OLYMPIAN, written by Dr Basil Ince, was published in 2011. The book examines, in detail, the history of Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic participation. Included in OLYMPIAN are profiles of the country’s eight individual Olympic medallists, between 1948 and 2008. Between July 17 and August 9, excerpts from those eight profiles are being featured in the pages of the Trinidad Express. The profiles, in their entirety, are being published on the Express website (http://www.trinidadexpress.com/olympics).
Today, we feature sprinter Edwin Roberts. He captured half-lap bronze in 1964, in Tokyo, Japan.
“Among my fondest memories was the developing of a great admiration for Edwin Roberts. He to me was the ideal athlete. He gave no trouble whatever. His remarks whenever he entered the Olympic Village was ‘I am here to run’ and he never gave one bit of trouble in any area when the pistol went. You had Edwin Roberts doing his best for his country and himself. And whether you want him to run a leg in a 100m or a 400m within an hour, he would do it, without any grumbling, or shirking at all and his performances speak for themselves.”
These words of Knolly Henderson, Chef de Mission of many national teams, are echoed in all forms and fashions by his contemporaries and other observers of Ed Roberts’ athletic prowess. Hear Wilton Jackson on Roberts: “I think that in Roberts’ time when you look at the 100m, 200m, 400m, he probably was the greatest in his time over the three events…What Roberts did not have in size he had in heart and Roberts virtually feared no one.” Ed Skinner, who hooked up with Roberts as a junior, had this to say: “He was extremely competitive… beating him was just about the worst thing that you could do because he comes after you with much more intensity.” Certainly Roberts was talented but according to Ed Skinner, “he did what many Trinidadians did not do at the time. He trained incessantly…and he ran consistently.” Kent Bernard, a member of the talented four, felt that Roberts “surmounted all in tenacity and competitive spirit,” while Wendell Motley labelled him “a tough minded athlete.” Benedict Cayenne, the country’s only athlete to reach an 800m final in the Olympic Games, adds this: “I think Roberts has the biggest head the Lord has ever given a human being when it comes to running. I think he almost believed he could challenge and outdo anybody and I think for that he was a very special athlete.”
Born Edwin Anthony Roberts in Port-of-Spain on August 12, 1941, Ed began to represent the nation in 1962 and when he ceased to represent Trinidad and Tobago in international meets ten years later his record was as follow:
CAC Games, Jamaica, 1962: Silver, 200m; Silver 4x100m relay; Bronze 4x400m relay.
British Empire and Commonwealth Games, 1962 Perth, Australia: Eliminated 2nd round, 100 yards and 220 yards.
Olympic Games, Tokyo 1964: Bronze, 200m; Bronze 4x400m relay.
CAC Games, Puerto Rico, 1966: Gold, 200m; Silver 100m; 4 x100m and 4 x400m relays.
British Empire and Commonwealth Games, Jamaica, 1966: Bronze, 100 yards; Silver 220 yards; Gold 4x440 yards relay.
Olympic Games, Mexico 1968: Fourth, 200m.
British Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1970: Silver 200m; Silver 4x400m relay;
Pan American Games, Cali, Colombia, 1976: Bronze 200m; Bronze 4x400m relay.
The statistics indicate that he was a major factor to be contended with in most Games that he attended. They do not indicate, however, that although he was the second Trinidad-born track man to win an Olympic medal, he was the first track man, competing for Trinidad and Tobago, to win an Olympic medal and also the first Trinbagonian to win an Olympic medal for an independent Trinidad and Tobago. He is also the first national to appear in two consecutive Olympic 200m finals. Additionally, he is a member of the first national relay team to win an Olympic medal and a member of the first national team to set a world record. To crown it all, the January, 1974, issue of Track and Field News ranks him as one of the three greats in the 200m. Andy Stanfield lasted from 1949-1956, Herb McKenley spanned the years, 1947-1953, and Ed, 1964-1971.
Ed and the writer grew up on the same street in Belmont and years later he would tell me: “I used to see you on your bicycle on evenings going to the Savannah to train and I said to myself: Some day I’m going to go to the Savannah to train too.” Both his parents had died and he grew up with his aunt. He attended primary school at Belmont RC, Rosary Boys RC and finished up at Tranquillity in 1960. Like so many 10-year-old youths, he would pit his speed against others by running around the block. He welcomed the prize for winning: a lump of sugar. He continued to run at Rosary Boys where he won the Victor Ludorum on sports day. It was while he was attending Rosary that he joined Hampton, a leading track club. He made the decision to commit himself to track at a relatively early age, for it was not the norm at the time for thirteen and fourteen year old boys to join clubs where the membership was usually seventeen and older. Membership in Hampton set him on the path he desired, the road to the Savannah where many athletes trained on a track specially measured for them.
