Over the years I have heard many stories about athletes who had received scholarships, returned to the island, and would not give back by getting involved in the sport. I have seen it firsthand and can sympathize with many of the athletes for their actions of taking a backseat attitude.
I certainly cannot blame the majority of them for not getting involved, because when they offer their services and if it does not fit into the Amateur Athletics Association of Barbados’ agenda –– which happens to be a close-knit organization –– they are not welcomed with open arms. Similar obtains with the majority of the other sporting organizations.
A few days after the recently concluded 2015 CARIFTA Games, I happened to run into one of the local high school coaches and was making a point to him that although it was a very admirable achievement for Mary Fraser to have won the three gold medals, it was too much of a workload for her young body to take at that tender age over a three-day period. The body needs to go through a recovery process after each race and according to the distance, would need a day’s recovery for every mile raced.
Although I applaud her achievements, I do not agree with the manner in which the young lady is being handled, since her body is not developed for such vigorous training and so many races in as many days just to win a medal. The distance for high school girls in the United States running cross country is 4K and for the boys, 5K. If she is not handled properly, she will suffer the same fate of burnout as those before her, such as Najuma Comissiong, Dario Alleyne, Shakeim Greaves and more recently Jamahl Burke who was very dominant in primary school and has yet to feature in high school athletics.
These were all very young promising athletes who seemed to have a bright future ahead of them, but did not make it because they were all handled very badly. Some of the athletes mentioned burned out because of the heavy load of training, races and the type of running for their ages. Distance runners do not reach their peak until their 30s. Janelle Williams was a promising runner at a tender age, very talented, but again, the workload for her age was too great and burned her out.
During that conversation with the coach, I lamented the fact of Sada Williams having to miss the CARIFTA Games through an injury that she picked up a week before the games. I told him that she was a world class ranked junior 400 metros runner and should be specializing in her pet event, which is the 400 meters. I said to him that the injury should never have occurred, and that the reason for the injury was due to her running too many events at the Barbados Secondary Schools Athletics Championships and that the coaches did not look at the bigger picture, which was the CARITA Games as well as the World Juniors and other international world class meets.
Williams’ school did not even have the faintest chance of winning the girls championship and therefore she should not have been competing in all those evens to risk injury, which eventually happened. The coach’s response was very aggressive, and he stated that the injury was not from running all the events because she jogged all her races and was not pressured in any of the events. I was there and watched all the races and what I saw was a young lady being very competitive in every event. I did not see any athletes jogging in any of the heats.
What I saw were athletes running flat out to qualify by placing in the first two and the third fastest time going through to the finals. As a result, Williams missed out on the CARIFTA Games, which would have been a warm-up for the World Junior Championships and any other international meet. Now instead of peaking for the World Championships, valuable weeks of training have been lost and after recovery, she will now have to resume her training programme instead of tapering down.
I now really understand why other athletes keep their distance and do not get involved. I too will be joining the ranks with the others and will continue observe from the sidelines. Every so-called coach is looking for glory and that is why they do not want any input of any sort regarding their charges. In the end, it is the athlete and country that lose out. While I am on the subject of athletes not going forward, I was very disappointed with the statement made by the Minister of Sports Stephen Lashley on the return of the athletes from the CARIFTA Games in St Kitts at the airport, regarding a new stadium. What does a stadium have to do with athletes improving? Absolutely nothing other than to make the spectators comfortable!
What Barbados needs is a proper sports programme, which is lacking in all sports. There are better facilities now than in the 1960s and athletes today are running slower. A schoolboys’ football or cricket team from that era would beat any current Barbados team, which has better gear, equipment and playing conditions. Yes we need proper facilities, but that does not make our sports any better than what it is. It is a proper sports programme and more unity among the various coaches, especially in athletics.
There are approximately 12 track clubs in Barbados and yet at nationals in some cases you have to scratch an event, because you cannot find an athlete to compete. In most cases, the majority of races are straight finals with fewer than eight athletes. Is a stadium going to improve the quality of athletics? Well I do not think so. Yes, the pen that we have for a National Stadium is a disgrace and is in dire need of renovation, and closing it down every two years for repairs doesn’t make any sense. Yes, Barbados does need a new ultra modern stadium, but I am not so sure that it is going to improve the standard of sports, but improvement of your sports programmes will improve your sports.
Wayne R. Cadogan is a former athlete, sports enthusiast and social commentator.