Sydney Olympics 2000 bronze medallist Obadele Thompson has expressed optimism about Barbados’ athletics, following the country’s showing at this year’s CARIFTA Games in Grenada.
But the island’s greatest ever sprinter told Barbados TODAY from Texas this afternoon that the major challenge now was to assist them with the transition from the junior ranks where they have shown much promise, to the senior international level where they could compete against the best in the world.
Thompson, who is now an attorney-at-law, said the Barbados team had performed “tremendously well” especially when taken within the context they were competing against traditional powerhouses Jamaica whose young athletes were fresh off their Champs competition from the previous weekend. He said Barbados’ success was not just a question of athletic ability but also the athletes’ capacity to focus and the coaching that they had received.
“What we are seeing is a reflection of the many people who are supporting our athletes,” he said.
Thompson, who in his prime once ran a wind-aided 9.69 seconds in the 100m, said an attitude needed to be developed among all those involved in track and field of: “what more can we do?” He explained it should not be a situation of looking at what had been done but what more was needed to be done to ensure that Barbadian athletes got out to overseas universities, competed and returned home.
He added there was also scope for an alternative where athletes might not necessarily go the overseas university route but still knew they were being supported in every possible way in their endeavours and that there was constant revision of the process.
The former Harrisonian and CARIFTA sprint champion noted that athletes today were having greater belief in what they could do. He said in his formative years he had Barbados’ much-heralded Young Lions relay team (Seibert Straughan, Wade Payne, Terry Harewood, Stephen Roberts, Ronald Thorne) to provide inspiration as to the possibilities for Barbadian athletes. He added it was important for the newer generation to look at those who had gone before them such as Andrea Blackett to appreciate what Barbadians were capable of achieving on the international stage.
As to Barbados’ chances of medalling at the imminent Rio Olympics with its current talent pool, Thompson said it would not be easy but the potential was there to medal.
“The medals are not given out until the final result. Which means it doesn’t make a difference what you did in the semifinals, you have to turn up and do it all over again. We have a couple potential finalists and that is the big thing. My coach always used to say: ‘make the finals’. We have some athletes who have the potential of making the finals and at that stage it is a matter of doing your best. And it takes time to execute that when it counts and to be confident in doing that,” he said.
Thompson explained there were only three medals up for grabs and there were highly accomplished athletes who had never made an Olympic final, never medalled, never reached the podium, and some of them were from some of the major countries. 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 say that X would make it or not.
He said it was critical for athletes to keep improving and getting themselves into the top rankings of their events. He said this opened up opportunities to compete against the best in the world at various meets and the chance to refine one’s skills. He added it also led one to accepting that one belonged in that kind of company. He singled out the likes of Ramon Gittens, Greggmar Swift and Shane Brathwaite as possibilities, and said he hoped that Ryan Brathwaite could return to the type of form he displayed when he won the World Championship title in the 110m hurdles in Berlin in 2009.
Thompson said he was impressed with Sada Williams and Jonathan Jones after being asked to comment on the double gold medal winners at this year’s CARIFTA Games. He said while Barbados did not have the numbers that Jamaica did, the island still possessed the quality to compete at that level. He warned, though, that it was easy to dominate against athletes in one’s own age group, but competing against seniors where athletics was what they did for a living, was a different scenario. He said under those circumstances, those influencing young athletes had to ensure they had a “huge vision” for their lives.
He explained that one of the main differences between Jamaica and the rest of the regional islands was that that northern island had a tradition dating back 70 years where they have a knowledge of how to get their athletes to be world beaters.
“We simply don’t have that tradition and so we need to consciously get over some of the pettiness that seems to exist from time to time,” he said.
Thompson noted that all those involved had to come together and pool their experiences and knowledge and focus on how they could get the best out of the athletes, irrespective of who coached them, where they went to school or with which club they were affiliated.
He admitted that he did a lot of work behind the scenes and was often in contact with Barbadian athletes who sought him out or who he approached. He said that perhaps the day might come when he was offered the option of doing things “more publicly”. He admitted, though, that as much as he liked coaching, he was more leaning towards formulating a vision going forward as to what it took to perform well consistently. He stressed he didn’t need to provide all the answers but what was really required was active engagement among all interested parties.
“We need a system for success . . . sustained excellence is not accidental,” he noted.