Doing one’s ‘best’, might not be good enough
The excitement of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games is now over for most. The adrenaline has receded for those individuals and their home nations that did not feature in the medals’ count. Of course, for those who were successful in ascending the podium, the feeling of exuberance and achievement will last for some time to come.
Our various individual sporting associations, the Barbados Olympic Association (BOA), Government, sponsors, athletes, coaches, nutritionists, talent scouts, entrepreneurs, parents, teachers, et al., have a task over the next four years to come up with strategies, funding, ideas – whatever it takes – to move Barbados’ athletics programme to a stage where our athletes become serious contenders on the world stage.
We do not intend to be harsh in any way, but simply to call a spade a spade, and not be sidetracked by emotionalism and a misplaced sense of nationalism. With the exception of heptathlete Akela Jones, none of our athletes truly challenged for gold, silver or bronze in Brazil. For this Jones must be wholeheartedly congratulated and encouraged. She appears to be the real deal and a world-class athlete. Our planners now have the duty of assisting in raising the standard of others to that international level.
But first there must be a change in mindset. Not only that of our athletes, but a shift in the national mindset.
Events such as World Championships and especially the Olympic Games are the pinnacle of sports. Athletes attending such grand competitions cannot and must not be satisfied with bettering national records, gaining a lot from the experience or returning home with the now perfunctory “I did my best”. If one’s best is not making it out of the first round of a competitive discipline or elimination at first appearance, then one’s best is simply not good enough.
Is it that an athlete really does his or her best, or that having not achieved a specific goal, the retreat into “I did my best” offers personal comfort and also staves off criticism from those who hoped for better? The point is: who can truly measure when one’s best was good enough? As detached observers, miles away from the arena, we are often left with no option but to accept the “I did my best” mantra.
There is a practice – and we can understand the obvious logic behind it – of choosing our participants in these events based on minimum qualifying standards. Perhaps, some consideration could be given towards looking at times, heights, distances, points, and other means of measurement, by which athletes have gained medals and attach our national requirement for participation in the biggest spectacles based on coming close or within reasonable distance of these high standards.
Then, major financial assistance can be provided to propel those elite of the elite to a stage where they are serious medal contenders. Alas, at the just concluded Olympic Games Barbados sent a solitary serious medal contender.
We have a situation where none of our sprinters runs sub-10 seconds. The last to do so, and perhaps the only one to ever do so, has been the excellent, under-utilized Obadele Thompson. Within the context of the Usain Bolts, Asafa Powells, Andre De Grasses, Yohan Blakes, and others of similar ilk, sprinters who do not and perhaps cannot run sub-10 seconds, are highly unlikely to medal at an Olympic Games. The era of Hasely Crawford who won gold in Montreal in 1976 in 10.06 seconds has long passed. Sprinters are not getting slower; they are getting faster. Athletes such as Powell run sub-10 seconds as a matter of routine. None of those whom the BOA sent to Rio can boast of even remotely the same.
And the story, in terms of medal prospects, was the same across all of the disciplines in which Barbados was represented in Rio.
But how do we respond to this quadrennial exercise in futility at the Olympic Games? First, we need to accept that whatever our coaches, trainers, nutritionists, athletes, sponsors, financiers, recruiters and talent scouts are doing, it is simply not good enough. More has to be done and lip service, excuses, platitudes and pious claptrap must not be the major input from those directly involved or from John Public.
Our neighbours in the north have a system that is working. And theirs is not one that depends solely on dispatch to USA colleges. Bolt, the greatest athlete in the world, is homegrown, and there are others like him in Jamaica. Has our local athletics federation sought to tap into what is happening in that island? Does the Athletics Association of Barbados keep intelligence on those athletes with Barbadian roots on overseas collegiate programmes who might be desirous of competing for the country of their parents’ birth or from where they might have migrated as infants? Christian Taylor in the United States and Andre De Grasse in Canada come readily to mind.
No one individual or entity has all the answers. But one point on which we can all agree is that we need to do more to stand any hope of achieving excellence on the international stage. It is then, and only then, that all and sundry might have a true measure of “I did my best”.