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We ignore excellence at our peril
As the 2012 Olympics wind down, those who are able to see the impact that excellence at the Olympics specifically and in sport in general can have on a nation’s psyche may be a little disappointed at the performance of the Conquerors, as the delegation has been called. Up to Friday night, and with one full day of competition and the opportunity to win two more medals, T&T had bagged two bronzes: in yesterday’s 4X400 metre relay race and the medal won by Lalonde Gordon at Monday’s 400-metre final.
This team did have some breakthrough performances, especially by Gordon, the 21-year-old sprint cyclist Njisane Phillip, who finished just out of the medal race in his first big competition and the plucky 19-year-old javelin thrower Kershorn Walcott, who remains in contention going into today’s final round.
But T&T’s pedigree in the Olympics since Independence has set a higher bar than just two bronzes: starting in 1964 in Tokyo with the silver won by Wendell Mottley in the 400 metre race and the bronze taken by the 4X400 metre relay team, through to the gold medal won by Hasely Crawford in Montreal in 1976, the four medals won by Ato Boldon, right up to the silver medals grabbed by Richard Thompson in the 100-metre dash in Beijing and his colleagues in the 4X100 metre relay.
Certainly, the expectations on the shoulders of the women sprint relay team would have been for a medal, and they must be quite distressed at the mix-up which caused them not to finish yesterday’s race. At Thursday’s post-Cabinet news conference, the Government indicated that it would wait until the end of the Olympic Games before making an announcement on how the State would honour their achievement.
While the tradition in the past has been to greet homecoming Olympians with motorcades and fanfare, these celebrations have always been in keeping with the achievements of the returning athletes. It might be more appropriate if the Ministry of Sport, instead of hosting a big splashy welcome home celebration, were to commission an independent review of the performance of the Olympic delegation, similar in nature, if not in scope, to the exercise that is to be undertaken by the Australians with regard to their swimming team.
A big part of the review should be to decide whether the focus placed by national sport policy on the Elite Athlete Assistance Programme is sufficient to promote this country to the heights that the Jamaican Olympic team has reached on a regular basis. Another important takeaway from Jamaica's recent golden Olympic form is that they make good use of their outstanding athletes of the past. Thirty-six years ago, on July 24, 1976, Hasely Crawford won the 100-metre finals at the Montreal Olympic games, becoming T&T's first and only gold medallist at this level.
The rival whom Crawford narrowly edged to take the title of the world’s fastest man was Don Quarrie, who went on to win the 200-metre final. Quarrie serves today as athletics technical manager of Jamaica’s Olympic delegation, passing on the knowledge he gained from his participation in athletics at the top level for more than 15 years—which included five Olympic Games—to Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and the other superstars in the Jamaican team.
Crawford, meanwhile, remains on the periphery of T&T's Olympic efforts, as does the country's other premier sprinter, Ato Boldon. No country striving for excellence in any endeavour should ignore those who have contributed to excellence in the past.
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