No youth of fourteen has a sole interest, and in Ed’s case the commitment to running clashed with his other interests, singing and participation in a drama group. Ed liked to sing pop songs and instead of confining his singing to the bathroom, joined a group called the Beamers. He soon realised that with his choice, no spotlight would be on him or the Beamers, and he rightly abandoned the Beamers. As for the drama group, Ed decided to be at the centre of any drama—in running. He began to win the Victor Ludorum at Rosary, where he attended primary school and continued to repeat that habit at Tranquillity, the Secondary School he attended. Had Ed been attending high school in the United States, he would have been competing regularly in dual meets with other high schools, but since the educational system in Trinidad and Tobago is different, he had to wait for the Annual Sports Day at the school to compete, or the annual clash between Tranquillity and Belmont Intermediate.
Ed would not be so constrained. As a member of Hampton Club, he was entered in open meets. Those meets took him to Southern Games, BP Games and Barataria Sports meetings. All newcomers to open games, start in the junior category, move up to ‘B’ class and then ‘A’ class. Edwin lingered for two years in Juniors, stayed one year in ‘B’ class and was promoted to ‘A’ class immediately. All the precocious youngsters like Agostini, Gibbon and Roberts did not tarry too long in the ‘bush leagues’. It will be recalled that when Agostini was yet a Junior (below 19) he defeated both Herb McKenley and Andy Stanfield on separate occasions; Gibbon had already vanquished those in A class and was riding with the internationals. When Ed was still a Junior he handled Tom Robinson over 200m while the latter was a star at the University of Michigan and had already won the British Empire and Commonwealth Games title in Cardiff in 1958. Tom was later to be a finalist in the 100m at Tokyo when Ed won the bronze in the 200m.
With the foursome around the same age, it was inevitable that their paths would cross from time to time. Ed states: “I clashed with Wendell many times at various venues. He had already won the Victor Ludorum at QRC.” Some of these venues included Guaracara Park at Southern Games, Tobago or even at QRC grounds. Ed remembers their Tobago meeting: “I beat him for the first time in the 100m and 200m and he pulled out of the 400m. But in another meet at QRC where several schools participated, Wendell beat me in the 100 yards.” Ed also competed against Kent in the annual Tranquillity-Belmont Intermediate clash. At this time Ed was a terror among the Juniors and Kent beat him in both the 100m and 200m. Afterwards Kent admitted that he had never run track before, and that beating Ed brought him into the limelight.
Another big timer was to fall to Edwin’s flying feet. It was 1961 and he had just been promoted to ‘A’ class.
His coach, the former fine sprinter, George Hernandez, asked the visiting Milkha Singh how he ran the quarter. Milkha, the Indian Sikh who could always be recognised by his turban, had already put the Commonwealth 440 title under his belt and was a finalist in the Olympics at Rome. Neither Ed nor Milkha knew that they would clash. Ed recalls the race: “Milkha was in lane 4. I was in lane 3. I ran 47.2 seconds in beating him. He congratulated me in his Indian guttural accent ‘Very good, boy’. ” Singh left Trinidad and the following week ran 45 point at White City in London. It should be noted that although Ed won many races, he was not invincible. The other members of the foursome also displayed their wares. Ed Skinner, for example, beat Ed in both the 100 yards and 220 yards in 1962.
Ed graduated from Tranquillity and started to work at the Ministry of Agriculture in 1961. Dan Chalmers, an Englishman who was in charge of an agricultural division, and a sportsman, introduced Ed to rugby. Dan thought that Ed’s turn of speed would be useful in that sport and he was correct for Ed made the national team in rugby. Ed’s first trip abroad was not with a track team but as a member of the national rugby team. The team went to play in Jamaica where Ed broke his hand in the match.
At Agriculture, Ed did germing, budding, rebudding, and pruning. Ever the industrious one, he also worked at Hi-Lo on weekends. All the while he kept on training and was selected for his first track team. So it was back to Jamaica for the CAC Games. Seared into his memory of that first track tour, was the defeat of the national team by Jamaica in the 4x400m relay. On the third leg, which he ran against George Kerr, George used his wiles and his experience to outwit Ed. Ed does not forget his defeats and that was one he avenged four years later.
Scholarship fever was running high among athletes in Trinidad and Tobago and Ed was bent on obtaining one. He had resumed rugby playing and remembers the day when he was selected on the national team for the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia. There was an important rugby game on that day but Dan Chalmers came in and told him that he would not be playing. Ed was puzzled but Chalmers assured him it was for his safety. This was the way Ed discovered that he had been selected on the first team the nation was sending abroad as an independent country. He was the sole athlete on the team which comprised two weightlifters, Jackie Samuel and Brandon Bailey; and two cyclists, Roger Gibbon and Ron Cassidy. Two officials accompanied the team but neither was a track coach. This tour presented Ed with the opportunity he had been seeking to obtain a track scholarship in the States. When he left Trinidad for Perth, it was his intention not to return.
