A THORNY ISSUE: Counting Pan Am blessings
NO SURPRISE that track and field proved to be the jewel in the crown for Barbados at the Pan American Games in Canada.
It was trending that way, incrementally, since the mid-1990s with the evolution of athletes like Obadele Thompson and Andrea Blackett into world-class athletes.
I will hasten to add that the likes of Gabriel Burnett,Victor Houston and Sheena Gooding weren’t far behind and particularly in the case of the latter, it was felt that if she was given the assistance she needed then, Gooding had the class to rival the world’s best in the 800 metres.
Thompson achieved much as a regional and collegiate athlete and of course won a bronze medal in the 100 metres at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Blackett distinguished herself as a Commonwealth 400-metre hurdles champion and added further accolades at other hemispheric meets.
A new brigade started to take over from the old in the mid-2000s and it culminated with Shane Brathwaite being crowned world junior octhahlon champion in 2007 and Ryan Brathwaite became World champion in the 110-metre hurdles in 2009. Shakera Reece took bronze at the last Pan American Games in the 100 metres in 2011.
Meantime, the school system was continuing to nurture athletes of special quality in bundles, including Kierre Beckles, Akela Jones, Rivaldo Leacock,Tristan Evelyn, Mario Burke, Nadia Cummins Burton, Tia Adana Belle, Sade Sealy, Sada Williams, Antonio Mascoll and Jerad Mason, among others.
In effect, this pool of athletes has been able to sustain its performances at all levels and that’s unprecedented in our track history.
Yes, athletics didn’t begin yesterday and there were others in the past who had outstanding credentials but I can’t remember a time when we have had so many that are world class or have the potential to be simultaneously.
And they have the achievements to prove it .
In the past year, we have had Shane Brathwaite taking bronze at the Commonwealth Games in the 110-metre hurdles and colleagues Gregmar Swift and Ryan Brathwaite also reaching that final. When did we ever have that many finalists in the same event of an international meet?
Beckles and Levi Cadogan got medals at last year’s Central American and Caribbean Games in Mexico; Burke and Leacock were outstanding at this year’s Carifta Games; Jones became a World junior champion in the long jump last year and won the NCAA heptathlon title this year in flying colours, being relatively new to the event.
The men’s 4 x 100 metres relay team qualified automatically for next month’s World Championships in China by coming up to par at the World Relays staged in the Bahamas in May. Swift also won the 110-metre hurdles at the World University Games prior to heading to Toronto. Evelyn and Leacock narrowly missed out on medals at World Youth in Colombia.
That standard of performance prepared us for more at the Pan American Games and we duly got three medals to prove that we are competitive among world-class opponents.
Ramon Gittens took silver in the men’s 100 metres, Brathwaite bronze in the 110-metre hurdles and Jones bronze in the high jump. Significantly, they all produced personal bests in their respective events. Jones also did a PB in the long jump of 6.60 metres in placing sixth.
I don’t mind vice president of the Athletics Association Of Barbados (AAB), Noel Lynch, gloating in the recent returns on behalf of the body because I do agree that with good governance everything else should fall into place.
However, we must also praise the work our coaches put in with these athletes to bring them up to speed especially those that are home based.
You just have to frequent the National Stadium regularly to experience what I’m talking about, so you can say the joint forces of an efficient administration plus the scholarly and technical skills of coaches and the willingness of the athletes to listen, learn and execute are responsible for our recent, sustained successes. You can only reap what you sow.
I also agree with senior coach Alwyn Babb when he chastises some members of the media for writing off athletes if they’re going through a bad patch, especially those journalists who may only have a presence at athletics meets no more than once a year. Their take on such matters can’t be seen as credible.
We now look ahead to the World Championships with great expectations hoping that more medals will be added to the cabinet of silverware.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist.