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Use Carifta effort as a launch pad
The track and field team, led by double sprint queen Khalifa St Fort, and the swim team, led by Gabriela Donahue, who had a five gold medal haul, made their parents and compatriots proud with their performances. For this they must be congratulated, since their achievements represent the culmination of months of hard work and commitment towards the goal of reaching the medal rostrum and making T&T proud.
Overall, T&T’s track and field team secured 22 medals—seven gold, five silver and ten bronze—while the swim team finished fourth in the team standings, their best performance in years.
Even as the medal-winning athletes are still revelling in their successes, however, their respective associations and the public should consider whether the proper foundations are in place to ensure these athletes—the Carifta level being the stage for junior athletes—achieve their fullest potential going forward.
A comparison with Jamaica’s Carifta medal haul may provide a better perspective on how to assess this country’s performances and the way forward. In track and field, T&T was second behind the Jamaicans, who bagged 87 medals—39 gold medals, 28 silver and 20 bronze. Jamaica came out on top at the Carifta Games for a 41st time in its 46-year history and it was their 33rd consecutive year as overall team champions.
That is a dominant run which the Jamaicans fully expect to continue in the future. Their swimmers finished fourth overall despite multiple medal efforts from swimmers like Donahue.
Former Olympic champion now coach and television presenter Ato Boldon often notes that T&T’s returns in track and field are not reflective of what should be produced given the resources available to us and the potential out there.
Indeed, a casual visit to some of the country’s stadia on any given day will reveal that hundreds of young athletes are in training for a chance to represent their country. The same can be said of the swimmers, who flock to pools across the country to develop their skills with the same dream. No doubt the same applies to those in other sporting disciplines not undertaken at the Carifta Games.
Unfortunately, many of these athletes never get the chance to be on a national team and those not fortunate enough to secure a scholarship abroad fall by the wayside. This apparent predestined fate for our athletes is perhaps an indicator that athletic bodies do not have proper development plans, do not conduct good talent searches or who just have poor foresight. Of course, it could also be a combination of all these things.
This country does not lack infrastructure to develop the talent we have, although it could be said the swimmers, even with last year’s commissioning of the National Aquatic Centre, have less facilities than other athletes.
What is lacking, is the administrative drive to find creative ways to maximise the talent and opportunities we have.
On the other hand there is the matter of government and corporate engagement in the process. Both must do their part to give the athletes as much support as possible.
The Soca Warriors’ qualification for the 2006 World Cup was one of the few instances when both government and corporate T&T worked in unison to support a drive which eventually brought success. Since then, however, such co-operation has been lacking and the country’s overall performances have suffered.
In addition, Sport Minister Daryl Smith needs to open discussion with the relevant bodies to develop a sporting master plan to be implemented across all disciplines.
The power of sport to unite a country is well known. The Soca Warriors’ Germany experience, javelin thrower Keshorn Walcott’s 2012 Olympic gold medal effort and now St Fort’s and Donahue’s multiple Carifta medal hauls are but examples of what our athletes can achieve.
It is time to rally around T&T young athletes with a plan to develop their potential.