Olympic Gold medallist Keshorn Walcott apologised to the people of Toco at 1 a.m. yesterday for having to wait for hours at the Toco Secondary School to welcome him home.
"I'm sorry for being late; it wasn't my fault. I just want to say thanks to everyone: thanks for all the ministers, the hard work today, thanks to all the people who came out to the airport; it is a long, long journey to Toco to have this function, so I would just like to thank God for everything ...thank my parents, and thank my coach and thank the people for all their support," said Walcott as the crowd cheered loudly.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar explained to the upset Toco people that their arrival in Toco should have been hours before, but it was just not possible because Walcott was mobbed by thousands of people along the way.
"I stood on that truck from Piarco airport, and my strength came from Keshorn Walcott standing next to me. My strength came all along the route; we should have been here hours ago, Mr Walcott, not true? Mrs Walcott, you were on the truck, too, but everywhere along this route, Keshorn was mobbed; there was an outpouring of love, a tribute to young Walcott here," said Persad-Bissessar.
She said Walcott asked her not to make any long speeches, so the Prime Minister spoke for just about seven minutes where she listed the rewards for Walcott before adding a new one —the renaming of the Toco Secondary School after him. (See story below)
The Prime Minister and Walcott arrived at the Toco Secondary School at approximately 12.20 a.m. yesterday.
By 12.33 a.m., Persad-Bissessar, hand in hand with Walcott's mother, Beverley, had walked onto the stage with Walcott where a short welcoming ceremony followed.
From early afternoon, hundreds from Toco and surrounding areas such as Cumana, Balandra and Sangre Grande, as well as other parts of the country, had gathered at the school to welcome home Walcott.
The numbers eventually dwindled as people left the venue, tired of waiting.
Walcott had arrived at Piarco International Airport from London at 11.15 a.m. on Monday where hundreds had filled the atrium of the airport to show their appreciation.
By 1.15 p.m., following a victory celebration, a large motorcade comprising of Government ministers, officials and members of the public left Piarco for Toco.
Walcott, together with Persad-Bissessar, stood at the back of a decorated three-tonne Kia van for the journey, which turned out to be 11 hours long.
The motorcade snaked along the route as citizens came out and lined the streets to greet Walcott.
In some areas such as Sangre Grande, the traffic was at a standstill for almost two hours as the crowds increased.
Along every community, people came out in their numbers. By 9 p.m., the motorcade had reached Matura, and nearing 11 p.m., it had made its way to Cumana.
The large contingent of cars and trucks had crawled along the route for most of the journey as the roadways were narrow, and all oncoming traffic was instructed by police to pull to the side.
The large music truck had difficulty making its way to the Toco Secondary School because of the narrow, winding roadway.
When the motorcade entered Toco, people on the roadsides were visibly upset.
"You know how long we waiting?", "Why allyuh keep the boy so long?", "We fed up wait!", "Not fair to Toco!" they shouted.
Some people dressed in traditional Carnival costumes had waited patiently until midnight for Walcott.
Scores of Toco residents who had left the Toco Secondary School and had gone home started walking back to the venue to meet Walcott.
At the school, people were upset and booed as Toco/Sangre Grande MP Rupert Griffith made his way to the podium to announce the arrival of the long-awaited guests.
Sensing the anger of the people, Persad-Bissessar explained that the delay was due to the outpouring of love for Walcott.
However, only Walcott was able to placate the people when he apologised to them, and they in turn roared in support.
At 1.20 a.m., there was a huge display of fireworks for about ten minutes, and just after 2 a.m., the Prime Minister departed the venue by helicopter.
A very tired-looking Walcott, still wanting to share in the celebration with his peers, stayed back to lime on the roadway as the motorcade departed. The Express was unable to contact Walcott yesterday for a comment on the long-delayed motorcade.
Contacted yesterday, Griffith told the Express he was booed because people were tired and frustrated of waiting.
"There was nothing I could have done," he said.
Griffith said he had left the motorcade and made his way to the school to prepare for Walcott's welcome.
He said thousands had gathered from early evening as he had organised buses to transport people from Toco and surrounding areas to go to the airport and then back to the school for celebrations.
Griffith said while he understood the people of Toco were upset, there were a "million and one" positives.
A large stage was erected in the savannah of the school compound where a number of performances, including that of soca star Machel Montano, were carded.
Griffith said Montano did not come because of the late timing, but other performers entertained the crowds and left.
Government Minister Dr Roodal Moonilal, who was part of organising Walcott's welcome, said the delay was not expected.
"The fact is the delay was caused largely by the enormous outpouring of love and support for Walcott," he said.
"Yesterday was history; the people united in love and patriotism; the only thing that didn't happen was the dead didn't come to life," said Moonilal.
Asked if, in retrospect, the motorcade should have been better planned, Moonilal said it was a moment of celebration, and the country took pride in Walcott's historic achievement.
He said there would be more activities in the Toco community to pay tribute to Walcott.