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Eyeing the pinnacle of Olympic glory

Watching Usain Bolt flash across the finish line in Rio on Sunday night to claim his third consecutive Olympics 100 metres title and cement his place in history as the greatest sprinter of all time, many Barbadians probably wondered quietly at the time when will we similarly bask at the pinnacle of Olympic glory as Jamaica is doing at the moment.

In more than 50 years of participation in the Olympics, Barbados to date has celebrated success through the remarkable feats of two Bronze medalists: Jim Wedderburn (in 1960 as part of the West Indies 4X400 relay team ) and Obadele Thompson (in the 2000 100 metres final). However, where Olympic glory is concerned, no country is ever fully satisfied until it claims the ultimate prize of capturing gold.

The significance goes beyond the mere sport. Accomplishing this feat can serve as a powerful confidence booster for the national psyche; winning gold symbolizes global supremacy, the result of taking on the best in the world in a particular discipline and coming out on top. It transmits an inspiring message to the population that the sky is the limit where possibilities are concerned which can spur a nation to go after even loftier achievements in other fields of endeavour.

If Barbados can dream of winning gold at a future Olympics and backs this up with unswerving determination, it can happen. And the place to begin is by mapping out a clear strategy outlining how the feat will be achieved. Strategy is everything. It shows the way. Its effective implementation, however, will require a national commitment to providing the necessary resources, financial and otherwise. Too often in Barbados, significant potential remains unrealized because beyond discussion of the idea, little progress is hardly ever made.

Going into the current Rio Olympics, Barbados’ main hope for a medal was linked to the performance of Akela Jones. She did not make it to the podium in the heptathlon this past weekend but performed so creditably that she caught the attention from some commentators who had favourable things to say. She is participating in other events this week.  Akela is just 21 and, with age on her side, definitely has a promising future ahead in athletics.

In fact, her trainer is so confident that he has predicted this week that she will be among medal winners at the next Olympics four years down the road. It therefore is in Barbados’ interest to start planning for 2020 as of now by moving to put in place an effective structure through which significant investment can be sourced and channeled to support making Akela the best that she can be along with three to five other athletes, like Sade Williams, who show immense promise.

A National Athletics Development Programme, jointly supported by Government, corporate Barbados and the contributions of ordinary Barbadians, looks like the way to go. A recurring complaint by local sports administrators over the years has related to inadequate financing for development purposes and the difficulty they have always encountered in attracting sponsorship and other forms of support, especially from corporate Barbados. Barbados will never make it big if it continues to grapple with such constraints.

Producing gold-winning performances at the Olympics and other major track and field events calls for a substantial investment in the development of athletes: for example, providing assistance with their medical bills, training expenses, payment of coaches, living expenses so that they can devote their full time attention to the sport, and supporting their participation in various competitions which take place around the world annually.

In the hope of receiving commercial benefits, companies generally rush to recognize and sign deals with sports persons only after they have made it big. As a demonstration of corporate social responsibility, more companies should consider contributing to support promising athletes while they are on the way up. Companies do not have to do individually; they can come together and start a fund for this purpose for which they will receive recognition for their contributions.

Investing in sports development goes beyond the particular sport. It is, more importantly, an investment in people — our youth and, hence, the country’s future. As we celebrate 50 years of Independence and look ahead to reaping more success in the coming years, the time is right to start a discussion on the financing of athletics. Just as the success of our cricketers brought Barbados much renown and recognition in the first 50 years of Independence, our athletes, with the right kind of support, have the potential to do the same over the next 50 years.

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