Freida Nicholls, one of Barbados’ greatest sprinters and the first-ever female to represent the island at the Olympics, shares a connection with the heartbreak and disappointment Barbadian athletes are currently experiencing because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
As the International Olympic Movement celebrates Olympians around the world today, Nicholls who was elected as an executive committee member of the World Olympians Association in 2015 and is also president of Olympians Barbados, said she knows what it feels like to experience such disappointment.
In a telephone interview with Barbados TODAY, Nicholls explained that in 1980 when Barbados joined 64 other countries and abandoned the Olympics in Moscow, Russia, she was left saddened because it was her very last opportunity to represent this country at such a prestigious level.
“It is a similar thing because your goal has been taken from you. Total disappointment, how do you bounce back and you have to deal with it. My coach always used to say, ‘life is like a hurdle, there are four ways of dealing with it, you can go over a hurdle, you can run through a hurdle, you can go around a hurdle or you can go under a hurdle’. In other words, you are going to meet challenges and each time you look at how you are going to cope with it, deal with it and move on to be even better after it.
“I was really in top shape and then we boycotted the 1980 Games and that was the end of my dream. I would never be able to compete at the Olympic Games and it is a similar feeling that our athletes are going through. A real disappointment, like everything, came to a screeching halt,” Nicholls said.
She added: “This is when you go back to the drawing board and look at how you can turn the disappointment into a benefit. Focus on your time management, keep your academics up. That for me is critical because if you get a scholarship to go to college in the United States you have to do that.”
Someone with a tremendous legacy on and off the track, Nicholls served the Amateur Athletics Association of Barbados for 32 years as secretary, public relations officer and vice-president.
A Queen’s College alumna, Nicholls said seeing Olympian Wilma Rudolph in a video shown by her then teacher when she was the tender age of ten led her to envision her own Olympic dream.
As a then 20-year-old at the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph overcame polio and captured two gold medals in the 100m and 200m, and that inspired Nicholls who went on to become one of Barbados’ greatest Olympic sprinters of all time.
It took hard work, dedication, commitment, determination, diligence, belief and confidence among many other exemplary attributes for Nicholls to achieve such heights and for her that is the true definition of what it means to be an Olympian.
Coached by Frank Blackman, one of Barbados’ best, Nicholls expressed her sincerest gratitude to those that guided her back then and she spoke about the importance of mentorship.
Unfortunately, the Tokyo Summer Olympics in Japan has been cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But Nicholls noted that athletes of today have a lot more opportunities especially when it comes to preparing psychologically.
“Back then we had no stadium. But the point I’m trying to make is that you can set your goals, dream and look for what you want to accomplish from the time you are in primary school. I had some good people that helped to mentor me, Frank Blackman was my coach back then and he was the key person. So it was about hard work,” she said.
Barbados Olympians currently have at least 120 members and Nicholls was one of the first five Barbadian females to compete at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Prior to that, she featured in 1968 at the Olympics in Mexico when Barbados competed for the first time as an independent nation.
The other four Barbadians were Heather Gooding, the youngest Barbadian at age 14 to compete at the Olympics, Lorna Forde, Barbara Bishop and Marcia Trotman, now deceased.
Nicholls’ journey in track and field led her to the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1966 and other regional meets. But the one that tops them all without a doubt was the Olympics.
Awarded top national athlete a few times, the period between 1976 and 1980 could be defined as the greatest run of Nicholls’ career. In 1976 she was selected for the Montreal Olympics held in Canada. Leading up to the Moscow Olympics in 1980, Nicholls set a Barbados record in the 100m and a personal best in the 200m. The former top sprinter boasts of beating some of the world’s top athletes including those in the United States of America who she came up against having been based there during that stage in her career.