What a sense of national pride we all felt Thursday afternoon when we saw Sada Williams barrel to the finish line secure third place in the 400 metres final of the 2021 Wanda Diamond League Athletic Championships in Zürich, Switzerland.
It was an historic occasion for the country and evoked a special sense of national pride. For the first time, a Bajan woman competed in a final at that meet. It was also her personal best.
Earlier in the week Williams, who clocked 50:24 seconds, had recorded a video asking all of us Bajans to support her efforts by wearing national colours today and by watching the race. Many of us heeded that patriotic call. And likewise, after the race many showered congratulations on the Bajan girl who took the Barbados flag all the way Finals.
Not only did Williams was she in the Top Three but she walked away with US$7,000 ($14,000) as well. The second-place finisher took US$12,000 ($24,000) while the winner earned US$30,000 ($60,000) and a wildcard for the World Athletic Champions next year.
The track meet has attracted the crème de la crème and has also given those who missed out in the Tokyo Olympic Games a chance to improve their personal performances.
It was at the recently-held Olympics that the quarter-miler broke a Barbados national record. During her chase to make the Final Williams ran 50:30 seconds breaking the 51:04 seconds record held by Lorna Forde for 43 years. Unfortunately, she didn’t make the Final.
Those who follow athletics should remember Williams dominating the 400 meters at the Barbados Secondary Schools Athletic Championships (BSSAC). At the time, it was as if she had just burst on the scene since her name was not known in the National Primary School’s Athletic Championships (NAPSAC) arena. She was running for Coleridge & Parry at the time and her tall, stately demeanour was impressive. While she continually outran her competition, she was always a competitor of very few words.
Williams would also dominate track meets and nationals during the athletic season. And with each meet, she improved and became better and better over time. Much credit must go to then-coach Ramon Armstrong.
Williams would not only win but win convincingly. She was leaps and bounds ahead of her competition. As she ran there was the feeling that with the right competition she had so much more to achieve.
As fate would have it studies took the CARIFTA multi-medallist to Jamaica. There she linked with celebrated coach Stephen Francis. She now trains with and competes against some of Jamaica’s finest.
We are convinced that Williams has more to achieve. This begs the question what will Barbados do to make it happen? How do we take the screams and cheers of NAPSAC, BSSSAC and CARIFTA further afield? How will we support her, and others, in a tangible way to ensure a spot at next year’s World Championships and on the podium of France Olympics 2024? When will all the lip service be converted into something more meaningful?
As much Caribbean and CARICOM unity we boast, we cannot be satisfied with cheering for the Jamaican athletes every four years. The time has come for us to have our own moments of jubilation. It has been way too long since we have claimed such glory. The 2000 Sydney Olympics seems like a lifetime ago when our own Obadele Thompson placed third in the men’s 100-metre final giving Barbados its first and only individual medal as an independent country. Then, at the 2009 IAAF World Athletic Championships Ryan Brathwaite won gold in the 110 metres hurdles in a time of 13.14 seconds to become the youngest ever champion for the event at age 21. Already this achievement has faded into distant memory.
We yearn for more, we desire more, we want more! We are appealing to those with the might and power to make it happen to do more.
The recent announcement by Prime Minister Mia Mottley to invest $1 million in cricket has come under criticism in other sporting quarters. Since the announcement, there have been calls for more help for athletics as well as for draughts where Barbadian Ronald ‘Suki King has dominated that sport for decades.
In our Monday edition, national coach Alwyn Babb, who has had a vested interest in Barbados’ sport for over 40-years, questioned the reasoning for the investment into cricket at a time when the National Stadium urgently needs to be fixed and where athletes have been deprived of that facility for much too long.
Babb said: “We went to the Olympic Games and we have heard about the horror stories of athletes who had to curtail their professional development because of the unavailability of funds. I am saying that we have not seen a drive or even an investment, not for a stadium but to replace the track.”
While we appreciate the PM’s gesture to cricket, we are left to wonder if the $1 million wouldn’t be better served in a sporting programme as opposed to being invested in a single sport.
That said, something has to happen for our athletes. All of them in every sport. Some sort of action has to happen in order to signal to them that as a country, we are serious about athletics. We are obligated to show them and the little ones who shine at NAPSAC that we are willing to take the sport further. We must say unequivocally that we are taking our athletes to the world stage in a strategic and sustained way. We owe it to them. We owe it to the country we all love.