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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”.

One Response to Doing one’s ‘best’, might not be good enough

  1. Nathaniel Samuels August 25, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    A good and not so good article. Yes, we need to ensure that our athletes have a chance of success but to discard athletes who make the qualifying time and are not running sub 10 seconds would be disastrous for our athletics. What if our athlete had run sub 10 seconds but then had run over 10 seconds that would be disastrous. We must wish for podium positions but if not possible then use the games as a marketing tool by ensuring the country name Barbados is mentioned. Of course the more that name is mentioned, the better for the country as more likely that athlete has progressed in the event.
    Many of the athletes who attend the games will not make it on the podium. There will only be three placings per event so even an athlete who might run sub 10 seconds might not medal if the first three have better sub 10 seconds times.
    Of course we would love to see our athletes but it is a fact that better preparation would improve the chances of medalling. Just look at the performances of the UK team. Before London 2012, their athletes were languishing in the lower half of the medal count. With serious funding for its sports, encompassing all personnel, the UK team performed out of its skin and now in Rio has gone even further in the medal count. This took money, serious money but the results have been great for British sport.
    Even though we cannot compete with these large countries, we can make an effort to seek funding for our athletes even looking at those athletes who have a realistic chance of making a final and push funding towards them. If we all Barbadians make a contribution, we might make it more possible for our athletes. Let us do what we have to do and wait for the positive results that are sure to come.


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