Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Countdown on for Keshorn


MAN OF THE MOMENT: Keshorn Walcott

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He is indeed a class apart, but George Bovell himself agrees that there really should be no debate over Keshorn Walcott being our top sporting performer of the year.

Even as he somewhat sheepishly, yet gratefully accepted the award on Friday morning as the TV6 Viewers' Choice Sports Personality of the Year, our greatest-ever swimmer acknowledged that he would have voted for the 19-year-old, who stunned the sporting world and shattered all precedents in becoming only Trinidad and Tobago's second-ever Olympic gold medallist in an event—the men's javelin—in which this country, this region, indeed the entire Western Hemisphere (with one exception in 1952) has no tradition or history of success on sport's greatest stage.

Look, this is not about making a big song and dance about a text message-based, anonymous television poll or necessarily rubbishing the concept just because Walcott finished a fairly distant second (28 per cent as against Bovell's 38 percent of the 2,782 votes received). In this highly-interactive media era, it keeps viewers involved and often makes for a lively and occasionally over-heated exchange of views. In fact, it can be argued that such unexpected results make for good television, for monotony and predictability are almost cuss-words in this ultra-competitive environment.

Later on Friday, at another, more celebrated event—the second annual Spirit of Sport Awards—Walcott prevailed over the other contenders in four of five categories, including the Sport Performance of the Year, which was decided purely on votes from the general public. That he was also named Breakthrough Athlete of the Year confirmed that, never mind what any of the so-called experts may have us believe in hindsight, the Toco boy's historic triumph on the final day of track and field competition was totally unexpected.

Even now, even as we reflect on his incredible achievement and gaze upon the images of his winning 84.58-metre throw, his receiving the gold medal and watching the National Flag raised and National Anthem played almost five months ago, and then see him cradling those four SOSA awards at Queen's Hall, I think the sheer unexpectedness of it, never mind that it was at the Olympics, still has many of us struggling to appreciate the enormity of his achievement.

As Bovell points out, success at the Olympics is really "the big one," and for a teenager from a country with no tradition in the discipline to upstage vastly more experienced competitors, including the two-time defending champion, equates to a massive upset that is almost without parallel in the entire history of sport.  Maybe that's why it really hasn't dawned on us yet as to the scope of his accomplishment: we just don't know enough about javelin competition—its history, its complexities, its context—to properly appreciate the effort.

In searching for something to rival his achievement, the best I can manage is the historic first appearance of a four-man bobsleigh team from Jamaica at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary. Of course that experience was romanticised and immortalised in the 1993 movie "Cool Runnings," but the facts are that as much as the Canadian fans warmed to the efforts and enthusiasm of the determined but outclassed boys from the Caribbean, they didn't actually finish the event after crashing out in one of their four runs.

Whether or not Walcott inspires a successful major motion picture ("Cool Runnings" took in over US$150 million at box offices worldwide) remains to be seen. What is without doubt however is he has scaled the very pinnacle of his sport and has only Hasely Crawford for company among citizens of this country who carry the title of "Olympic champion."

Just as Bovell's longevity and consistency in swimming has forced us all—media and general public alike—to have a greater understanding and appreciation for the sport in all its intricacies and varieties, so too are we now challenged to have a better sense of what the javelin is all about so that we won't be caught completely unawares when, if all goes according to plan, he seeks to prove his Olympic success was no fluke when he competes at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow.

Not surprisingly, there are some who are quietly wondering if this has all come too soon and too suddenly for the soft-spoken young man from the village of Trois Roches.

The worry is that the adulation, attention and material benefits will affect his competitive focus, while the array of experienced world-class talent upset by the underdog will be supremely motivated to restore the previously established balance of power in the Russian capital and at other major events on the international circuit next year.

Of course the hope, if not the expectation, is that he will grow from strength to strength and dominate the event for a long, long time, inspiring many others to take up the discipline here, for there is nothing like success to trigger imitation. But even if it all goes terribly wrong, even if, for whatever reason, he fails to build on this elevated platform, nothing or no-one can ever detract from Walcott's phenomenal achievement on August 11 of this year when he beat the best of the best in sport's ultimate showpiece.

For him, the countdown is on. Not to midnight tonight, but to the preliminary round of the men's javelin in Moscow on August 6, 2013 and, if all goes well, the confirmation of his status as the quiet young king of the javelin two days later.

Tick tock Keshorn.