RIO GOAL: Marsha Mark-Baird competes in the women’s heptathlon high jump at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The Trinidad and Tobago athlete is targeting the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Mark-Baird targets ‘40s Olympic Club’
Kwame Laurence email@example.com
What do swimmer Dara Torres and table tennis player Dexter St Louis have in common? They competed at the Olympic Games in their 40s.
At 41, Torres earned three silver medals for United States at the 2008 Beijing Games.
St Louis was also in Beijing. Forty at the time, Trinidad and Tobago’s best ever player represented the Red, White and Black in the men’s singles event.
Another T&T athlete, Marsha Mark-Baird is keen to join the “40s Olympic Club” at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Mark-Baird’s last heptathlon was more than nine years ago, at the 2004 Athens Olympics. She closed that chapter of her career in style, setting a national record--5,962 points--that is still in the books.
Stand by for a brand new chapter. Mark-Baird is planning a comeback in 2014. The Brigham Young University (BYU) graduate is 39, but will be 40 by the time she tackles her next heptathlon. But the 2014 season is just a stepping stone for the US-based athlete, on the Road to Rio.
“Rio is the bigger picture,” Mark-Baird tells the Express. “Along the way I intend to inspire the youth especially those in T&T. Getting through the 2014 season will be a trial year to prepare for the big picture. The year 2015 I hope to be better than I was in 2004. My goal is to score the ‘A’ standard this time around. I’m hoping to do this during the 2015 season so the Olympic year can be more of a prep year than stressing about making the team.”
Mark-Baird came close to 6,000 points at the 2004 Olympics. The 38 points between her 5,962 personal best and the 6,000 barrier was one of the factors that inspired plans for a comeback.
“During the 800 in Athens I thought it would be my last 800 and didn’t even think about breaking the 6,000 barrier. This time around I hope to go over and beyond that 6,000 mark.”
Like St Louis, Mark-Baird is a two-time Olympian. She made her Olympic debut at the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia, and followed up with her Athens swansong. In Sydney, the Utah resident finished 22nd with 5,627 points. And four years later, she produced the national record total of 5,962, but slipped to 25th.
The veteran heptathlete insists that in spite of her age, the nine-year-old T&T record is breakable.
“It has to be, or there is no point coming back. I plan to smash that record a few times between 2014 and 2016. At 40, who knows what the body is capable of until it’s put to the test. I plan on doing mostly open events next year and one or two heptathlons.
“Top 10 is my goal (in Rio),” she continues. “I know I will have to score around 6,300-6,500. I’m so up for the challenge! Also, I want to make it known to the world that it does not matter your age, you can achieve things most would say impossible, and to make sure the youth of Trinidad and Tobago know the multi-events are fun and not bad. With everything there is hard work. With the heptathlon you just have to work a little harder, and have a lot of fun doing it.”
Mark-Baird has not yet finalised plans for her comeback heptathlon.
“I’m thinking it would be on my practice turf at BYU or in California at one of the bigger meets. I’m not quite sure because it all depends on sponsorship for travel and other expenses.”
On the Road to Rio, Mark-Baird has the support of her husband Greg Baird. He is Marsha’s manager, but will also play a crucial role in managing the household, ensuring the needs of their three young sons—Mark, Ty and London—are met while mummy prepares for her Olympic challenge.
For the past year, Mark-Baird has been training at the track between 5.30 a.m. and 7 a.m. She then returns home, and her husband heads to work.
“These are perfect training hours for me. I get it all done while everyone is asleep. During the fall and winter it’s still dark out, but in the summer I see the sunrise every morning while on the track. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I do my lifting from 7-8 a.m. in my basement. Once again these hours are perfect for me because the kids are still sleeping and it’s quiet.
“The only disadvantage,” she continues, “is I don’t get to do my boxing as much as I’d like because it’s really loud punching my punching bag that early in the morning. I also bike three days a week on my stationary bike after the kids go to bed.”
Mark-Baird is not joking when she says “The Olympics is in my blood”. The naming of her last son, London, was linked to her comeback plans.
“Wanted to come back for (London) 2012, but that did not happen because I did not make it happen. I sat on my butt hoping for a sponsor, and did not get one. This time around it’s not going to pass me by. I’m getting ready, and will be ready come 2016.”
Mark-Baird is excited about the latest chapter in her career, and wants as many people as possible to join the Road to Rio campaign by following her on Facebook (https://facebook.com/Trini2Rio) and Twitter (@Trini2Rio).
Mark-Baird says that while she has a couple options as she embarks on Project Rio, there is only one she wants to pursue.
“I do have dual citizenship, and a lot of people want me to go for the US team. I’ve been told by many the US will have better sponsorship and great advantages. That may be true. However, there is pride in competing for Trinidad and Tobago. I have done every international meet, including two Olympics, and just have to continue the tradition. I would not trade competing for T&T just to get more sponsors. I love the USA because it’s my home now, but T&T was my home first.”
Mark-Baird’s journey has been a long one, taking her to back-to-back Olympics, in Sydney and Athens. If she succeeds in qualifying for Rio 2016, the Point Fortin girl is sure to make headlines, for it would be no mean feat for a 42-year-old to compete on the world’s biggest sporting stage in an event as gruelling as the seven-discipline heptathlon.