Tobago’s Akeem Stewart was rewarded for his double gold medal success at the Para-Pan Games in Toronto in August with a cheque for US$6,000 presented by the president of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) Brian Lewis at the Conference Room of the Division of the Education, Youth Affairs and Sport in Scarborough, Tobago on Thursday.
Njisane aiming to complete Pan Am set with gold in 2019
Njisane Phillip may have been pipped to the gold medal by Canadian Hugo Barette at the recently-concluded Pan American Games, but he’s still confident of winning gold at the event in four years’ time.
The Trinidad and Tobago sprint cyclist improved on his bronze medal performance from 2011 in the match sprint, pedalling away with the silver medal at last month’s Games in Toronto, Canada.
“To me it was a great experience and I really enjoyed it,” he said. “Hugo and I actually trained a couple years together in Los Angeles, and he got the better of me this time,” said Phillip.
However, the narrow defeat hasn’t dampened the ambition of the current national champion. “It was great competition though, I left everything on the line and I’m happy with it.”
His attitude exemplifies his professionalism, and appetite for competition. “You know, I love competition, so I’m always down for being able to compete at the highest level,” added Phillip. “I try to stay focused and improve in areas that I need improving.”
At the moment, Phillip is currently 32nd in the UCI rankings in sprint cycling. The UCI ranking system is what allows cyclists to qualify for the various World Cups and regional cycling championships, such as the Pan Am Games. Participation in these competitions give cyclists the opportunity to qualify for the Olympic Games.
“Currently my ranking is not where it should be right now,” he said. “I had a late start to the season, and I think towards the end of the season I would be able to go into the top-ten of the rankings and that’s definitely one of my aims.”
The next competition on the calendar for the Rigtech Sonics rider is the Pan American Cycling Championships next month in Chile. “I have a lot of workouts this year, and I’m really looking forward to the end of the season because I think it will be a great one for me.”
The Pan American Cycling Championships takes place in Santiago, Chile from September 1-6.
Success at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, which ended at the weekend, should not be used to mask the failing systems that exist in sports, says Brian Lewis, president of the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC).
T&T secured eight medals, three gold; three silver and two bronze but Lewis said the country should not be conned.
Lewis said: “I don’t want us to use that to cover the shortcomings and gaps that exist in the sports system in T&T. Much more have to be done. I do believe the best is yet to come.”
While medals were being won at the Pan American Games, said Lewis, many sporting disciplines in T&T, still did not have access to the country’s sporting facilities. Further, so-called sport fans were not committed to their preferred sport and the athletes that specialise in it, until the athletes were engaged in a do or die contest.
“We are building a lot of facilities, but there has to be a stadium use policy because as much as we are doing, a number of sportsmen and women and a number of national teams don’t have access to the facilities in the volume and times that they need,” he said.
Lewis described as “interesting” recent developments in the sports sector related to public/private partnerships. He has been paying particular attention to remarks by sports minister Brent Sancho who was on record declaring that sporting facilities must earn revenue and ultimately pay their way.
The TTOC officials and the line minister were at odds on this issue, however.
“I don’t know what the context of that is, but that needs to be very carefully thought through and discussed. If it is a Government policy and they make sport one of the key pillars of national development, then they will see the investment in sport as just that, an investment rather than as expenditure. From a policy perspective, I don’t see anybody saying that schools must be revenue earners; that health facilities must be revenue earners; that the national security facilities–the fire stations and the police stations–must be revenue earners,” said Lewis.
He added: “I am saying if sports facilities must be revenue earners in and of their own right, you are really telling me that you are not giving sport the same consideration and prioritisation that you are giving health, education and national security. I firmly believe that sport is an important aspect of national development.
“We see countries such as Singapore and Qatar and Brazil that have made sports a key part of whatever big vision they have for their sustainable development. We really need to get the policy makers and the politicians into that head space where sport is concern.”
But despite those issues, Lewis said the TTOC remained athlete focused and described the efforts of his executive and the initiatives to be achieved, as work in progress.
“As far as I am concerned, there is much more that the Olympic Committee can do and must do and I also think that the Olympic Committee cannot do it alone. Even in the context of ten or more Olympic gold medals by the year 2024, it must become more than a TTOC goal. It must become a national goal.
