Well done, Team Ryan
Congratulations, Ryan Brathwaite, on your effort to bring home a medal! Your presence on the starting line was the only time the Barbados colours were featured in an Olympic final in London, and we are proud of you.
Thanks to those who gave you the technical support and funding that helped you to recover from the challenges of the past two years to make it this far.
Ryan knew he had to improve on his best time ever to medal in the 110-metre hurdles at the London Games. He had to go faster than 13.14 seconds. Had he been able to settle smoothly into an intense training programme and avoid injury following his World Championship success in 2009, I believe he would have dipped below 13 seconds.
He defied the odds to make the final and place a creditable fifth (13.40), and while we were hoping for a medal, let us commend this young man for giving us something to shout about at the Games. His fifth-place finish at the Olympics still ranks among the best performances Barbados has registered since our first appearance in Mexico in 1968, with Obadele Thompson’s bronze medal in the 100 metres at Sydney 2000 being the pinnacle of our accomplishments.
The others are the men’s 4×400 metre relay team placing sixth in Los Angeles 1984 and setting a Barbados record that stands to this day; Thompson’s fourth place in the 200 metres at Atlanta in 1996, and his fourth place in the 200 metres at Sydney in 2000.
For the first 50 metres in the final, Brathwaite attacked the hurdles and his technique was smooth. But the last 50 metres lacked the aggressive acceleration he needed to move into overdrive with Aries Merritt (12.92) and Jason Richardson (13.04) of the United States and stave off the challenge from Hansle Parchment of Jamaica (13.12) and the late surge from Lawrence Clarke (13.39) from Great Britain.
Competition readiness is required to sharpen an athlete’s reaction response in the heat of the race, and consistent competition at world-class level is the only way this can be achieved. That would have given Ryan that “edge” he needed to outrun the field. However, he is still young when you consider the hurdler age profile, and I hope that this recent experience of seeing athletes from all over the world with a single-minded commitment to stand on the Olympic podium will galvanize him to stay with the sport and refocus on Rio 2016.
I also hope that Shane Brathwaite and Greggmar Swift will continue their journey. Three qualifiers in an event for the Olympics is a milestone for Barbados, and they now know what it takes to move to the next level.
Shane was extremely unfortunate to draw the heat that “saw so much carnage”, as the media described the effects of the Liu Xiang debacle, when he crashed into his hurdle and caused a domino effect that knocked four hurdlers out of the competition. Experience will provide Shane with the ability to handle scenarios like this, since in the hurdles event distractions are always a possibility.
Swift gave it his best effort, although he was unable to better his time. Again, with the experience that he should gain over the next four years, he should aim to bring his time closer to sub-13 seconds.
The hurdles event on the international stage does not have the depth of numbers that you find in most of the other events, so our concentration as a nation should be the nurturing of these three young men to ensure that all of them will stand on the line in the finals at Rio 2016. And they in turn must make the solemn commitment to stay the course and remain focused on that goal.
Of course, we will now hear about the “new programmes that will be put in place” and the promises of support to enable our athletes to reach for the stars. I have heard this rhetoric after every Olympic Games over the last 40 years.
We still have not implemented the correct formula to produce Olympic medal contenders, and our senior athletes grow more and more frustrated when they see how progressive other countries have become, and how the rest of our Caribbean neighbours have leaped ahead at this level.
Perhaps if Olympians were included in the discussions we could provide some experienced insight into how it can be done.
Corporate Barbados has not fully recognized the significant role it can play in supporting athletes who demonstrate the potential to reach elite status, qualify for the Olympics, and contend for a medal. The Nation Publishing Company Limited paved the way with their long-term support of Andrea Blackett, and Banks (Plus) Limited lent some support to Thompson. And what of the Lotto support? Britain uses its lottery to support their Team GB.
Support for athletes requires a combination of marketing expertise, a knowledge of the sport itself, and a contract between the athlete and the sponsor that provides a return on investment for both parties. Sports is a professional business, and the removal of Clause 26 of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) statutes governing amateurism in 1981 effectively ended the era of the amateur athlete and the amateur administration of athletics.