When Ed arrived at the Perry Lakes Athletic Stadium he was impressed by what he saw. The Perth authorities had spent one million pounds (Australian) on the stadium and although it was not the biggest, it was designed to be the best in the world for track and field. Once the preliminaries started, Ed moved into top gear. He beat the fine English sprinter, Peter Radford, who, two years before at the Olympics in Rome, had won the bronze medal in the 100m. That night Ed decided to do some serious twisting at the Games Village. Perhaps Chubby Checker had never heard of Edwin Roberts or the Commonwealth Games and would have been shocked to hear that he had been held culpable for Ed’s failure at the Games. But many blamed Chubby for Ed’s failure since Ed could not resist the new dance craze. Leaving his best moves on the dance floor, Ed could not move in his race the next day. When the 100 yards final was run, it was the hottest November in Perth in 40 years, 103.7 degrees. In spite of the heat, Ed would have preferred to be in the race to match strides with the Kenyan, Antao, Tom Robinson of the Bahamas and Harry Jerome of Canada, but he would have to wait for another occasion. He was also unceremoniously eliminated from his pet distance, the 220 yards. The Guardian reported: “Roberts has become one of the characters in the competitors village where he is recognised as a twisting champion who makes a distinguished figure in his steel band shirt.”
The Perth trip was a learning experience and in subsequent games, Ed refrained from performing on the dance floor regardless of the dance in vogue. Herb McKenley had watched Ed’s performance against Radford and told the young Trinbagonian that he had a bright future in running. On the very day that the 100 yards final was won by Antao, Jamaica was victorious in the vote to host the next Games. Jamaica turned back Edinburgh’s bid by the margin of one vote, 18 to 17. Those Games, held in 1966, have been the only major games held in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
True to his intentions, Ed visited his brother in New York after the Games and began school hunting. Ed Roberts entered North Carolina State College in February, 1963 and began the campaign that would carry him to a bronze medal at Tokyo in the next year. At North Carolina State, Dr. Leroy Walker, the track coach, assisted Ed in making the adjustment. Several hurdles are involved in the adjustment-process. Arriving in a new country is one thing, but arriving during the height of the winter is another matter; adjustment to college life and studies is another issue especially if one has been out of school for over two years; finally in Ed’s case, he had to adjust to indoor running. Ed, ever flexible, surmounted all these adjustments and was ready to cope with the outdoor season in warmer weather. In his first outdoor season at North Carolina State Ed did what he had been doing for his entire career—he ran the 100m, 200m and 400m. Immediately he moved into top flight company in his first outdoor season in the US, running behind the incomparable Bob Hayes (9.1) in the 100 yards at the Quantico Relays. Ed was timed in 9.3 seconds. There was a false start in this race and Ed and Bob Hayes ran for about fifty meters before stopping. Bob saw that Ed was staying with him and knew that he could run. After the race he inquired of Ed who he was, and they became friends. During that outdoor season Ed competed in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m and 4x400m relays.
Ed competed during the indoor season as Olympic year started and ran 50s, 60s and competed in the mile relay. Many runners use the indoor season to do background work for the outdoor season. Ed went through the motions during the indoor season and was ready when the outdoor season commenced. He repeated another 9.3 seconds run for the 100 yards, then came back to run second again to Bob Hayes at the NAIA Championships. In the NCAA small colleges division Ed won both the 100m and 200m. In the NCAA championships, the big meet of the season for colleges and universities in the US, Ed ran second again this time to another top sprinter Harry Jerome, the Canadian Olympic 100m bronze medal winner and finalist in the 200m in 1964.
In the final big meet of the US outdoor season, where everyone clashes, those in colleges, universities, clubs and the Armed Services, Ed ran unplaced in the 200 in which the crème de la crème of US sprinters competed. One need not say any more than that Henry Carr and Paul Drayton were among the top places in this AAU final. They later ran 1-2 in the Olympics. Henry Carr, along with Tommie Smith, is regarded as one of the finest 200 runners in the history of the event.
Something should be said about all these abbreviations, NCAA, etc. They are simply conference divisions in which colleges and universities are placed according to size and geography. Naturally competition in some conferences are more difficult than others, but all colleges and universities can participate in the final National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) meet. Thus it becomes the second most important meet for the year. Only the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) meet surpasses it. (The AAU has since been changed to The Athletic Congress (TAC). It is not unusual for Olympic winners to emerge from the ranks of the NCAA finalists.
The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were due to begin on October 11th. None of the athletes knew for certain that Trinidad and Tobago was sending a team until the first week of August when the father of one of the athletes contacted him. The official notification was to follow later. The writer recalls the daily ritual of asking, “Have you heard anything as yet?” The response was always ‘No’. In fact, two of the members of the team were preparing to register for the new academic year. As one wearily informed me, ‘Training was not a priority.”
