Barbados’ best young athletes recently returned to the island after garnering 20 medals at this year’s CARIFTA Games in Grenada.
The hopeful future stars copped six gold, six silver and eight bronze medals. There were a number of outstanding performances with undoubtedly Coleridge & Parry student Jonathan Jones with record runs in the 800m and 1500m, and Harrisonian and former Coleridge & Parry student Sada Williams with gold in the 200m and 400m, being the standouts.
Such is the promise of Williams that she qualified for the 200m at the imminent Rio Olympics in Brazil during the CARIFTA Games. But this is just the start of their journey, as it is for the likes of Mary Fraser, Mario Burke, Ashantia Phillips, Rivaldo Clarke and several others who brought pride to their country, schools, families, coaches and friends.
Barbados must now focus on ensuring that such immense ability is propelled forward to even greater achievement. We would have done country and ourselves a great disservice if one of these was not provided with the opportunities and resources to take his or her talent to its greatest expression of excellence. We have had too many examples of athletes showing tremendous potential at the junior level, only to disappear from the scene too swiftly after the initial euphoria of their achievements dissipated.
Barbados’ bronze medal winner at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Obadele Thompson, put the importance of stakeholders assisting in bridging the gap between the junior and senior level in proper perspective. He described it as a major challenge and suggested that those with an interest in athletics and the development of our young athletes should not dwell on what had been done for our athletes but should always have a focus or philosophy of: “what more can we do?”
Mr Thompson explained the difficulties in achieving success in international track and field by placing the discipline within very simple, indeed, obvious context. He reminded there were only three medals up for grabs and that there were highly accomplished athletes who had never made an Olympics final, never medalled, never reached a podium, and that many of them were from some of the major countries in the world. He said it had to be appreciated that eight athletes from the entire world lined up for an Olympics final and when that was put into perspective, it was not an easy task to determine who was liable to reap global success.
Mr Thompson said it was critical for athletes to keep improving and getting themselves into the top rankings of their specific events. He said this opened up opportunities to compete against the best in the world at various meets and the chance to refine their skills. He also noted that such associations eventually led to acceptance of one’s place in such exalted company.
But this is the responsibility of the athletes; to get on the track and give of their best under all circumstances and conditions. What, however, should be of importance to both corporate Barbados and the Government, as well as families across Barbados and beyond, is the means by which they will ensure that our best athletes arrive on the track or field safely. Too often both Government and corporate entities arrive on the scene at the moment of achievement, to exploit our athletes for the purpose of gratuitous photo opportunities, advertising of products, and the advancement of careers and other personal agenda. Such parasitic behaviour simply will not suffice.
Indeed, we would suggest that even at the level of the National Primary Schools Athletics Championship, when specifc, exceptional ability is detected, that this is the juncture the state, and especially the private sector, come on board, or be available at a later stage to lend whatever financial support is required. One does not wake up from a deep sleep and run Williams’ 22.61 at CARIFTA. Neither could Jones have suddenly arrived after a few weeks preparation at breaking the CARIFTA mark in the 800m and 1 500m.
Mr Thompson has been quite pointed in stating that with the exception of the World Outdoor Championship, he won medals at every level whenever he put on his track shoes to compete, starting from School League in Barbados to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He owed his excellence in a major way to the constant exposure that he got across the globe, often thanks to the financial input of Plus and the Barbados Olympic Association.
We are sure that sitting somewhere in a primary or secondary school in Barbados there is another Andrea Blackett, Obadele Thompson, Jim Wedderburn, Ryan Brathwaite or Elvis Forde, bursting with athletic ability.
Our mandate is to identify them and make their journey towards excellence on the international stage as tenable as humanly possible.