“There are gaps, there are weaknesses, there and short comings and short falls in the sports system in T&T and we need to address them, because if we don’t address them we are not going to be able to help our athletes push on to their full potential.” Lewis said.
Championship medals don't happen by chance, especially in an event with as many variables as the sprint relay. At the recently held Pan Am Games in Toronto, Trinidad and Tobago came home with two relay medals, gold in the men’s 4x400 and bronze in the men’s 4x100. Sprint relay events are always tricky because of the number of variables involved. Not only do competitors have to run fast, they must also get the baton around the track without leaving their lanes, and in the case of the 4x100 within a clearly demarcated “take over zone.” Failure to do either of these things can result in disqualification.
Putting together a successful relay team is also not simply a matter of selecting your fastest runners. Nic-Connor Alexander, Olympian, former NCAA Division 2 champion in the 100 and 200metres and a certified USATF and IAAF coach, who is based at ZC Athletics in San Fernando was in charge of the men’s 4x100 team at Pan Am. Of putting together the relay team Alexander who has over fifteen years of sprinting experience, and who gave up a vacation to coach the team said, “Putting together a relay team is not as easy as one would think. As coaches we need to know the strengths and weaknesses of the six people that make up the team. With the absence of Richard Thompson and Marc Burns, we had to rebuild the team and get it right within a few days. During practice everyone ran in different positions before we came up with the final order. For the semi-final race we had four possible combinations that that we could have run depending on the outcome of races that ran earlier that day.”
The relay team of Keston Bledman, Rondel Sorillo, Emmanuel Callendar, Dan-Neil Telesford and silver medallist in the men’s 110 hurdles Mikel Thomas qualified easily for the finals by winning their semi-final in a time of 38.52 with few hiccups in getting the baton around the track. On the night of the finals, Thomas was given a well-deserved rest with Rondel Sorillo, Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callendar and Dan-Neil Telesford stepping up to finish the race in a time 38.69. Unofficial results had them as fourth, an agonizing .01 seconds outside of the medals with Canada first, the United States second and Brazil third. Alexander however like his coaching counterparts from the USA and Brazil had spotted an infraction by the Canadian team during their third hand over.
Along with coaches from the USA and Brazil, Alexander asked for a formal review of the race and was told that each coach would have the opportunity to review the race individually. Alexander spotted the infraction after a close review and told the guys, “We may get a medal so don’t worry,” although he was really thinking I am not leaving here without a medal. When the race referee refused to let an official from the USA review the race after Alexander and his Brazilian counterpart spotted infractions, a formal protest was launched. That challenge was ultimately successful and Canada was disqualified for leaving their lane. Antigua and Barbuda were also disqualified for passing the baton outside the takeover zone, leaving the United States with the gold, Brazil with the Silver and Trinidad and Tobago with the bronze.
While we are no stranger to medal upgrades, Alexander insists that Trinidad and Tobago has the quality to consistently medal in the relays on the international stage. “There is one change that we need to make before we head to the World Championships in August. All we have to do now is practice, practice and practice some more and we should be coming home with another medal in the men's 4x100m.”
Sprinter and relay bronze medallist, Callendar added, “There are rules in every sport and we have to abide by it. It’s not the way we expected to win but we’ll take this bronze; and continue moving forward to every meet, trying to perfect our chemistry so by the time world championships comes around we can get the gold.”
The world Championships are scheduled to take place in Beijing China from August 22nd to August 30th 2015, and Alexander believes that more training camps for our relay athletes throughout the year can only be an asset in building the chemistry and belief that is needed for relay success.
Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee president Brian Lewis described the country’s best ever medal haul at a Pan Am Games as “significant and encouraging” but added that there is no room for complacency as the TTOC continues to encourage systems and infrastructure for future success at the other multi-discipline Games like the 2016 Rio Olympics and beyond.
Team TTO picked up eight medals including three gold, Men’s 4 x 400 relay (Renny Quow, Jarrin Solomon, Emanuel Mayers, Machel Cedenio) Cleopatra Borel; and Keshorn Walcott), three silver (Mickel Thomas, Njisane Phillip, Machel Cedenio) and two bronze (George Bovell & Men’s 4x1 relay), a new record haul for the country, bettering the returns from the Winnipeg 1967 edition (two gold, two silver, three bronze) and the Santo Domingo 2003 edition (two gold, four silver, one bronze)
“For the country yet again sports continues to bring a positive image to Trinidad and Tobago. The performances of the contingent at the Pan Am Games were significant and encouraging,” Lewis said, adding that the TTOC had set a goal of eight medals for these Games.
