The difference between a world champion and an also-ran is quality of training and the access to equipment.
But the prohibitive costs of training equipment, coupled with dwindling or non-existent sponsorship, are severely hampering the ability of some athletics clubs to deliver that quality training, even if the coaches are highly qualified and the athletes are motivated.
Fortunately, the 34-year-old Freedom Striders Track and Field Club, has not been affected by the issue. Head coach Michael “Abu” Worrell said that Anthony Lovell, before he passed away several years ago, put everything in place. There is a gym at the Lovell home in St Michael and also hurdles and other equipment.
BC Trac, now marking 23 years, has also been able to cope with the problem.
“We have been using our own equipment the majority of the time,” said head coach Wendy Barrow-Smith. “We use very little of the Athletics Association’s equipment.”
She said they bought shot puts and discus and someone donated a javelin in the early days. Over time, they have bought most of the equipment.
Recently, they bought wood and got four boxes (for plyometric drills) built at a cost of $300. In the past, they built some pieces for the gym and purchased ladders, cones and watches.
They recently bought some medicine balls and those were approximately $400.
“A couple years ago, we brought in some discus and javelins and the duty was horrendous,” Barrow-Smith said. “If you want to bring in stuff, you have to pay the duty or you have to get it built.”
It has been tougher for Rising Stars and Elite Distance, two of the younger clubs.
Coach Ramon Armstrong, of Elite Distance, is a throws specialist, based at the Coleridge and Parry School. He has been able to take Janeil Craigg and Nicoliai Bovelle all the way to the world junior level of competition, but it has been very costly.
“Javelins are expensive. I have been trying to source a professional javelin for those boys to compete with. Javelins have different distances, based on how they are built,” he explained.
A 70-metre training javelin is approximately $500.
“Justin [Cummins, national record holder] has the only 90-metre javelin in Barbados and those can range between $1 600 and $2 400 or even more, depending on the brand.
“When it is dry, and javelins hit the ground, they break. In March, when you are preparing for CARIFTA and outside is extremely dry, and the ground is cracking, they break easily.”
Shot puts and discus are not as expensive although the discus can shatter as well based on how they are stored because of the heat. Shot puts range between $200 and $400 and discus between $400 and $600.
Alwyn Babb has produced some of the island’s top hurdlers, including former world champion Ryan Brathwaite. Rising Stars Club needs a full flight of 12 hurdles – more than ten are needed for speed and endurance – and those will cost in the region of $4 800.
“We went to businesses and they always apologize for not being able to help you at this time and wish you success, the nicest way to say ‘no’,” he said. “We understand the economic situation, but even when it wasn’t this bad, you weren’t getting the assistance.”
Babb said it was not feasible to raise club fees, but it takes the dues of ten members to buy one hurdle “and when you get them here, the duties will kill you”.
“In order to improve your training programme, you need equipment. Everybody can’t go into the [National Stadium] and there is limited equipment to work with.”
Like Barrow-Smith, Babb said Rising?Stars got ten boxes built for $600 after purchasing the plywood.
There is only one high jump bed available for use at the National Stadium. With the high demand, Babb said it was impossible to get in a quality workout. The cheapest is approximately $10 000.
Rising?Stars were also looking to get a ramp built for the long jump. It would cost them about $200 since one is retailing on the internet for $1 200.
Starting blocks are also expensive.
“In any given session, you need at least three or four people to create an atmosphere of competition. So that is about $1 200 and then there are medicine balls. You need different weights and the price increases according to the weight.
“You can go into a season with athletes not at their maximum strength or strong enough to go through the season because certain aspects of their training is lacking,” Babb said.
“How many push-ups can you do without creating stagnation and boredom? You can’t have a meaningful training programme at the club or national level without equipment. If you are expecting success, it has to be a million-dollar investment in sport,” Babb said.