That summer Ed came to New York, trained for a short time with Kent Bernard and Ed Skinner, ran a couple of development meets, then returned to North Carolina to train with his coach. The two Eds and Kent, when they were all in NY, seldom trained together. Ed Skinner trained in Brooklyn, Kent in the Bronx, and when Ed Roberts was in NY they made an effort to get together. The final member of the quartet, Wendell, went to Trinidad and when he returned to the States went to California where his coach at Yale, Bob Giegengack, who happened to be the coach of the US team, was in camp with his charges. Ed received word of the arrangement of a pre-Olympic tour which would take him out to Vancouver, Canada. According to Ed Skinner, “pre-Olympic tour was too big sounding a phrase. It was one track meet that we ran in Vancouver.”
The tour, however late and brief, was psychologically important. It brought the quartet together. Wilfred Tull, the former Trinidad miler, then resident in Brooklyn, had been appointed as manager-coach for the tour and Cliff Bertrand made arrangements for the group to train at NYU’s track. Although each member of the quartet pursued his own programme in New York, they had the opportunity to practise baton-passing. Working out together and doing baton practice for two weeks allowed them to develop some sort of camaraderie.
When Ed left for Tokyo he was in good shape. Despite the fact that he had not heard from Trinidad for the longest while during the summer, he felt certain that a team would be sent. He had maintained his training schedule in North Carolina and in New York, and he had run competitively in Vancouver. It was in Vancouver that the quartet ran together competitively for the first time. They beat a second-string US team, Canada and Jamaica in a 4x400m relay. When Ed arrived in Tokyo he was recognised as a medal contender in the 200m. He had run a series of good times during the year, had won the open 100m at the Penn relays, and had already tangled with the main medal contenders on US soil.
Ed liked what he saw when he arrived in Tokyo and at the Games Village. He had been to major international competition before (British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Perth) but these were ‘out of sight.’ He was there to make the ultimate effort. He was confident but never over confident. Every one going into a major games must have some queasiness. Even the eventual winner Henry Carr, one of the greatest 200m men, had some nagging self-doubts on the eve of the Games. On Friday, October 16 when competitors for heat number 6 were called, Ed was amongst them. Since Perth, he had competed in the United States, the mecca of sprinting, and had gained invaluable experience. He knew the quality of the competition to expect because he had run with the ‘top boys’ in the States. He ran 20.8 in his first heat. These were the Olympics and he was taking no chances. Paul Drayton of the US had run 20.7 in his opening round and the Canadian speedster, Harry Jerome, had done 20.9 in his heat.
When Ed lined up for his second round heat, Peter Radford, whom he had met two years ago in Perth, was stripping down for that very heat. That was the last he was to see of Radford—at least for the heat. Ed returned 20.9, with Radford out of contention. Paul Drayton and Ed had run the fastest second round heats. Big Henry Carr, who ran 21.0 in his heat, had not turned on the jets as yet. Ed had advanced to the semis which are run like finals because everyone wants to get into a final.
When Ed walked out for the semi-final on Saturday, October 17, he knew that it was not going to be a soft one. In it were Henry Carr, ranked high on the list of the best 100-200-400 men; Livio Berruti, the defending Olympic champion, who had thrilled his Italian compatriots four years ago in Rome; Harry Jerome, the Canadian speed merchant, and Roger Bambuck, one of the many French sprinters who hailed from France’s department in the Caribbean, Martinique. This semi was not going to be any cake walk. It was a virtual final. The only major competitor missing was Paul Drayton, who in the first semifinal had tied the Olympic record of 20.5 set by Berruti in Rome. Carr, Berruti and Ed separated themselves from the rest of the pack as they headed for the tape in that order in the respective times of 20.6, 20.7 and 20.8. Harry Jerome made it to the final in 21.0, just edging out Bambuck who was credited with the same time.
One hurdle was behind Ed. He was now in the final and he zeroed in mentally on it. He had no time for history but he remembered that two other Trinbagonians— McDonald Bailey and Mike Agostini—had lined up for a 200m Olympic final and had finished in fourth spot, just out of medal contention. Ed had even read that Herb McKenley had finished fourth in 1948. He was determined to beat that fourth jinx. Perhaps it may have slipped Ed that Harry Edward who ran for Britain at the 1920 Games in Antwerp was Guyanese and that he had won the bronze. But Ed pushed all that stuff out of his mind because before his very eyes was reality in the persons of Carr, Drayton, Jerome, Berruti, Foik (Poland) Stebbins (USA) and Offolina (Italy). He received the lane of his choice in the final, lane 8 but felt nervous.
At the crack of the pistol he moved out hard and never stopped running until he crossed the finish line in 20.6 seconds, a tenth of a second behind the silver medal winner, Paul Drayton. Ahead of Drayton was Henry Carr in a new Olympic record of 20.3. He had become the first Olympic medallist of an independent Trinidad and Tobago. Four years later in the rarefied atmosphere of Mexico, he was to run faster (20.3) but not receive a medal.
