Submitted by Wayne Cadogan
It is another Olympic year and once again Barbados would be sending athletes off to the games as they have always done in past years. To date only two Barbadians have ever graced the podium, one representing Barbados and the other the West Indies, yet we continue to send athletes to these games, not for medals but for other reasons.
I have always asked the question, why do we continue to send athletes to the Olympic Games, just to run a first round or barely scrape past the first round? The Olympics is the highest level of Track and Field competition, the pinnacle of all athletic events, followed by the Commonwealth Games, Pan Am Games and World Games. I have always maintained if Barbados cannot win a gold medal at the Central American and Caribbean Games level, what is the point of sending a large contingent of athletes to the Olympics -just for show and to justify the large number of officials that go to the Olympic?
This Olympic year, Barbados does have a better contingent of athletes and should fair a little better, although it is very disappointing and surprising that the two top hurdlers did not make the grade. I expect that Sada Williams will only compete in the 200 meters because it is her best race of the two that she has qualified for and should reach the finals, once she handles the qualifying rounds and the pressure. Because of her tender age, this Olympic should be exposure to the world scene and start her preparation for the gold medal in the 2020 Olympics. The other athlete who will do well and should be a major factor is Akiela Jones in the gruelling heptathlon. Although she has qualified for the high jump, a decision should be made against her competing in both and for her to concentrate on medalling. I really do not see the other athletes getting past the second round, because of their times, the level of competition and the fact that they have to go through four rounds, something that they are not accustomed to running at home.
History would show that as an athletic nation we have not progressed over the years. I was at the Stadium (Pig Pen) this year for the Inter School Sports and the Boys under 20, 400 meters came back in 48 point and the announcers were raving and carrying on about the time. Well, in the sixties, on grass, athletes were running 47 seconds for the 400 meters. Jamaica school boys ran 46 second on the same grass in 1966 and other outstanding times in the other events, 10.2 in the 100 meters and 1:48 for the 800 meters, all on grass. We have a superior track to what we had in the 70’s and 80’0 and yet we are running mediocre times.
It is very sad to see that the other islands that we refer to “as small islands” that we used to completely dominate back then, have surpassed us in all sports. One of the islands even has a Olympic gold medal to show and all that we can muster is a bronze medal after all these years. I keep hearing the excuse that Jamaica and Trinidad has the numbers to choose from, but yet St. Kitts has a population of 54,000 people and a major world medal to show from the 100 meters relay and five world class athletes.
The problem with sports in Barbados is that we do not have a proper sports program, especially in track and field and that is why we will always languish behind. First, a proper stadium is long overdue; all the other islands have modern facilities and we have a pig pen for a stadium where Crop Over activities are more important that than what it was intended for. To add to the Stadium woes as far as athletics is concerned, there are many problems and issues with the twelve or so track clubs on the island when it comes to competition. This year Nationals was the first time that I saw heats for the 100 and 200 meters and not a straight final. But one can say that it was because it is the Olympic year and athletes came home to qualify for the Olympics. Usually, the majority of races are just a straight final with four or five athletes.
We have some specialist coaches on the island who should be allowed to coach those disciplines, regardless as to which club the athlete is a member of. The coaches here are only capable of taking the local athletes to a certain level and that’s it. Sometime ago, I believe last year one of the coaches made a statement that they prepare the athletes on a silver platter and give to the American coaches. Well, if this was the case, we should be seeing more of our athletes on the world scene other than the three or four. What I would say, is that there is much more to coaching than just telling an athlete to go and run six or eight 200’s for training or to go and run five or ten miles. All of our athletes have technical flaws that need to be worked out in order to run faster, and the local coaches are not capable of ironing out these flaws.
It is time that Barbados selects one of its professional overseas coaches as its head coach and this should be Elvis Forde, who is a very successful college coach and highly respected as a coach among the American coaching fraternity. In any coaching situation, you need a number of assistant coaches, because of the various disciplines and specialist coaches are required for the different events. No one coach can coach an entire track team and needs to have a number of assistants coaches to assist him. The most successful coach in Barbados is Mr. Babb, the coach from Lester Vaughan School, who is knowledgeable and successful when it comes to hurdling and should be coaching all the hurdlers on the island. Mr. Forde could prepare a program and his assistants here and he could oversee the program. With all the modern technology available, he does not have to be on the island to oversee the program. If Barbados is to go forward and produce world class athletes, all the foolishness and pettiness among the clubs and coaches will have to cease.
While I am on the topic of athletics, I will address the issue of home grown athletes and I am going to be very blunt. There is no athlete in Barbados who is going to remain here and become a top flight world class athlete. First, an athlete needs competition and competition that is better than him or her in order to improve their times. Here we have one or two athletes that are capable of running 10.2 seconds for the 100 meters, week in and week out, with no body to push them, therefore no chance for improvement. As an example, Jamaica has twenty or more athletes running 10.1 seconds or faster for the 100 meters, therefore the level and competition is always at a high standard. Secondly, the standard of coaching except for a couple of coaches is very poor and is only capable of coaching the athletes to a certain level. Lastly, there is a lack of international competition locally. One would have to go back to the 70’s to see when last world class athletes grace our shores to compete. The Trinidadians and Grenada James are all next door and do not come here to compete. The reason why, is because the level of competition here is very poor and would not provide that level of world class competition.
My personal advice to the Barbados Amateur Athletic Association, is that the emphasis of the association, should not be about how many medals the team wins at meets, it is about the developing, preparing and exposing the athletes for the bigger picture, the Olympics. It is not about sending a large contingent of athletes to a meet, in order to justify the amount of officials travelling with the team. It is about selecting the best athletes for overseas meets.
Over the years the BAAA in their quest and greed to get medals at meets, has destroyed a number of athletes by making them compete in multiple events. As recent as last year, Mary Fraser competed in three gruelling events, 800, 1500 and 300 meters over three days at the Carifta Games and since then, has not been able to maintain that level competition. At that young age, the body is not capable of withstanding that amount of work and she just burned out. The rule is that an athlete needs to rest a day to recuperate for every mile that they compete in. For this reason and the fact that we hardly run heats at meets here, due to the lack of athletes per race, I am hoping that common sense would prevail and that Sada Williams will not be asked to compete in both the 200 and 400 meters event at the Olympics as she would have to run eight rounds in all to qualify for the finals.