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Making sense of the numbers

By Fazeer Mohammed

Did we overachieve or underachieve in Glasgow?
A tally of eight medals (three silvers and five bronzes) and 22nd position in the final standings represent the bare facts of Trinidad and Tobago’s presence at the 20th Commonwealth Games. As with almost anything else though, those numbers have to be placed in context.
That medal haul is just one short of the nine brought home by the squad that competed at the 1966 Games in Kingston. However, the performances then were certainly much more praiseworthy as there were five gold medals (two by cyclist Roger Gibbon and one each by weightlifter Hugo Gittens, quarter-miler Wendell Mottley and the mile relay quartet of Edwin Roberts, Kent Bernard, Lennox Yearwood and Mottley) along with two silvers and two bronzes to be celebrated by a nation in only its fifth year of independence.
Incidentally, hosts Jamaica, who were just a few days ahead of T&T in declaring their independence in 1962, did not have a single gold medal moment to enjoy, although their competitors claimed four silver and eight bronze medals. They had to settle for 16th spot in the final standings while their arch-rivals at the other end of the Caribbean chain shared fifth place with Ghana.
Of course it was very different in Glasgow with the Jamaicans underlining their status as the pre-eminent nation in sprint events with an overall tally of 22 medals, including ten gold, four silver and eight bronze. They were by far the top Caribbean nation in a table headed by England who have made the short journey across the border with 174 medals (58 gold, 59 silver, 57 bronze) in their possession.
Let’s look at the numbers from another angle – per capita.
We know it’s not accurate but let’s go with the official Trinidad and Tobago population of 1.3 million and acknowledge that eight medals for such a small country is very good indeed. Yet, as was just mentioned, Jamaica are coming back with 22 and their population is 2.7 million. Hosts Scotland, a nation of 5.3 million people, racked up 53 medals, including 19 golds. New Zealand, population 4.4 million, are on their way back to the South Pacific with 14 gold medals in their tally of 45.
So on a medal-to-population basis, we aren’t the phenomenal overachievers that we may like to think we are.
Comparing this effort with what transpired in Delhi at the last edition of the Commonwealth Games in 2010, Trinidad and Tobago obviously fared better four years later as the contingent returned from India with six medals (four silvers and two bronzes).
One consistent element though across all editions of the Commonwealth, Olympics and other multi-sport events is the dominance of track and field athletics in bringing success to the twin-island state. Other sports – notably cycling, swimming, weightlifting, shooting and boxing - have churned out the occasional outstanding representative, but it’s invariably at the athletics venue where the red, white and black has had its greatest successes.
Here we’re seeing a shift as well. We remain a force to reckon with in the sprints in both male and female competition, although the disappointing returns in the men’s 100 metres especially, when there was no Trinidad and Tobago representative in the final despite the pre-Games form of Richard Thompson and Keston Bledman especially, was more than a little puzzling.
But it’s in the field events where the country is going from strength to strength. Keshorn Walcott in the javelin and shot putter Cleopatra Borel accounted for two of the three silvers in Scotland. Jehue Gordon, whose success in the 400-metre hurdles will surely inspire more than a few to take up the challenging discipline, claimed the other.
In the cases of Walcott and Gordon, the reigning Olympic and world champions respectively, gold medals would have been in their sights at Hampden Park. However in such elite-level competition, we should have come to the realisation by now that all it takes is a minimal deviation from the highest standard for the top prize to be left dangling tantalisingly out of reach.
Someone was asking on Friday afternoon if Walcott’s national record throw of 85.28 metres in qualifying would have been carried forward as the mark to beat in Saturday’s final. Clearly on the basis of that effort he had the form to take gold 24 hours later. But that’s what makes these events such a test of temperament as well as skill.
As in London two years ago, when our boy from Toco was the unsung and unheralded man of the moment, Kenya’s Julius Yego stepped up to take the Commonwealth crown.
It goes without saying that you can’t win them all. Still, it’s important after events like these to get a better understanding of what the final numbers mean.
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