But Ed’s work at these Games was not over. Yet to come was the 4x400m relay in which he was expected to do yeoman duty. The Trinidad and Tobago team had caught the knowledgeable eyes of many. The Times (London), for instance, wrote: "At the 4x400, the US again have the cream but could be closely challenged by Jamaica or Trinidad." It is instructive to note that Jamaica has had good 4x400m teams ever since 1948-1952, the days when Herb McKenley, Arthur Wint, George Rhoden and Les Laing set the tradition. In fact, it is fair to say that the small island of Jamaica has become a powerhouse in world track, challenging major countries in the world in the sprints. And this relates to both men and women.
Jamaica has developed a formula that is yet unknown to this country which enables them to produce top calibre athletes with unfailing regularity. The names Mottley, Roberts, Bernard, and Skinner have been inscribed in our athletic history not only because it was the first time four quarter-milers of that calibre had come together but also because they were in a position to challenge the US in an event which they seemed to own. Only the famous Jamaican quartet of 1952, the West Indian Pan American team of 1959, and more recently the British quartet, had defeated the Americans.
The personnel of the Trinidad and Tobago quartet was not inscribed in stone. There were others at the Games. At least two, Cliff Bertrand and Wilton Jackson, were staking their claims for selection on the team. They were both quarter-milers and felt that there should be time trials in which they would run against Ed Skinner. There was the perception that Skinner was the weak link in the team. Skinner himself did not object to trials but preferred trials that included everyone. And so a meeting, which involved, Knolly Henderson, Alex Chapman, McDonald Bailey and Bro Lynch, was called to resolve the issue. Roberts’ contribution to the meeting was that it was too late to have trials. He blurted out: “If you believe I ain’t good enough for this team, don’t pick me because I ain’t running any time trial at this stage.” No decision emerged from the meeting. As it turned out, the meeting was a storm in a tea cup. The way in which Ed Skinner proceeded through the 400 rounds, left no doubt that he selected himself on the team. The selection issue then became a moot point.
With two finalists in the 400m (Wendell and Ed Skinner) and a semi-finalist (Kent) and a top rated 200400 man (Ed Roberts), the well-informed believed that the Trinidad and Tobago team had a chance of defeating the US team. Even the US camp did not abound with confidence because, Ulis Williams, who had been expected to be the gold medallist before the Games began, had not performed up to expectations because of a sore muscle. In addition, even though Mike Larrabee had won the 400m, US officials had some doubts about him on the anchor leg. Wilton Jackson’s coach at Morgan State College was the sprint coach of the US team and Wendell’s coach, Bob Giegengack, was Head Track Coach of the US team. This afforded Wilton, who was campaigning in the US at that time and who was known by the US athletes, the opportunity to mingle with the US coaches while they were discussing the order in which they would place their athletes in the final. Wilton, and many shared this opinion, believed that Henry Carr was the best 400m runner in the world at that time. Only the 200m and 400m schedules did not permit him to do the double. In the semi-final of the 1600m relay he had run the lead-off leg and Wilton was hoping that he would be wasted in that position in the final. He happened to be in the midst of the US group when they were discussing the running order for the US team. When the US officials made the decision to run Henry Carr on the anchor leg, Jackson declared that he had no choice but to say to them: “Gentlemen, you have just won the race.” So much confidence did Jackson have in Henry Carr that he believed that Carr could give anyone a 10 yard handicap on the last leg and overhaul him.
Ed acquitted himself well in the relay. In the preliminaries the Times (London) reported him as doing a fast 44.8 leg. In the final he was timed in the fastest time of the Trinidad and Tobago team. The splits were as follows in the order in which they ran: Ed Skinner 46.0, Bernard 45.6, Roberts 45.0 and Mottley 45.1. The comparable splits on the US team were: Cassell 46, Larrabee 44.7, Williams 45.3 and Carr 44.7. John Kieran and Arthur Daley had this to say for Carr’s leg: “Carr, toying with the opposition until they’d almost closed the gap on the backstretch, let blast. He won by six yards.” In the final analysis, the US won the race in a new world and Olympic record of 3 minutes 07 seconds while Trinidad and Tobago placed third in the time of 3 minutes 1.7 seconds. In a surprise second place was the British team, if we are to judge by the hopes of the Times (London): “Tomorrow Britain has a chance of a bronze medal behind the Americans and the Trinidadians.” Views differ on why Trinidad and Tobago won the bronze and not the silver. The chapter on Wendell Mottley reveals these differing views.