Lewis said some of the incentives and systems—the number of athletes on Olympic Solidarity, PASO scholarships, the ten or more golds by 2024 athlete welfare and preparation programme, the introduction of the medal bonuses, had helped.
“We are starting to put into place the infrastructure and systems at the level of the TTOC and we will be continuing to work with stakeholders like the NSOs, SPORTT and the Ministry of Sport to improve the process for our athletes to succeed,” Lewis said.
Lewis said this country’s results at the Toronto 2015 was a clear signal of the talent existing in the country and the TTOC would continue now to focus on Rio 2016 to ensure that athletes who have qualified or are likely to qualify for those quadrennial Games receive the needed assistance.
Lewis believed the athletes showed the talent and the desire to achieve a success, revelling in the performance of T&T’s 4 x 400m gold medal performance but also noting the performances of some who didn’t medal.
“When we look at young(Christian) Marsden, (Dylan) Carter, the more experienced ones got the job done. When you look at Sparkle Mc Knight Mc Knight, Semoy Hackett and Kelly Ann Baptiste, coming back after a long lay off, it is really important that we look past these Games now and start taking it up to the next level, because while Pan Am medals are a good indicator, both the Worlds and Olympic standards are going to be higher and we must encourage and facilitate our athletes moving up to that level,” Lewis said.
Lewis believed the introduction of the medal bonus created a positive vibe and the TTOC will continue to bring on new corporate partners. “The athlete welfare and support is going to be heightened by TTOC. We will focus even more and dedicate some attention to athlete and welfare services,” Lewis said.
“That’s what I would like to work on now. I think one of the pluses coming out of to 2015 more people may now believe in the potential of the athletes. A lot of people were sceptical before about the whole ten golds by 2024, saying there lacked systems and policies in place, there were gaps. I think that the buy-in is coming. There are some gaps, targets we need to set incrementally, some systemic issues that need to be addressed including the use of facilities and access to them by the NSOs,” he added.
“We need to look at whether we do more in support, from the sport science aspect. So there is a lot that still needs to be done but I genuinely and sincerely believe we can build from here and I call on stakeholders to let’s use the Pan Am as a platform to move forward in a real powerful and significant way.” Lewis concluded.
President of the National Association of Athletic Administration Ephraim Serrette hopes that T&T’s performance at the recently concluded Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada will be a stepping stone for bigger things to come. T&T’s squad bagged eight medals at the meet, a national record, including six in track and field to rank 15th out of 29 countries overall.
Looking ahead to next month’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing and further down the road to the Olympics in Rio next year, Serrette said the country’s athletes were showing a lot of promise. “It was an exceptional performance,” he said. “The athletes did us proud and it augers well for the future.”
The track and field athletes won three gold medals (Kershorn Walcott (Javelin), Cleopatra Borel (Shot Put) and the 4x400 metres relay quartet of Machel Cedenio, Jarrin Solomon, Renny Quow and Lalonde Gordon. Mikel Thomas (110 Hurdles) and Machel Cedenio (400m) won silver. However, he noted that a different standard of competition would await them in Beijing.
“The Pam Am Games are something of a dress rehearsal for the World Championships, but we have to remember that the Americans and Jamaicans sent second and third string teams. They were still strong but a lot of big names were missing. It served as good preparation but our athletes who medalled will now have to turn up a gear to succeed on the world stage.”
Serrette commended the T&T Olympic Committee for recently launching its medal incentive programme, which he felt had had its desired effect. “I can’t say exactly how much it influenced the athletes but it was a good gesture by the TTOC,” he said. He added that he hoped to see improvement from the Women’s 4x100m team, which did not complete its semifinal in Toronto.
“I hope they will go back to drawing board,” he said. “We had high expectations from them after they won bronze at the IAAF World Relays in May. Now with Kelly Ann (Baptiste) and Semoy (Hackett) back on the team, they should be a very strong unit.”