WHERE is Trinidad and Tobago's next crop of athletes coming from?
Former national 200m and 400m runner Alvin Daniel asked the question on Saturday, after it was confirmed that TT would be exiting the 2023 World Athletics Championships without a medal for the third consecutive time.
Daniel, a 1992 Olympian, said TT's 4x400m relay team's inability to make the World final in Hungary was startling considering the lofty heights that team reached within the last decade (2012 Olympic bronze, 2015 World Championships silver, 2017 World Championships gold, 2019 World Relays gold).
In fact, no TT athlete or team advanced to a final at the 2023 championships in Budapest, Hungary. Injury also undermined TT's hopes as 2012 Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott "felt a pop" in his Achilles while preparing for the javelin prelims and two-time World Championships medallist Jereem Richards tore his plantar fascia last month and battled hard to be fit enough to compete.
Daniel said, "We were world champions, we were world relay champions, but since then what have they (sport authorities) put in place? While I understand the Government has a part to play, I am also saying that the association (National Association of Athletics Administrations) too has a part to play."
He said planning must be in place for there to be a smooth transition when some athletes retire or are past their prime. "Sometimes the last set of athletes that might have achieved greatness, they might not be that (prime) age when the next time comes around. We have to look for people, because we want continuation."
The last medals TT earned at the World Championships was at the 2017 edition in London, England. The TT quartet of Richards, Jarrin Solomon, Machel Cedenio and Lalonde Gordon won gold in the men's 4x400m event and Richards copped bronze in the men's 200m.
Daniel said, "Right now all we depending on is Jereem Richards and Jereem Richards and Jereem Richards. If Jereem stop running in the morning - who we have?"
Daniel said support for athletes in the preparation phase is more important than financial backing when it is time to compete at the international level.
We keep looking for money to send athletes to games. We have to look for money to prepare athletes, he said.
If we prepare the athletes properly then we would not have a problem to get money to send them. Somebody is going to pay for them to go. We won't have somebody breaking world records here and nobody will send them to a championship.
The Ministry of Sport and Community Development offers financial assistance to athletes through its sport grant for organisations and individuals as well as the elite athlete assistance programme. The ministry and athletes have clashed in the past over late submission of applications and tardy disbursement of funds.
Daniel also said the state of sporting facilities must be improved. "Manny Ramjohn Stadium in a state. They just refurbished Hasely Crawford Stadium - so only there we are going to have games? We wasting time. We have to be serious with what we are doing."
Daniel did credit the Government for giving their commitment to renovate the Palo Seco Velodrome, which is expected to be completed by early 2025.
The Sports Company of TT recently brought officials from Jamaica's GC Foster College to conduct a two-week workshop, now taking place with local coaches and PE teachers in an effort to improve the standard of coaching in TT.
It follows a visit by Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe, Education Minister Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and other TT sport officials to Jamaica earlier this year. During that visit, the TT officials held meetings with Jamaican officials and also attended the popular Boys and Girls Championships, where many young Jamaican athletes develop their talent.
Daniel said, "We have to start at the school level. I always believe the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sport should be working a little more closely. I have not seen too many school sports for the longest time. If we have to look for a feeding ground for athletes then it has to come from there."
Cudjoe said recently she was disappointed that many schools no longer have sports days.
Daniel added, "Where we use to get athletes from is the school system, because for instance in Point Fortin...when schools in the area have their sports, we as athletes use to go as officials...We used to look and see what athletes have potential."
He said the officials would interact with parents and encourage them to let their children sign up for clubs to develop their potential. Daniel said Jamaica's strength in athletics is owing to a vibrant sporting programme in schools.
Daniel said there is a gap that junior athletes struggle to bridge when transitioning to the senior ranks. "What happening with our athletes after Carifta? Nothing. We have to check ourselves and see what is really happening."