Ed Roberts has run fast for so many years that even the discerning would have problems pointing out his most outstanding race. Although a bronze medal winner and a finalist in two consecutive Olympic 200m, Ed’s most satisfying race was the 4x400m relay at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in 1966. It was satisfying for three reasons. Firstly, he was a member of the 4x440m team which won a gold medal. Next, he was a member of a team that set a new world record which stands up to today. This record seems to be one to last in perpetuity since this relay is only run in metric measurement today. Finally, it was most satisfying for him because of what had transpired four years earlier at the CAC Games in Jamaica. At those Games, in a relay at the same distance, the experienced George Kerr had stopped Ed from passing him on the outside. George was on the inside on the final leg, and as the straining Ed attempted to pass him on the bend, George let him have the full benefit of his elbow. George, of course, had more experience in the elbow game not only because he was running before Ed, but primarily because the race he ran, the 800m, called for those tactics since it is not run in lanes.
As noted before, Ed does not forget. Defeat him once and he’s coming back at you with a vengeance. As fate would have it, George and Ed clashed in a more prestigious games on the same track in front of many more spectators. Ed, by this time, a more seasoned and experienced campaigner found himself behind George but did not attempt to pass him on the bend. Instead, he bided his time behind George, and as they hit the straight, Ed moved to the outside and sprinted past George with a burst of speed. When Ed handed over the baton to Wendell, the Trinidad and Tobago team had at least ten yards on the Jamaican team.
To Ed, the victory lap with his colleagues Wendell, Kent and Lennox Yearwood was the most satisfying of his career. That race may have been his most satisfying run and it served to observe the solid performances Ed had achieved earlier in the Games—a bronze in the 100 yards and a silver in the 220 yards. The 220 had seemed a most opportune time for Ed to romp home with gold in a major games. But the razor sharp Nigerian, Allotey, had other plans and denied Ed the individual gold in the 220. Two years after the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Ed found himself at his second Olympic Games in Mexico.
When Ed graduated from North Carolina State he ran for Sports International, a club that enabled him to get some meets under his belt. When an athlete graduates from college, he no longer has the regular competitive schedule that allows him to run on a weekly basis as he did in college. Consequently, he has to join a club which participates in open meets which come less frequently. If, however, the athlete is a top competitor, he is invited to meets where his expenses are paid. Ed was a top athlete and thus he fell into this category. Competing with Sports International also permitted him to participate in relays. Therefore, when the Games approached he was in good shape. He had run a fast 200m (20.1) on the straight-away in North Carolina.
When the 200m preliminaries started he led off with a 20.6 and followed it up with a 20.4 in the second round, and repeated the same time in the semi-final. Therefore, he was a model of consistency. Just as four years ago, his top competition came from the American sprinters. In 1964 it was Henry Carr and Paul Drayton and in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Ed got along well with both these athletes since he had competed against them on the US circuit. They called him ‘Latin Louis’ but he claims not to know the origin of the nickname. Ed recalls the semi-final when he was leading Tommie Smith on the curve, and when the latter started his drive to the tape, Tommie encouraged Ed to come along with him. In the final, Ed was confident but nervous. One does not go into a race without emotion— especially an Olympic final. The slight nervousness helps the adrenaline to flow. Ed had the same lane eight on the outside, just as he had in Tokyo. He felt the lowest he could come in the final was third, but when the race ended he had been surprised by the Australian Peter Norman, who had also surprised John Carlos. Ed had finished fourth but he did not feel disappointed.
Ed’s expectation ‘to be third’ was a possibility and no more than a hope. After all, he had been the bronze medal winner in 1964 and he had run faster than he had done in Tokyo up to that point. But the lack of disappointment can be explained by the reality of the situation. Although they had run in separate heats, Norman had run two tenths of a second faster than Ed. Ed believed he could improve his time in the final, but knew that that was a possibility for Norman also. As things happened, both improved their times in the final. Norman ran 20 flat, the same time as third-placed Carlos, while Ed ran his fastest time of his series, 20.3. He could hardly feel disappointment at running at his best.
Two years after Mexico, he made his third trip to the British Commonwealth Games held in Edinburgh. These Games had taken him to Perth, Kingston and Edinburgh, cities located on three continents. He had started to attend these Games when they were the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, and as the Empire receded, he had seen the name of the Games change in 1966 to simply the British Commonwealth Games. At Perth he had competed in the 100 yards and 220, in Kingston he had run the 100 yards, 220 and the mile relay and now in Edinburgh, for the first time, he would run the individual 400m in a major games. Of course, the 400m would be added to his normal diet—competition in the 200m and the 4x400m relay. He had evidently done some special preparation for this 400m because on the eve of the Games, he scored a double in Holland, 21.6 and 47.5. Prior to that he had sped a quick 45.7 on the continent leading the Trinidad Guardian to number him among the favourites for the gold.
