel and on to the track. It was great, the stadium was full. It was as if the world was watching,” he said.
Louis admitted to being nervous, but ever since he was a child running for Metropolitan High School, St James Secondary, Wibisco Club and Barbados in the Carifta Championships where
he dominated, he was used to nervous energy.
“It is always good to get nervous, I found. That way you just go straight and run, letting it all out.”
The weeks before the Olympics helped to build the platform of camaraderie, which the team took to the Games.
All the members were based in the United States: Louis at Howard University, Peltier and Forde were also college students, and Edwards was competing on the United States circuit.
The Barbados Amateur Athletic Association had arranged for a camp at Kentucky State University, where they were able to train, live, eat together and form the bond needed.
"That was a great idea and it made us into a real team. We got to understand each other and would always encourage each other. It worked wonders. It gave us the Olympic spirit even before we got to the Games,”
• This is a reprint of an article which appeared on September 17, 2000.
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