Trinidad and Tobago's Olympic gold medalist Keshorn Walcott on the podium after the men's javelin throw at the London 2012 Games on Saturday August 11.
Hail our sporting heroes
KESHORN WALCOTT presented Trinidad and Tobago with a timely gift for its 50th anniversary of Independence, delighting every one of his compatriots, sports fan or not.
His was a remarkable achievement-moreso for a 19-year-old in a discipline with no previous history of success for the country or the region-throwing the javelin to land the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympics, the latest memorable feat on a long list written by the nation's sportsmen and women.
Of T&T's Olympians, Walcott is the second to ascend the highest step on the podium, joining Hasely Crawford and ending a wait of 36 years since the big sprinter won the 100m event at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada.
They both stunned the world, defying doubters with their tenacity and bringing joy home, a place which has always taken pride in its sporting heroes and heroines, who have provided many reasons to celebrate during the last 50 years.
To start at the beginning, the year of Independence in 1962, Trinidad and Tobago's inaugural Sportsman of the Year was Roger Gibbon, one of the finest cyclists from this part of the world, who took home the prestigious annual award on two other occasions, 1965 and 1967.
In 1963, Gibbon was followed into the annals by Deryck Murray, the excellent wicketkeeper/batsman and one of many cricketers who have won the Sportsman of the Year title through their efforts with the national team and the West Indies.
Murray was succeeded by Wendell Mottley, the ace quarter-miler who provided T&T with its first Olympic medal in the post-Independence era and first on the athletic track, earning a silver medal in the 400m at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
That was Trinidad and Tobago's initial multi-medal Olympics; Mottley being joined on the podium in Tokyo by Edwin Roberts, who got a bronze in the 200m, while Mottley was also a member of Trinidad and Tobago's 4x400m relay squad, which came in third.
Then there was a gap, until Crawford sprinted clear of his rivals in Montreal.
He was followed by an even longer drought until the brash Ato Boldon came on the scene and finished third in both the 100m and 200m at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, then returned four years later in Sydney, Australia to take a silver medal in the 100m and bronze in the 200m.
Boldon also made his mark at the 1997 World Athletics Championships, where he won the 200m, confirming his reputation as one of the best sprinters of his era, having also been a World Junior champion.
Then in Athens, Greece in 2004, swimmer George Bovell, whose father was T&T's Sportsman of the Year in 1969, was third in the 200m individual medley behind Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.
It was the country's first Olympic medal in swimming, and Bovell was still going strong in London this year, when he was an Olympic finalist once again, this time in the 50m freestyle.
On the track at the "Bird's Nest" Stadium in Beijing, China four years ago, Richard "Torpedo" Thompson appeared out of nowhere to chase down the great Usain Bolt to clinch a silver medal in the 100m, then was a member of the 4x100m relay squad which finished runner-up to the mighty Jamaicans.
That was a consecutive medal-winning run of four Olympics (1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008), being capped by our athletes' performances in 2012, when Keshorn Walcott and Lalonde Gordon (400m bronze medallist) inspired their T&T teammates to third place in both the 4x400m and 4x100m men's relays, for a record haul of four Olympic medals.
There was also exciting young cyclist Njisane Phillip, who announced himself to the world in London, finishing fourth in the match sprint and going close in the keirin. He is a definite prospect for the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, following in the tradition of Gibbon, Leslie King, Gene Samuel and Emile Abraham.
And there were other individual finalists in London in their respective events: Thompson, Kelly-Ann Baptiste, Jehue Gordon and Semoy Hackett.
Now we are spoilt for life and will expect the same every four years. Of course, it does not work that way, but we hope the Government will put coaching programmes and facilities in place to generate even more Crawfords, Walcotts, Boldons, Bovells and Phillips.
And that is the great thing about Trinidad and Tobago's outstanding sporting achievers, none of whom have ever relied on support from any State administration but all have gone out and done it themselves through sheer grit and hard work.
Just ask Crawford about running through the sugar cane fields as he prepared for the Olympics. And there's no better example than Walcott, who used the benefit of his clean countryside upbringing to out-perform Europe and the world's best javelin throwers.
The teenager, who is also a World Junior champion, is the latest individual who has put T&T into the record books, following in the footsteps of another country boy who came good and is looked upon as one of the best to ever pick up a cricket bat.
Brian Charles Lara has two world records to his name, for highest individual score in both Test and first class matches.
The Prince of Port of Spain, who came to the capital city via the cool climate of Santa Cruz, broke the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers' longstanding highest Test score in 1994 against England and when some Australian opener did better, Lara went out and broke it again, in 2004 with 400. Before that, he posted the incredible score of 501 not out playing for Warwickshire in an English county game during a glorious summer in 1994 when no bowler was safe from his flashing willow.
Lara was the finest proponent of his craft, but he was preceded by other top-class batsmen for T&T through the years since 1962, including Charlie Davis and Larry Gomes, and there were those with all-round ability, like Bernard Julien.