The task Roberts had set himself was a tremendous one. After completing the preliminary rounds in the 200m, he would run the 200m final just 70 minutes prior to the start of the 400m preliminaries. He did not have any time to take it easy in the 200m preliminaries either. He had to run three fast preliminaries before landing in the final. He reeled off times of 20.6, 20.8 and 20.7 to get him there. When he reached the final, he met Don Quarrie, who was to become one of the world’s great 200m runners, Peter Norman, the Australian, who had surprised Ed and John Carlos two years earlier in Mexico, and the redoubtable Kenyans Charles Asati and Julius Sang. For the second time in four years Ed had to be content with the silver. He sped a quick 20.6 but Quarrie was at the tape before him in 20.5. As the Trinidad Guardian reported it “Roberts tried his best but he was beaten by a superior world class athlete.”
All this is to indicate the nature of the 200’s that Ed ran before beginning the first of the 400 preliminaries, 70 minutes after the final of the 200m. Again Ed would have to thread his way through three preliminaries if he was going to be a finalist. Kent Bernard was the second Trinidad and Tobago entry in this race. Both he and Benedict Cayenne had been the object of a scathing attack in an opinion piece in the Trinidad Guardian. Kent had run a slow 400(48.7) on the continent prior to these games which prompted the sportswriter to lambaste the selection process and to point out that Cayenne had not been “running as well or as often this year.” When athletes read such press reports, they must chuckle and not take them seriously. By now they should have come to realise the truth of Roger Bannister’s statement on the press. “Every athlete and sportsman,” he wrote, “realises sooner or later the uncertainty of how the Press will react, and that he has to become indifferent to praise or censure. One can hardly expect special sympathy or understanding from critics, especially if they have never been athletes. They must find it difficult to resist pressure to make sensational headlines.” Kent did not win a medal but went on to run a fast 400 final (46.0) placing fifth and beating Ed (46.1) whom the Trinidad Guardian had proclaimed “one of the favourites.” Cayenne ran one of his best races, won silver (1.47.4), and became the nation’s only half-miler to win an individual medal in major international competition.
After receiving his silver medal from Princess Anne, Ed took a short rest, warmed up and was back on the track to run in the first round of the 400. No matter how much an athlete has run earlier in the day, he always has to warm up again to prevent muscle injury, even if he is Ed Roberts and has not been afflicted with muscle problems during his career. He ran his first heat in 47.3 seconds, just being edged out by the Kenyan runner, Nyamau. Both Ed and Kent proceeded to the second round where Ed won his in 46.2 and Kent did 46.8. Things began to wax warm in the semis, with the Kenyan Julius Sang doing 45.9 in the first semi. Ed was not that far behind in third spot in 46.6. Both Trinidad and Tobago entries had made it to the final. Kent was in lane 4 and Ed had picked lane 8. The pace was hot. Asati came back in 45.0, leaving Kent and Ed in his wake doing 46 flat and 46.1 respectively. Kent and Ed finished fifth and sixth.
Ed still had work to do with his colleagues in the 1600m relay. When the preliminaries of the 4x400m were over, it was evident that the Kenyans were going to be the team to beat. They had a star-studded quartet in Nyamau, Sang, Ouku, gold medallist in the 800m, and Asati, gold medallist in the 400m. They won their preliminary in 3.05.1, while the Trinidad and Tobago team won its heat in 3.09.4. The team, in the order they ran the 1600m final, was Melvin Wong Shing, who had run a 21.4 in the second round of the 200m; Benedict Cayenne, who had just run 1.47.4 30 minutes earlier to win the silver in the 800m so it is an understatement to say he was tired; Kent Bernard, a finalist in the 400m (46.0), and Ed. When the first leg had ended the national team was in second spot. Wong Shing had put them there with a gutsy run. But a tired Benedict could not hold it. He fell back to fifth spot as his legs still felt rubbery from the effects of the 800m final. Kent, described as “the most fluent runner” in the 400m field, accelerated past two runners to hand over the baton to Ed in third spot. At the final baton exchange, only Kenya’s Asati and England’s Sherwood were ahead of Ed. Ed duly passed Sherwood, but could make no impression on Asati, the gold medallist in the 400m. Kenya’s time was 3.03.6 and the national team’s 3.05.4. Ed had just made it past Sherwood since England’s time in third spot was 3.05.5.
The country has produced some first rate teams that gave yeoman all round service abroad and returned with several medals. The 1951, 1963 and 1967 Pan American Games teams fall into that category where track personnel, including a walker, a women’s 400m relay team, cyclists, weightlifters, footballers, hockey players won medals. The 1954 and 1966 Commonwealth Games teams also number among the country’s celebrated teams. The 1970 Commonwealth team was the last of the great national teams to leave the shores of Trinidad and Tobago. It manifested the decline in weightlifting, but the athletes and the cyclists performed superbly. When Ed left Edinburgh, he was carrying away two silvers and had made the 400m final. His labours were as follows: 200 – 20.6, 20.8, 20.7 and 20.6; 400 – 47.3, 46.2, 46.0 and 46.1. No times are available for his 400m legs in the 4x400m but one can rest assured that he did at least 46 point and 45 point in them.
