I was not surprised at George Bovell's admission that he should not have been the winner of the Sports Personality of the Year award. I had interviewed Bovell for a book and came away with the impression that he was an extraordinary young man. My sentiments were confirmed with his donation to Rodney Wilkes, our first Olympic medallist.
The Sports Personality of the Year award should have gone to Keshorn Walcott who won gold in the javelin. The Olympic Games are the Mt Everest of Olympic sports and to win the gold there says something. An athlete cannot climb any higher and we should know how difficult it is for countries our size to win Olympic gold.
It took us 36 years to get our second gold. In descending order, the World Championships come next, but although of high quality competition, they suffer in comparison with the Olympics because they do not have Olympian prestige and are held biennially. Next are the Pan American and Commonwealth Games, which make up the Big Four in which Trinbago athletes compete regularly.
Before the advent of the World Championships and the professionalization of track and field in the early 1980s, the Pan Am Games were of a higher standard than the Commonwealth Games because Olympic winners and world record holders participated in track events, the very events in which Trinidad and Tobago was strong. At that time the United States was cock-of-the-walk in the sprints. There is not much to separate both games today. The CAC Games are below the Big Four in quality, regional in scope, and cannot be used as a marker for Olympian success although a few of their athletes have advanced to Olympic medal status.
Bovell had a very successful season after finishing seventh in the 50m freestyle at the Olympics. That's the meet that counts. Any meets coming after the Olympic Games may be important for self-gratification. All meets are not created equal. The World Championships at which Bovell won bronze in the 100 IM would add minimal to his ranking because it was done in the short course pool. The Olympics take place in the long course pool.
Records set in short course events are analogous to those set at indoor track meets which do not count outdoors at the Olympic Games. There were great indoor runners who could not even make an Olympic team. All that said, does not detract from Bovell being a world-class swimmer, the first Trinbagonian in his discipline to medal at the Olympics, and a competitor of great intestinal fortitude. Witness his swimming with an injured shoulder in Athens and winning a medal in the 200 IM, moving from the 200 IM to compete in the 50m because of injury, and reaching an Olympic final after his horrific accident in 2011.
My rankings in order of merit for the Sports Personality award are: Keshorn Walcott; Lalonde Gordon, two bronzes in the 400m and 1600m relay; the 100m and 400m relay teams which both won bronze medals; Njisane Phillip, fourth in the match sprint: this young man stands on the cusp of becoming our first Olympic medallist in cycling; Jehue Gordon and Kelly-Ann Baptiste for fifth place, both having finished sixth in the 400m hurdles and 100m respectively; George Bovell, sixth in the 50m free style; and Richard Thompson, seventh in the 100m.
A note: Keshorn is the second man in this hemisphere to win gold in the javelin but the fourth to bring home gold. Two Cuban women, Maria Colon and Osleidys Menendez, won Olympic gold in 1980 and 2004 respectively. The foreign press does not always get it right. Let me shamelessly promote my new book, Black Meteors: The Caribbean in International Track and Field where all this information can be found.
I share Fazeer Mohammed's enthusiasm for Keshorn's future, and also agree with Ismael Lopez Mastrapa's (Keshorn's coach) intention to take his charge abroad (Cuba and Europe) to train.
All the best for the New Year.