"He doesn't know what he has done."
This assessment of Keshorn Walcott was made in the press area in the underbelly of the Olympic Stadium, in London, England, on the night of August 11.
Earlier, the 19-year-old had shocked the world, myself included, by grabbing gold in the men's javelin.
Many chapters of history were written with his winning throw of 84.58 metres: youngest ever Olympic javelin champion; first athlete to win an individual Olympic title and a world junior title in the same year; Trinidad and Tobago's second ever Olympic gold medallist.
The list goes on, Walcott's big second round effort earning him headlines locally, regionally and internationally. Not surprisingly, he got a lot of coverage in Finland. At any track and field meet, the Finns pay particular attention to the javelin event. And rightly so. Of the 24 Olympic men's javelin gold medals awarded between 1908 and 2012, seven have gone to Finns.
Six more Olympic men's javelin titles have been earned by Scandanavians—three going to Sweden and another three to Norway. Of the remaining 11 titles, nine were claimed by European athletes, and just two by athletes from this side of the Atlantic, Walcott joining American Cy Young, the 1952 champion, on the Olympic honour roll. So, the lopsided count reads: Europe—22; western hemisphere-2.
Walcott's triumph, therefore, represents a major breakthrough for athletes from this part of the world.
Even more significant is the fact that Walcott is the first ever black male Olympic throwing champion. Yes, of the 106 Olympic gold medals awarded in the men's shot put, discus, hammer throw and javelin events, Toco field athlete Keshorn Walcott is the only black to receive one. Add the ten gold medals earned in seven discontinued events—stone throw, shot (both hands), 56-pound weight throw, discus (Greek-style), discus (both hands), javelin (freestyle), and javelin (both hands)—and the Walcott statistic improves to one out of 116.
But don't get me wrong. This is not about black power, or anything like that. This is an acknowledgement that T&T has opened a door that had been locked for all of 116 years, between 1896--when the Modern Olympics was first staged in Athens, Greece--and 2012.
More importantly, there is the hope—and it is a realistic one—that other athletes from T&T, and indeed the wider Caribbean, will follow in the path that was so dramatically cleared by Walcott in the English capital more than two-and-a-half months ago.
The region had sounded a warning in July, at the World Junior Championships, in Barcelona, Spain. Walcott struck gold in the men's javelin, and Jamaican Fedrick Dacres did the same in the men's discus. Surely, this was a sign of things to come for the English-speaking Caribbean.
That gold would come on the biggest global sporting stage just one month later could not have been predicted. To anyone who said, "I knew Walcott would win Olympic gold", I strongly suggest you contact Robert Nelson. I'm sure that Robert—you may know him as Lord Nelson—would be only too happy to add a new verse to his popular 1977 ditty, "King Liar".
"You hear lie? That is lie!"
There's absolutely no logic to support a prediction that Walcott would beat the quality field that assembled in London. The T&T teen went into the Olympics with an 82.83m personal best, and in the final he squared off against two members of the elite 90-metre club: Norway's two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen, who is sixth on the world all-time list at 91.59m; and Finland's Tero Pitkamaki, the all-time number seven at 91.53m.
Four months before his Olympic triumph, Walcott completed a hat-trick of Carifta Games boys' under-20 victories with a then personal best 77.59m. At that stage, even an airline ticket to London was not a sure thing.
"This year is all about the World Juniors," Walcott told the Express, after his Carifta victory. "Go out there, do my best, get a medal. And then, I don't know, possibly qualify for the Olympics. That would be great."
It's now history that Walcott did better than great.
But while unexpected, this was no overnight success. For three years, a dedicated Walcott laboured tirelessly under the guidance of his Cuban coach, Ismael Lopez Mastrapa. Committed to his craft, the youngster is every coach's dream.
"He doesn't miss any training sessions," Lopez Mastrapa tells the Express. "He would show up with fever, and I would have to send him home to rest."
Lopez Mastrapa has a lot to do with Walcott's Olympic success, his influential role earning him the North America, Central America and Caribbean Athletics Association (NACAC) Coach of the Year award.
It is a deserving accolade, for it takes a special quality to transform raw talent into Olympic gold. Much of the credit for Walcott's pioneering performance goes to the Cuban throws coach, who, thankfully, is now resident in T&T through marriage.
Lopez Mastrapa has already said there are more Keshorn Walcotts here in T&T. Based on the coach's assessment, T&T in this instance could stand for Toco and Tobago, for these are the areas he has singled out as rich harvest fields of throwing talent.
But for the country to consistently reap Olympic rewards, Lopez Mastrapa must be provided with all the tools necessary to sow effectively. High up on the Cuban's wish list would be a field events facility, where he would be able to conduct his programme without having to worry about the scheduling of football matches.
Sequels to the Walcott success story are waiting to be written. Where the subjects of these stories will come from is not certain. They could emerge from among Lopez Mastrapa's current charges--a stable of field athletes that includes discus thrower Quincy Wilson and shot putter Hezekiel Romeo. Or maybe, there are young Olympic champions walking the streets of T&T waiting to be discovered. Perhaps, both groups will generate thrilling sequels.
Exactly how things will unfold, I cannot say. What I do know, however, is that Lopez Mastrapa is on to something, and no effort or expense should be spared to ensure that the door opened by Walcott remains open in a sustained bid for further Olympic success.