Trinidad and Tobago enjoyed a four-medal Olympic haul for the first time in the country’s history at the 2012 London Games. T&T’s previous best was the three-medal haul at the 1964 Games in Tokyo, Japan.
It took almost a half-century to see improvement, and National Association of Athletics Administrations (NAAA) president Ephraim Serrette is keen to ensure there will not be another protracted waiting period for the citizens of T&T. In fact, he is expecting a six-medal haul at the very next Olympics—the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“Based on some of the measurement tools we are working with, we are looking at an increase of about two medals on our London performance. This is something we share with the athletes…what are our expectations.”
Keshorn Walcott’s surprise gold in the men’s javelin, together with three bronze medals on the track--Lalonde Gordon in the men’s 400 metres, and the men’s 4x100m and 4x400m teams—made London 2012 an Olympic Games to remember.
Jehue Gordon then kept T&T in the track and field spotlight, becoming the country’s second-ever senior global athletics gold medallist with victory in the men’s 400m hurdles at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
Global titles in back-to-back years--an indicator that athletics is on the rise here in T&T. In an interview with a group of international journalists, Serrette zoned in on the factors he believes are responsible for the upward swing.
“The new vision of this executive and the communication lines that have been opened up. The technology is now allowing us to communicate much better with athletes so we know exactly what’s happening with them. We try to have enough information, a relationship with their coaches and their entire team, so we have a better planning process.
“In a given year like the year of the Olympics, we try to liaise with the schools (American universities). Having competed in that arena, I know the coaches are looking to score points. We have developed relationships with some of the coaches, who will try to work with us so that they don’t run the athletes ragged in a year when we have those types of competitions.”
Serrette says Walcott’s Olympic success and Jehue’s World Championship triumph have heightened the interest here at home in their respective events.
“We are seeing many more javelin throwers. We have young Shakeil Waithe who at our Carifta trials this year had a distance of 72.15 metres. We have another athlete in Aaron Enill, a newcomer. He’s a goalkeeper from football coming into the sport, and he has been performing pretty well."
Waithe has been enjoying a very successful season. The Tobago thrower earned Carifta Games and Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Junior Championship boys’ under-20 gold. He captured the NGC/Sagicor National Open Track & Field Championship title as well, topping the field with a personal best 72.75m hurl.
Nineteen-year-old Waithe is eighth on the 2014 global under-20 performance list, and will be a genuine medal contender at the July 22-27 IAAF World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon, USA.
An even younger Tobago thrower has also been showing world class potential.
“We have young Tyriq Horsford who is coming out of our Age-group Championship team. As a 14-year-old he’s on the Carifta team, and he has had some good distances as well.”
In April, at the Falcon Games here in T&T, Horsford threw the 700-gramme javelin an impressive 62.21m. And one week later, competing against 16 and 17-year-olds at the Carifta Games in Martinique, he finished fourth in the boys’ under-18 javelin.
Serrette says the national throws and jumps programme has been very successful.
“The area we’re still struggling with is to develop a national track programme. That’s a difficult one because coaches hold their athletes dear to them and would not release them into a national programme. I don’t think we have matured to that stage as yet.”
The NAAA president is keen to restructure the administrative framework of his organisation.
“Sport now is big business. We are hoping in the near future we will be able to attract sponsors so that we could be self sufficient and in a much more sustainable position to manage a structure that would take the sport to the next level.
“I say that with respect to probably having the types of skill sets needed to run a business organisation--marketing, CEO, people who can bring funding to the association.”
Whatever methods are employed, the litmus test of success is global precious metal. The 2015 IAAF World Championships and 2016 Olympic Games will determine whether athletics in T&T is indeed on the rise.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Trinidad Express writer Kwame Laurence is among a select group of sports journalists chosen to be part of the latest IAAF Day in the Life series, a project featuring some of the Caribbean's best athletes as well as other major players in the sport of track and field. This week’s article is the last of 15 instalments. Thanks for reading.