TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Diane Henderson hailed the achievements of Team TTO athletes at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, commending even the athletes who didn't win medals.
Team TTO's medal haul at the Commonwealth Games, which concluded yesterday in Birmingham, England, stood at six (three gold, two silver, one bronze). Cyclist Nicholas Paul (men's keirin), Jereem Richards (men's 200m) and the men's 4x400m relay squad (Richards, Asa Guevara, Dwight St Hillaire and Machel Cedenio) punctuating this country's medal efforts with their gold-winning efforts.
Paul completed a full set of medals with silver in the men's sprint and bronze in the men's kilo time-trial while the men's 4x100m relay (Jared Elcock, Eric Harrison Jr, Kion Benjamin and Kyle Greaux) also claimed silver.
Historically, Team TTO managed their second best performance in Birmingham. Team T&T's best performance at a Commonwealth Games came at the 1966 edition in Kingston, Jamaica, when they copped five gold, two silver and two bronze.
Those gold medal performances came via cycling legend Roger Gibbon (men's sprint and kilo time-trial), Hugo Gittens (weightlifting), Wendell Mottley (440 yards) and the men's 4x440 yds relay (Lennox Yearwood, Kent Bernard, Edwin Roberts & Mottley).
The last time they had secured three gold medals at a major international multi-sport discipline Games occurred at the 2015 Pan American Games (three gold, two silver, two bronze) with those three winning feats coming in athletics; Cleopatra Borel in the women's shot put, Keshorn Walcott in the men's javelin and the men's 4x400m relay (Machel Cedenio, Jarrin Solomon, Emmanuel Mayers, Jehue Gordon, Renny Quow).
In Lima, Peru, at the 2019 Pan American Games, they initially had three gold before Njisane Phillip was disqualified for a banned substance and Team TTO lost their men's team sprint gold in cycling through disqualification.
"The athletes have worked tirelessly and had this goal to achieve this milestone individually. Both Jereem (Richards) and Nicholas (Paul) demonstrated their passion and purpose in wanting to achieve these goals. What it does do, however, it brings a national pride to our nation," Henderson noted, adding that the comments and feedback have been overwhelmingly positive and congratulatory.
"I just want to congratulate all the athletes because, in addition to those who have won medals, we have others who have given their all and really dug deep in attempting to win a medal," Henderson said.
Those include boxer Nigel Paul and judoka Gabriella Wood, who just missed out on the medal rounds; Keshorn Walcott who was one step away from the podium but is building back his confidence following a very tough year; road cyclist Teniel Campbell (sixth in the women's road race and seventh in the time-trial) who accomplished those results despite being an individual in an event where the larger nations have several members; and swimmer Dylan Carter, who was fourth in his two races including missing the podium by one-thousandth of a second in the men's 50m butterfly.
The TTOC president said overall, the performances of the athletes would act to inspire and motivate a new generation of sportsmen/women in the country. Henderson added the playing of the pan anthem was also a source of pride for the country and thanked her predecessor Brian Lewis for undertaking to get that version accepted at all major international multi-sport discipline Games, including at the Olympic level.
TTOC head calls on public
for widespread support
Looking ahead to the Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) to be hosted in this country next year. Henderson said she hoped for widespread support from the Trinbago public, replicating the efforts of the Birmingham community. "We look forward to that national support and the public rallying behind its athletes...we need to see the kind of support that the Birmingham people demonstrated for this Games...I would like to see volunteers and the national pride just coming out to support our athletes, our people and our Caribbean in 2023."
Meanwhile, former TTOC president Lewis --the president of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) -- said while the performances in Birmingham went a long way to instilling national pride and boosting the morale of a country that is starved for good news, those results need to be put in the perspective of the local effort to create a high-level sport environment.
"The athletes who won medals are benefiting from being involved in not only high-level training situations abroad, but in high-level competition overseas," said the outspoken sport official. "Team TTO track and field were coming off from Worlds and thus competing at a significantly high level; Nicholas Paul and some of the track cyclists are involved at the World Cycling Centre and were coming off top-level competition at the Nations Cup series; and Teniel (Campbell) competing in the top-notch road racing circuits in Europe etc.
"So, therefore, that has also contributed to their results. The importance of them being in a high-level programme outside of T&T cannot be under-emphasised," Lewis stressed. "The sport eco-system in T&T has to examine itself."
He added: "The TTOC has been focusing on developing that through its association with Michael Johnson Performance and through its high-performance co-ordinator Anthony Marcano. But sometimes it seems as if the system in T&T operates as if high-level achievement will happen in the absence of a high performance focus, and a sports science and technology-based approach."
Lewis said the TTOC continues to work diligently to creating a high-level structure locally -- it will double down on a research and development MoU it signed with the UTT and has transitioned its Athletes and Welfare Preparation Fund to a Foundation-- especially with local sport emerging out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Increasingly, we will need to continue these efforts, given the facilities we have. It is not going to happen by wishing it away," said Lewis, adding, "We can't allow success at the Commonwealth Games to plaster over the problems and challenges we have, the Commonwealth is just 71 countries and is certainly not a World Championships or Olympics.
"So while we are elated and euphoric about the Team TTO results, there must be an element of realism about them, While it is encouraging and a boost to the morale of the athletes and country that we have world class talent here, we can't paper over the cracks as we continue to achieve success in spite of, rather than because, of our sporting system," he concluded.