‘Brath’ of fresh air
RYAN?BRATHWAITE was the logical choice for Sports Personality of the Year.
I’m surprised to hear that it was a close call between him and anybody else.
To begin with, the Olympics was the biggest sporting event of the year and any athlete who had done well in London would have started in pole position to take the title.
That person turned out to be Brathwaite, who placed a commendable fifth in the men’s 110-metres hurdles final against the world’s best.
Under normal circumstances, failure to get on the podium might have been classified as a minus but taking everything into consideration, Brathwaite’s placing was really like a medal if looked at in the right context.
Without pulling any punches, the hurdler’s performances since winning the world title in 2009 was anything but world class. He went from the top of the heap to very close to the bottom, notwithstanding that the quality of the field had improved significantly since his stellar performance in Berlin and that he struggled with injury.
There’s also the belief that Brathwaite became distracted and didn’t pay enough attention to maintaining his supremacy. Lest we forget the saying that uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. There will be division whether he remained focused after Berlin to fend off the challenges of the chasing pack.
Suffice to say that he may not have been the only one of his vintage whose success thrusted them into a league and with new responsibilities they weren’t prepared to handle.
In the two years leading up to London, the Bajan golden boy was but a shadow of the self-confident, determined lad who learned his hurdling skills under the tutelage of coach Alwyn Babb at the Lester Vaughan School.
It was startling to see Brathwaite clocking times over 13.6 seconds in some of his races, taking into account he had won World Championship gold medal in 13.14 seconds. The time difference sums up how far he had come down the ladder. No wonder so many people had doubted whether he could regain shape and form in time to be an Olympic factor.
I remember the several times I had to put strong arguments in the CBC newsroom why I thought he had it in him to make a worthy statement in London. My good friend Kent Jerson can attest to this.
The truth is you have to know a person to a certain extent before you can rate them and the one positive quality I knew Brathwaite had going for him was his self belief. He was born with enough to share and still have some left back.
Therefore, I felt that once he was able to get the other areas of his comeback in order, his opponents had to look over their shoulders. It also proved to be a good strategic move to change international coaches and if he ever needed a motivational coach, American Dennis Mitchell is one of the best persons for the job.
I knew of Mitchell as a training partner of Carl Lewis and a fairly accomplished sprinter too. However, my first up close and personal impression of Mitchell was unforgettable. It was during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
I was sitting in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Express and this guy came in with his chest stuck up in a manner you would think he was the pending Olympic champion in waiting and that he had also owned the world. It turned out to be Mitchell. Talk about confidence! He would complement Brathwaite well in this respect.
In short, Brathwaite’s return to some form of glory at the Olympics was a defining moment that I’m sure also had lessons even for him to learn. Often accused in the past of not liking to train, in climbing back from the bottom rung of hurdling, he finally must have realized that natural talent is great but putting in the hard work to back it up is greater.
Were I part of the process to select the Sports Personality of the Year, I would’ve been looking from the outset for the runners-up spots. Kemar Roach and company were outstanding but Brathwaite was simply the best.
We look forward to 2013 for more inspirational stories from all athletes.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced award-winning freelance sports journalist.