On a day like this, it’s heartening to be able to focus on sporting excellence.
With a weekend to absorb the ramifications of Friday’s prison break and on the 25th anniversary of the coup attempt that ushered in a new level of violence and criminality in this country, results on the field of play again offer us hope for a better, safer, more disciplined and productive Trinidad and Tobago, if only we could appreciate the serious symbolism behind the apparent triviality of T20 cricket and the Pan Am Games.
Yes, the Pan Am Games, a multi-sport event that pales in comparison to Olympics and World Championships, and will be struggling today to grab the attention of a local sporting public that would have been caught up in the excitement and hype generated by Dwayne Bravo leading the Trinidad and Tobago Red Steel against compatriot Kieron Pollard’s Barbados Tridents in last evening’s final of the Hero Caribbean Premier League.
Whatever the result at the Queen’s Park Oval, it would have been a victory for T&T cricket in this most abbreviated format, given that there were no fewer than 14 natives of the twin-islands state in the two squads, even if all didn’t get on the field for the showpiece occasion.
Add to that the vital trio of Denesh Ramdin, Lendl Simmons and Sunil Narine in the Guyana Amazon Warriors that went under to the Red Steel in Saturday’s final, and not forgetting fast bowler Shannon Gabriel’s impact for the St Lucia Zouks and batsman Evin Lewis’ contribution for the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots, and it should become clear that this franchise format has actually benefited more Trinidad and Tobago cricketers than it would have in a strictly territorial structure.
But that’s not today’s focus. It’s the exploits of the squad that represented the red, white and black over the past fortnight in Toronto to the extent that they will now return home from Canada’s largest metropolis with a team record eight medals, bettering by one the tally of seven at the games of 1967 (Winnipeg), 1971 (Cali) and 2003 (Santo Domingo).
Significantly, the haul of three gold medals by shot putter Cleopatra Borel, Olympic javelin champion Keshorn Walcott and the 4 x 400-metre men’s relay team is not only the most earned by T&T at a single Pan Am but also equals the nation’s entire gold medal haul at the hemispheric event over the previous ten editions, from 1975 in Mexico City to 2011 back in Mexico, this time in the city of Guadalajara.
No amount of praise can be enough for 36-year-old Borel, our 2014 “Sportswoman of the Year,” whose gold with a throw of 18.67 metres follows bronze in Rio de Janeiro in 2007 and silver four years ago. As Kwame Laurence, one of the most experienced athletics journalists in this part of the world noted on Friday, the day after her golden effort, this is no guarantee of success at the Rio Olympics next year, simply because the quality of the field will be considerably higher there.
But that is speculation. What is fact is that this consistent and enduring competitor continues to do the country proud on the world stage.
At the other end of the scale you’ve got Walcott, a bolt-out-of-the-blue Olympic champion at 19 years of age at London 2012 in an event which has no tradition in this country and at an age when he should have been far too young to challenge the best in the world.
Not surprisingly, he struggled with expectation – and injury – in the aftermath of that astonishing success. In 2015 though, he seems to have settled into the right sort of groove and assuming he can maintain his form going into next month’s World Championships in Beijing, has the chance to make amends for a disappointing outing at the 2013 event in Moscow.
Then to top off the golden effort we had the quartet of Renny Quow, Jarrin Solomon, Emmanuel Mayers and Machel Cedenio (already a silver medallist in the individual 400), the anchorman running a brilliant final leg to overhaul Cuba and the United States to reach the finish line first.
It is a measure of the regard in which they are held that George Bovell’s bronze in the swimming pool in the 50-metre freestyle, Njisane Phillip’s silver in the sprint at the cycling velodrome and the third-place finish by the men’s sprint relay quartet were greeted as if they were in line with general expectations.
However the same cannot be said of Mikel Thomas’ surprise silver in an excellent 110-metre hurdles final in which the top five finishers achieved personal bests.
These are the stories that inspire, the achievements that should be celebrated in the face of so much negativity on this day.