As a team, for two all-conquering seasons in the early 1970s, Trinidad and Tobago was king of regional cricket, led by one of the most astute strategists, Michael "Joey" Carew, who later became Lara's mentor.
There have been a couple of other triumphs for T&T in the four-day format, not nearly enough for the talent that has been assembled over the years, but now we are the undisputed champions of the Caribbean in the newest form of the sport, T20 cricket, with enough good players to fill the ranks of the West Indies squad for the upcoming World T20 tournament.
Kieron Pollard, Dwayne Bravo and now Sunil Narine have delighted crowds far and wide, superstars in the lucrative Indian Premier League and products of a national team previously led by another excellent captain in Daren Ganga, who took Trinidad and Tobago to the inaugural Champions League T20 in India in 2009 when they went all the way to the final.
Our current cricketers maintain a fine tradition-from Learie Constantine to Clifford Roach to Jeffrey Stollmeyer to Deryck Murray to Ranjie Nanan to Gus Logie to Ian Bishop.
The other team sport which has kept us enthralled is football, with its finest hour in 2006, when T&T's Soca Warriors made it all the way to the World Cup Finals in Germany.
Who could forget that Saturday in June, when in our very first appearance on the sport's biggest stage, T&T held Sweden to a goalless draw in Dortmund, where captain
Dwight Yorke, goalkeeper Shaka Hislop and all the members of the team played with pride and passion, and brought tears to the eyes of one of Europe's top teams.
There was celebration from the city square in Dortmund to the streets of St James and wherever else T&T supporters gathered to watch the game, just as there was in November 2005 when the Soca Warriors qualified for the 2006 World Cup with a 1-0 victory in front of a hostile crowd in Bahrain, after playing to a 1-1 draw the week before at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
Sadly, mainly due to self-serving administrators, we have never scaled those heights again, and football is at a crossroads, crying out for competent management.
Before that historic 2006 campaign, there were the heartbreaks of 1973 and 1989 when T&T were denied by corrupt match officials in Haiti and over-confidence and naivete in Port of Spain, respectively, when the World Cups of 1974 and 1990 were within our grasp. Instead, perennial rivals Jamaica gained the honour of being the first English-speaking Caribbean country to make it to France in 1998.
But despite being held back by those calling the shots off the field, T&T's footballers continue to make a name for themselves, none more so than Dwight Yorke, who moved on from his crab-catching days as a youth in Tobago to England, where he played in the world's most competitive league, first for Aston Villa and then the mighty Manchester United.
Yorke was an integral member of the United team which clinched the treble-English Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League-in 1999 and made him one of the most recognisable faces playing the beautiful game.
Also displaying his terrific talent to European audiences was Russell Latapy, the "Little Magician," who played with Porto in Portugal and Glasgow Rangers in Scotland and is arguably the best player to ever come out of T&T.
There have been other top-class players, some of whom could lay claim to Latapy's crown, including Everald "Gally" Cummings, Leroy de Leon and Warren Archibald.
Another team sport which attained the highest level was netball, with Trinidad and Tobago hosting the World Championships in 1979 and sharing the title with Australia and New Zealand. Jean Pierre was the star of that truly remarkable national squad which matched the game's best and made T&T joint-world champions.
And then there are the individuals who have achieved world-class status, the most prominent being professional golfer Stephen Ames, who played on both the European and US PGA Tours, with some commendable victories, including the 2006 Players Championship, the richest tournament in the world.
Ames resides in Canada, where he has citizenship, but he can still play for T&T, which is where he learned the game, under the tutelage of Victor Alexander at the Pointe-a-Pierre Golf Course.
Also in golf, which has produced a stream of good amateurs and maintains a fine junior system, Maria Nunes was a World Junior champion in 1979.
Trinidad and Tobago can also boast of its first world champion boxer in lightweight Claude Noel, who won his title in September 1981, and was then wined and dined by the government of the day and quickly relinquished the belt at his first defence.
Noel was later emulated by light-heavyweight Leslie "Tiger" Stewart, who clinched his title at home in 1987, when he won a rematch with American, Marvin "Pops" Johnson.
Female boxer Gizelle Salandy was progressing rapidly through the rankings until she met a tragic end in a car crash.
Other T&T sportsmen who ply their trade abroad successfully include Canada-based jockey Emile Ramsammy, who has ridden winners throughout North America, and table-tennis player Dexter St Louis, who plays professionally in France, along with his step-daughter Rheann Chung, who just recently won another Caribbean Championship title.
St Louis is the most successful of a long line of top table-tennis players from Trinidad and Tobago, including Lionel Darceuil, Mansingh Amarsingh and Winston "Reds" Mulligan, while there are some talented youngsters who could soon take centre stage.
There have also been noteworthy performances by T&T in hockey, basketball, tennis, squash, volleyball, rugby, water polo, motor racing/power boating, sailing, shooting, badminton, taekwondo, bodybuilding, chess and other endeavours since 1962.
Yes, T&T's first 50 years of Independence have been truly memorable on the sporting scene and long may we cheer and support our fellow-nationals as they continue to make us proud in arenas around the globe.