I have been reading ad nauseam in the press about the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee's (TTOC's) patriotic attempt to increase the number of gold medals won by our country from two to ten by 2024. It is difficult to keep up with all the stories in the press but I must have missed the one dealing with the issue of how this was going to be achieved. Finally, the internet led me to a story in one of the dailies.
A TTOC official said that it “will be utilising the services of foreign experts over an 18-month period to develop local athletes.” The other information released was that (a) the programme has been successful in Canada (b) the experts will come five times over the 18-month period (they have already started) and (c) they will speak to coaches and administrators.
The word “athletes'', I hope, is to be taken in the broader context, and not solely for participants in track and field. If that is the case, it would include those participating in several Olympic sporting disciplines.
For example, I read often in the newspapers that so and so have met the Olympic qualification in some sporting discipline. Whether it is a “B'' qualification seems not to matter or making it by the seat of the pants is immaterial. It is evident that these qualifiers, if selected, will eventually be mired way back in the pack.
Competing in the Olympics is a serious matter.
The Olympics are the premier games in the world and every parent would like to say his son or daughter is an Olympian.” But that's life. Everyone is not of Olympic calibre. Olympic rules make provision for such individuals. The Olympic Games are not a place to gain experience. There are a host of meets around the world for that. Neither are the Olympics a venue to participate for participation's sake. The days when Baron de Coubertin adumbrated that participation's the thing are long gone along with the 19th century. Today there may be an extenuating circumstance when a sub-par athlete could be selected but let's not open a Pandora's box.
Recently the Sport Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SporTT) has given our athletes $1.4 million to prepare themselves for the Olympics and in addition the TTOC is collecting money, pledged or otherwise, to assist our athletes.
This is fantastic but as the TTOC jefe has written “money cannot buy Olympic medals” and they will not come with the “lack of a big and bold vision.” If money was an issue, Trinidad and Tobago would be outstripping Jamaica in gold medals instead of the other way around.
The money issue is important in this season of recession. Eight hundred workers are retrenched one day, 600 another day, and more to come. Children to feed, mortgages to be paid, gas subsidy to be removed. From captain to cook should bear the brunt in the society.
Are the athletes members of our society?
Do they make us all proud when they win medals?
Yes to both questions. But do we have to send those who will definitely be at the back of the pack?
I say “no.''' Top athletes always find ways to excel whatever the circumstances. That's what makes them great.
In 1960 Wilma Rudolph recovered from polio to win three gold medals. When Hasely Crawford went to Michigan, a damaged back and a pinched sciatic nerve kept him from training properly for a year and a half. He nearly lost his scholarship.
Again in 1970 during the Black Power demonstrations the imposition of a curfew resulted in the cancellation of meets and he could not train normally. When he left to compete at the Commonwealth Games his performances thrust him into the world spotlight immediately. The great ones always come through in times of adversity.
Not much has been revealed about the foreign experts programme but 18 months do not provide for long term development, except that such a topic is covered during the course of the programme.
Remember the Olympics are every four years. Since the programme is geared to administrators and coaches, the involvement of the athletes (youngsters), the real targets of the exercise, will be minimal. Frankly, this programme would be more beneficial to the other disciplines except track and field in which Caribbean athletes are no slouches.
In my next piece I will lay out a track and field programme that could be conducted by Trinbagonians. It will not promise to win ten gold medals by 2024, a highly improbable exercise, but it will lay the groundwork for more frequent medal winning by our athletes.