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A THORNY ISSUE: Talent most telling factor

Andi Thornhill

A THORNY ISSUE: Talent most telling factor

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IN?EVERYTHING, there’s a time of plenty and a time of famine.
We might want to reflect on Barbados’ performance at the recent CARIFTA Games in Bermuda in these terms.
A return of 17 medals compared to last year’s 27 in Jamaica has prompted heated debate among the local athletics fraternity and so it should.
From my observations arising from the discussions, the overwhelming verdict is that our report card was not up to scratch. We should have done better.
Some have targeted officialdom, others some of the athletes and another faction has blamed it on the system.
It could be a combination of all of the above and maybe more but at the end of the finger pointing and name calling, it comes down to collective responsibility.
I mean that in the sense we shouldn’t be mercenary or expedient in our analyses by praising the system when we are successful and deriding it when our teams haven’t met our expectations. This paling cock mentality will not help us to go forward.
Natural ability
As a matter of fact, it can be asked what do we do differently from year to year in preparation for CARIFTA?
The obvious answer is nothing. If anything, there could be a good argument of making a few changes in this respect but as it stands what we have in place works for us and against us.
The truth is that the main ingredient that helps to capture medals is talent. The natural ability of athletes to be at their best and be prepared to compete and not just participate when it really matters is vital.
And let us face it. There isn’t much a coach can do, given the time span, to enhance an athlete’s prospects ahead of CARIFTA because at that stage they would have gone through all the normal phases like regular meets, school championships, trials and so forth.
Mental preparation
If there’s a general need for specialized training before the actual competition it has to be in the area of the athletes’ mental preparation because there are instances where first-timers, for instance, might be intimidated by a new, competitive environment. Despite talent, they might find it hard to clear this hurdle the first time of asking.
Clearly, another aspect that we have to consider seriously is fitness.
My question is: did we take a cadre of fully fit athletes to Bermuda?
I don’t think so because some of those selected were struggling with injuries during the secondary school championships and may have been worse off competing then simply because they wanted to help their respective schools.
Honestly, it must be hard for athletes in that situation not to mask their discomfort and give their best amid all the hype, school honour and bragging rights at stake especially when competition is tight and every point counts.
However, as I asked in a previous article, what is the greater good?
Aggravating serious injuries to help win a school title or getting the appropriate treatment and rest not only to represent your country with distinction once selected but also your long-term wellness?
It’s a personal call and gamble which you have to live with.
I thought we could have done better on track if all the athletes competing in their respective events were physically sound.
As it turned out, we managed only one gold medal in a track event with Sade Mariah Greenidge saving our blushes in the Under-20 Girls’ 100-metre hurdles.
In contrast, we were quite an enviable force over the middle distances, in particular, in Jamaica last year.
Some have blamed the cold weather for some of our failings but the only ones who would have been familiar with the conditions were the hosts. Everybody else started on par and superior performance on the day made the difference. Lame excuses will not help anyone to improve.
Two of the first-timers who impressed were Pius Emilien and 13-year-old Tiana Bowen, who was selected mainly for the experience but showed she has a very big heart especially running the anchor leg of the Under-17 Girls’ 4×400 metres relay. Star performer Akela Jones won Barbados’ other gold in the Under-20 Girls’ long jump.
I am on board with head coach Alwyn Babb’s suggestion that the nucleus of the squad should be kept together in a year-long programme.
In this regard, I think it gives more time to correct any detected weaknesses as well as give the technical staff a longer period to work in other areas that will benefit the athletes.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure we do better in the Bahamas next year.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced award-winning freelance sports journalist.