Four years earlier he had won medals—bronze, silver and gold—in the 100 yards, 220 yards and the mile relay at these same Games in Kingston. Trinidad and Tobago has not seen an all round sprinter of Roberts’ calibre since his departure from track. It is only a fool who predicts what will happen in track, but it is unlikely that we will be privileged to have an athlete of his calibre in the near future. Many modern day athletes should genuflect when they hear the name ‘Roberts’ in athletics. In the next year, Ed made his first and last appearance at the Pan American Games when they were held in the rarefied atmosphere of Cali, Colombia and he ran the same time with the second-placed, Marshall Dill of the United States, 20.3 seconds, to win a bronze medal. The winner, Don Quarrie, had run a breathtaking 19.8 seconds to set a new Pan American Games record. Never the one to shirk duty, Ed returned in the 4x400m relay to help the team win a bronze medal. Trinidad and Tobago fans had begun to think of him as immortal but these two bronzes at Cali were to be his last medal contribution to his country.
In the years 1970 and 1971, Ed was yet holding his own in top flight world competition. He expected to be in the top three at the Munich Olympics in 1972 but after running 20.9 seconds to place second behind Borzov in the first heat, he was knocked out of contention in the second round in the time of 21 seconds. This, for Ed, was the lowest point of his track career. It was the first time that he had not made an Olympic 200m final. He attributed his listless performance to remaining too long in the sauna which sapped his energy. This was to be Ed’s last international performance. When he left the international scene, he joined that elite band of Herb McKenley, Tommie Smith and Henry Carr who could run the 100m, 200m and 400m in world-class times.
Before Ato Boldon, Ed was the sole national to reach two Olympic finals in the200m. His international career spanned ten years, no mean feat for a sprinter, and he had run with the crème de la crème, the best of his period over 200m. Not only had he run with them (and the list reads like a Who’s Who in 100m and 200m running, Bob Hayes, Henry Carr, Don Quarrie, Harry Jerome, Tommie Smith, Paul Drayton, John Carlos, Pietro Mennea and Enrique Figuerola) but they all knew they were in a race when Ed Roberts was at the starting line. Whenever he stepped up to the 400m in a relay leg, the competitors on the other teams would have to look elsewhere for Trinidad and Tobago’s weak leg. If there was an athlete the celebrated foursome looked to for leadership and inspiration, it was the diminutive Ed Roberts. It comes as no surprise that he was celebrated in song as Hasely Crawford. In reviewing the year 1970 in his Memories of 1970, the Mighty Duke sang "Joey Carew wrested the Shell series from Jamaica, Edwin Roberts sprinted to victory at Guaracara."
Awards have come his way from the two bases from which he campaigned. In the US, for the years 1964 and 1965 he was selected the Most Outstanding Athlete at Quantico Relays and awarded the MVP; he has been inducted into the Hall of Fame at North Carolina State College and named Athlete of the Year at that institution. He has also been the recipient of the Helms Award for the outstanding Athlete in South America and feels proud of the honours conferred on him by his native land—induction into the Sports Hall of Fame in 1987 and the award of the Humming Bird Silver Medal.
During his athletic days, Ed did not pay much attention to diet but confesses to be more diet-conscious now that his competitive days are over. Ed had a successful career but would now incorporate two items in his training habits were he to do it again. The first is a weight programme, and the next is cross country running. During his track career many friends had words of encouragement for him but he singles out Dr. Leroy Walker of North Carolina State College as the one who assisted him most. Ed says: “He worked a lot with me, put out 100% and I learned a lot from him.”
Today Ed lives in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his wife Gail. He returns to Trinidad occasionally. In fact, he plans to return to Trinidad when he retires, and get involved in track. He is in Philadelphia today because the offer of his services to coach in Trinidad and Tobago was rejected by the NAAA, the governing body of athletics in the country. When his running days were drawing to a close and he intimated his wishes to the National Sports Council, that body, under the Chairmanship of Knolly Henderson, recommended Ed to the Prime Minister, who then held the sports portfolio. After approval by the Prime Minister and the NSC, Ed’s name was submitted for approval to the NAAA. According to Knolly Henderson, “after some weeks of haggling among themselves the (NAAA) said no.” They wanted someone else. Henderson continues: “Well we couldn’t do anything more than plead with them to agree with us on our choice of Edwin Roberts, but they stood firm and said no, so the matter died.”
Ed has never left track. He teaches Hygiene and Physical Education in the Philadelphia Public School System and coaches part-time at nearby Beaver College. He is very much involved in master’s track with some Caribbean colleagues in a group called Caribbean Connections. If you attend indoor meets at Madison Square Garden and you see someone dressed like a penguin, it may well be Ed Roberts, for he officiates in many of the major meets there. As does anyone who is dedicated to track and field, Ed has a point of view on some aspects of track in Trinidad and Tobago. He is pleased that the country is returning to the golden standard of athletics in which he played a major part.
On Tuesday (July 31), we feature Ato Boldon.