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Oba off the mark

Joyann Clarke

Oba off the mark

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Obadele Thompson has reaped a high level of success on the athletics world stage.
There is no doubt that Oba should have been a world junior champion, a Commonwealth Games champion, a world champion and an Olympic champion.
So it is at this time each Olympic Games or World Championships that Oba watches the achievements of athletes who did not have half the talent he had, and he seems to get very angry.  
He blames everyone for his failures, including the very organization that made it possible for him to pursue his dreams in the first place – the Amateur Athletic Association (AAA) of Barbados.  
I am not here to defend the AAA as they have made their share of mistakes as I am sure that there are other athletes that have issues with the AAA.
I refer to his allegation that Barbados team officials did not protest the 200 metres result at the Sydney Olympics in which Ato Boldon narrowly beat him to capture the bronze medal, because we did not want to pay the US$100 fee. This claim is simply not true.  
As the assistant manager of the team, I accompanied the manager Noel Lynch to the results room to review the photo finish and the replays of the race in slow motion.
Boldon was adjudged third and Oba fourth when the times were narrowed down to a thousandth of a second, and the photo showed Boldon’s chest (the torso determines place) was ahead of Oba. There was no doubt in our minds that Oba was fourth.
If Oba really believed that he was third he would have contacted us within the half-hour given for the protest.
The Barbados Olympic Association (BOA) would have gladly paid the fee if there was a need to protest. The photo finish that is available for all to see shows Oba fourth.
But Oba should not have been scrambling to get a bronze medal in the 200 metres as he was the best athlete in the field – he should have won that race.
Konstantinos Kenteris, of Greece, [who] came on the world scene in 1999, was not even known to people. Darren Campbell, while being a good athlete, was not favoured to win any medals that year and Boldon was in the worst shape of his career. So why did Oba not medal?  
He was locked in a room prior to the race by his own admission and never [ventured] out to warm up. Oba felt that a massage was enough for him to win a gold medal.
The warm-up phase is an important part of ensuring the athlete will perform at his maximum, and when Barbadian officials, including Tony Jones, who was the coach, tried to find out if Oba was okay, we were refused entry to speak to him.
As Oba said in his article: “No one came in that room, no one.”
He also mentioned in the same article that he talks to no one, yet he tweeted that he had no one to talk to while being processed through the call room.
All of the AAA officials have recognized that this is Oba’s style and would normally stay clear but they still have to be on hand in case there are issues because the United States entourage that Oba surrounded himself with could not act on behalf of Barbados if a problem arises.
So out of respect for the officials, he should have communicated and let them know where he is and what’s going on, then there would be no need for concern by the officials.
This was the situation which led to the harsh but true comments from team manager Lynch that resulted in a slap down reaction from the Barbadian public at the time.
Barbadians felt that Oba had won bronze in the 100 metres but was being criticized for not medalling in the 200 metres, but Lynch knew that the circumstances which led to that result could have been avoided.
The local Sydney newspaper had run an article to the effect that Barbados is tipped to win its first Olympic gold medal in the men’s 200 metres.
Everyone in Sydney believed we would have gotten the gold medal, and we didn’t even get the bronze. This was very disappointing.
At the start of the rounds of the 100 metres, the management team turned up in the designated warm-up area and could not find Oba as he went to another track to warm up.
We were panicking and calling all around to see if anyone saw Oba. All it would have taken would be for him to say that he would not have been in the warm-up area so we would not have been looking for him. When we saw Oba, he was on the track at the start of the race – totally unacceptable behaviour.
I would like Oba to explain to the Barbadian public why he appeared on the podium for the 100 metres medal ceremony at the Sydney Games 2000 in a Mizuno uniform, not a Barbados uniform. He would have been censured by any other country for this breach of the IOC and BOA rules.
If by chance he misplaced, or according to him, forgot the uniform, there were plenty of options for him to get one. We had just given him the flag at the finish of the race.?We could given him a uniform the same way.
For ten years (1990-2000), I sat on the AAA council, and every year, we faced challenges from Oba on the many requests that he made if they were not approved, but then the council gave in to support his path to success and avoid controversy.
These included not wanting to compete at Nationals – the only time Barbadians would get to see him in action; not wanting to come to CAC Games or Pan Am Games – even though we explained that his presence on the team would help build a legacy for the sport and motivate the other athletes.  
Oba’s response was he did not have anyone before him, and he did what he had to do to get where he was. While Oba’s responsibility was to look out for Oba, the AAA had responsibilities to all athletes.
There were times when Oba requested permission to stay in a separate hotel from the team and he was accommodated.
There were officials who returned from meets and reported that the only time they saw Oba was on the track running and the Barbadian athletes would not have seen him either.  
When Oba commented in that recent article in the St Kitts newspaper about Kim Collins’ expulsion from the Games that Collins “should be allowed to do whatever he likes”, you can see the Oba mindset that Barbados has had to deal with over the years.
He continues to criticize the association and its officials, but the AAA accommodated almost every wish that Oba made. His request to travel first-class to the Sydney Games was granted as he was our biggest medal hope and we wanted him to be comfortable. The rest of the team travelled in economy class.
He received the most sponsorship from local and international sponsors, but he still complained about money.
To whom much is given much is expected and I believed Oba got more from this country than he has given back.
• Joyann Clarke is a former secretary of the AAA of Barbados, former chairperson of CAC Women’s Committee and was assistant manager of the Barbados team at the Sydney Olympics.