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Lawyers grill Thema for 4 hours
Gymnast Thema Williams was put through her paces as the trial of her multi-million dollar lawsuit against the T&T Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) started yesterday.
Williams spent over four hours being grilled by the federation's lawyers as the trial commenced before Justice Frank Seepersad at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain.
Most of the questioning focused on the events leading up to an Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, on April 16, 2016.
Williams, who was this country's named competitor for the event to qualify for the Summer Olympics later that year, was withdrawn by the federation hours before she was due to participate.
As she was being cross-examined by Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, who is representing the federation's executive, Williams was repeatedly asked whether she sustained an ankle injury in the warm-up for the event.
While she denied being injured, Williams admitted to suffering "discomfort" in her left ankle.
"It was a bit uncomfortable but was workable," Williams said.
However, she claimed that such an issue was normal for elite athletes and was possibly due to her busy travel schedule. She also confessed that she suffered a "shock" to the same ankle at another event, earlier that year.
"We train and condition our bodies to take the strain. It would not be a strain after time because of muscle memory," she said.
Maharaj pointed to reports from her coach John Geddert and the federation's physiotherapist Nicole Fuentes, who both raised concerns over her potential performance due to the ankle issue.
Williams suggested that Geddert was being overprotective in raising the concerns in an email to the federation, which it claims was the basis of its decision.
"Coaches tend to be very anxious and cautious when it comes to meets of such grandeur," Williams said.
Quizzed about Geddert's admission that her pre-event training session was a disaster as she committed six faults in three events, Williams said: "It was definitely not the best day."
Williams claimed that she was only informed of the federation's last-minute decision to replace her with fellow gymnast Marissa Dick, when he mother called her on the morning of the test event.
Asked whether she visited a doctor to certify that she was not injured at the time, before filing the lawsuit, Williams said no.
In his cross-examination, attorney Justin Junkere, who is representing the federation, questioned Williams over her claim that the federation's executive was biased against her even before the event.
Referring to Williams' claim that the federation barred her from participating in events in the United States in the months leading up to the test event, Junkere asked whether their policy was based on the possibility that she could have sustained an injury.
Williams admitted that it could have been a consideration but noted that it had mandated to perform at some of the events.
Williams also admitted that the federation's selection policy and its athlete's agreement with her, both envisioned that she could be replaced in stated circumstances. She confessed that the athlete's agreement also stated that the federation's discretion to replace her is partly based on the advice it would receive from her coach before the event.
During yesterday's hearing, Williams' lawyer Martin Daly, SC, repeatedly objected to some of the questions as he stated that the lawsuit was over whether the federation acted fairly and reasonably in making the decision and not whether Williams' was physically fit to perform to her potential.
In her claim, Williams is also alleging that the federation rushed into a decision as it did not wait for more information from Geddert before taking it.
After Williams' testimony ended, her lawyers called on former executive member Karen Cheng to testify.
While Cheng claimed that she objected to the decision as the federation did not have enough information at the time, Maharaj pointed out that the organisation's records showed that she agreed.
Cheng is expected to be further cross-examined when the trial resumes this morning.
About the Case
In her claim for over $10 million in damages, Williams is claiming compensation for her “loss of opportunity” and damage to her personal and professional reputation allegedly caused by the “harsh and oppressive” actions of the federation’s executive.
Her attorneys are contending that by failing to be given an opportunity to qualify for the Olympics, she suffered a huge loss of opportunity of endorsements, motivational speaking engagements and repeated business opportunities as well as a full scholarship to the Michigan State University, which she forewent in her bid to qualify to become the first person to represent T&T in gymnastics at the Olympics.
Alternate athlete Marissa Dick, who placed second to Williams at the World Artistic Gymnastics Championship in Glasgow, Scotland on October 23, 2015, was eventually selected to represent this country at the Games.
Williams is also being represented by Keith Scotland while Ronnie Bissessar is appearing alongside Maharaj for the federation's four executives.
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