OLYMPIAN, written by Dr Basil Ince, was published in 2011. The book examines, in detail, the history of Trinidad and Tobago's Olympic
participation. Included in OLYMPIAN are profiles of the country's eight individual Olympic medallists, between 1948 and 2008. Between July 17 and August 9, excerpts from those eight profiles are being featured in the pages of the Trinidad Express. The
profiles, in their entirety, are being published on the
Express website (http://www.trinidadexpress.
Today, we feature quartermiler Wendell Mottley. He secured 400 metres silver at the 1964 Games, in Tokyo, Japan.
It was the tenth day of the Olympics held in Tokyo in 1964 and Trinbagonians waited with bated breath. There was the distinct possibility that Trinidad and Tobago would win its first gold medal in the Olympic Games.
The closest the country had ever come to winning gold was back in 1948 when the 'Mighty Midget' from the South, Rodney Wilkes, had placed second to the Egyptian, Mahmoud Fayad, in the featherweight division in the weightlifting competition in London. Fifteen kilos had separated Rodney from the gold.
Had Rodney won, there would have been joy and celebration in Trinidad but nothing of the order of what would have greeted a gold medallist in 1964.
For one thing Trinidad had not yet become independent and the nationalism that was to grow, especially after the Chaguaramas Base issue, had not yet reached that level. In addition, the Olympic Games had not yet made the impact on Trinbagonians as they do today. In fact when Trinidad and Tobago's most successful team in history returned from the Olympic Games in 1952, there was no one to greet them officially at the airport.
Rodney Wilkes and Lennox Kilgour, a two-man team, had returned with two medals-a 100% success. No other Trinbago team has duplicated this feat and is highly unlikely to do so in the future. It is a record that will stand in perpetuity.
But who was this young man who had captured the imagination and attention of the people of Trinidad and Tobago? He was a slim 5' 8" foot bespectacled young man who had recently graduated from Yale University and had continued his running career at that institution after winning the Victor Ludorum at Queen's Royal College in 1959.
The basis of the people's hopes was not without foundation. Wendell Mottley had begun his search for gold in the 400m with a searing 45.9 seconds in the very first round. It was three tenths of a second faster than the next fastest time in that round. Perhaps he had gone too fast.
Later that evening Wendell returned to clock a tenth of a second faster in his second round heat. On this occasion his 45.8 seconds was four tenths of a second faster than that of Olan Cassell (USA), who had the next fastest time.
The heats were not easy. The schedule was a harsh one and taxed the physical resources of all the competitors who advanced through the rounds.
"What helped me," Wendell recalls, "was using one of those huge Japanese masseurs. He was able to ease the muscles out and rid them of some of the strain, so that I went back on to the track for the next rounds of heats feeling as new as when I first went into the heats."
The semi-final would tell the people of Trinidad and Tobago if Wendell's intentions were sincere. They discovered the sincerity of his intentions when he again clocked another sub-46 time. This time he eased up in 45.9 seconds and was nudged into second place by the British hope, Robert Brightwell, who clocked 45.7 seconds.
Either Wendell had realised it himself or someone had told him that he had gone too fast in the early rounds which would take the spring out of his legs for the final.
Such consistency—45.9, 45.8, 45.9—to put it mildly, had raised the hopes of all Trinbagonians. And that is precisely why they waited with bated breath, on the tenth day of the Games, Monday, October 18, 1964 at 2 pm.
Wendell was in the 400m final and excitement was running fever high. Wendell himself was confident. Unlike many other finalists who had had difficulty sleeping the night before the final, Wendell had slept like a baby. Why not?
"Everything had been done and there was nothing else to do," he informed matterof-factly.
He was in lane seven but this did not faze him.
"It did not bother me running in the outer lane because I more or less ran my own race paced by myself."
One of his key rivals, Ulis Williams of the United States, was ahead of him in lane eight, but all the other competitors were behind him where they could see what Wendell was doing and key off on him.
At the gun Wendell was off at a quick pace. At the 200m mark he was in the lead having done 21.6. Right behind him were Badenski (Poland), Williams (USA) and Brightwell (Britain). As the runners moved around the turn, Larrabee (USA) who was in lane five began to improve his position but he caught only Ed Skinner, Trinidad and Tobago's other finalist in the race. As the runners hit the straight, the order was Mottley, Badenski, Brightwell, Williams and Larrabee.
Wendell picks it up: "I thought that I had the race won coming off the final turn. I was out front and I could actually taste the gold."
Larrabee had other ideas. He had consistently come from behind in all his heats and he was about to do it again. Pumping his arms furiously, he went past all those in front of him save Wendell whom he caught about 10 metres from the tape.
Larrabee's time was 45.1, while Wendell's was 45.2, not far from the time he had done while working out with the American team in California over the summer. Larrabee had pipped Wendell at the tape just as he had pipped Ulis Williams at the tape at the American trials.
The Trinidad and Tobago public was delighted with the silver, but would have been ecstatic, as Wendell would have been, had he struck gold. All Trinbagonians would have to wait a dozen more years to see the gold.
The 'gold' is, in fact, a prize medal 60 millimeters or 2 3/8 inches in diameter and 3 millimeters or 1/8 inch thick, strongly guilded with at least six grams of gold.
Would winning the gold have made any difference in Wendell's life?
"I suppose superficially it might have been different," he conjectures, "but I can't say that there might have been any major changes. I mean, there might have been more razmatazz, but I have more or less lived my life and called my own shots."
For the full Wendell Mottley
profile and other articles,
log on to http://www.trinidad
On Thursday, August 9, we
feature Hasely Crawford.