There has never been an Olympic Games during a pandemic so this year's edition in Tokyo, Japan was historic.
It was for the first time ever, postponed by a year. Originally carded for 2020, the Tokyo Games was delayed to this year running from July 23 to August 8 under the very threat of COVID-19, which caused its postponement and the death of millions of people around the world.
Therefore, Tokyo 2020 was a profound and different experience for T&T's 33-athlete team announced by the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC), which was led by two-time Olympic medallist Keshorn Walcott. It was the largest number to date for TeamTTO at an Olympic Games who featured in seven sports -20 men and 13 women -the most women's athletes ever in T&T Olympic history.
Sprinter Kelly-Ann Baptiste made history also participating at her fifth Olympic Games, joining bronze medal Olympian George Bovell II as a five-time Olympian. Baptiste was also the first-ever women's flag-bearer at the Games.
Ahead of the contingent's departure, the TTOC president had said that the athletes will be COVID tested daily - if they test positive they will be isolated and not allowed to compete during their quarantine period. They must wear masks except when they are competing or eating and wouldn't be allowed to roam the different venues. There is no sightseeing, visits to restaurants, shopping malls, use of public transport is prohibited as is interaction or contact with the general Japanese public. Disobeying or not complying with the strict and stringent COVID-19 countermeasures, protocols and rules may result in the ultimate sanction -deportation by the Japan Government.
Faced with frequent testing, mask mandates and social distancing procedures, basically existing in a bubble, the team went medalless for the first time since the Barcelona Games in Spain in 1992 that this country had no athletes taking the podium.
Added to that, despite all the preventative measures, three of T&T's contingent - two athletes and a coach - tested positive for the virus following a routine Saliva Antigen test at the Olympic Village. Long jumper Andwuelle Wright, 400m hurdler Sparkle McKnight and coach Wendell Williams missed participating in the Games as a result. Wright, however, after recovering from the virus had the honour of being the flag-bearer in the closing ceremony.
"Of course, the performance overall at the Tokyo 2020 Games did not meet the expectations of everyone including the athletes but you have to take it on the chin learn from it and move on. We're not going to make any excuses about COVID-19. The fact is that we went to Tokyo 2020 and we went determined with the team, the athletes the coaches, everyone went determined to give it their best and it didn't pan out on the day so we take that on the chin and we move forward. We learn the lessons and take on board the lessons and grow through it," said Lewis.
Another first was that the senior management team of the delegation for this the most challenging and complex Olympic Games in living memory, comprised of three women out of four, all under 40 years old. They were led by Chef de Mission Lovie Santana and included the mandatory position of COVID-19 Liaison Officer Rheeza Grant and Dr Naila Adams, who was the assistant to Chief Medical Officer Dr Rudy Ramsawak.
<Daniel, Horsford deliver>
Lewis described 2021 as being a tough year, saying: "It's been a challenging year, a very difficult year for the Olympic movement in T&T but we are no exception it's in a challenging and difficult time for the entire globe and the entire world."COVID-19, the pandemic has been remorseless and unwavering in its determination to take lives and it's been a significant battle but while there are many downs to point to including loss of lives dear and close friends and colleagues in the sport movement here in T&T the impact of COVID continues in that team sports have not been released from the lockdown and the COVID-19 restrictions.
He added: The Sports movement, the TTOC, we continue to work with all stakeholders in terms of allocating that we have to vaccinate our way out of this, vaccination is important. We have seen a lot of examples from the world where vaccination has been key to getting sports back up and going. Success came for T&T in the end-of-year Junior Pan American Games in Cali, Colombia held from November 25 to December 5.
Long jumper Kelsey Daniel and javelin thrower Tyriq Horsford emerged with medals, silver and a bronze, respectively.
"The fact that we were able to send a team to the Tokyo 2020 rescheduled Games which was held in 2021 to the Junior Pan American Games. They have been a high point notwithstanding all the issues and two gruelling years of COVID-19 and its negative impact on preparation, funding, the economy, finance etc," said Lewis.
"We had medal success there in the form of Tyriq Horsford and Kelsey Daniel. I think the grit and determination that all the athletes who went to the Pan American Games would have shown, augurs well for the future going forward."
<Looking to the future>
Lewis, despite the unpredictable year, remains optimistic for the year for T&T sports overall.
"In the main, I look at the glass in not half empty and there are many good points and good things that you can take away from 2021, the most important thing is regardless of how intense and how focused we are on sport and sporting achievement and sporting competition and trying to bring glory and gold medals and medals to the republic of T&T, at the end of the day what COVID has shown also is what is really important good health, life, friends, family and it places everything in context. Looking ahead to 2022, he sees a lot of good things to look forward to particularly in international competitions like that of the Commonwealth Games in England and World Championships in the United States.
He said: "As we look ahead to 2022, the Caribbean Games in Guadeloupe, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, in terms of track and field, the NAAAs, under the new leadership so to speak of George Comissiong and onboard people such as Jehue Gordon, Zwede Hewitt, Jamaal James so I think that's a good high point coming out of this year in terms of track and field here in T&T. Everyone, therefore, looking forward in keen anticipation and expectation to a difference, a more youthful orientation to track and field here. I mean has been built on the tremendous foundation and work done by Ephraim Serrette so I think a lot of people will be looking forward to the track and World Championships next year in Eugene, Oregon.
"The World FINA Long Course and when you look at the way Dylan Carter has been bouncing back from Tokyo 2020 augurs well. You saw the performances at the Junior Pan Am Games with people like Nikoli Blackman, Tariq Wilson there is a lot of promising things to look forward to all the darkness and trials and tribulations of COVID, I anticipate that the sports will be getting back up and running, of course, COVID-19 will always be a threat and the importance of vaccinating, the importance of COVID-19 safety protocols and health protocols is going to be important but we have to learn to live with COVID-19 and life has to go on."
The TTOC has hosted several events in celebrating its 75th anniversary including the ongoing Team TTO 75,000 steps challenge with registration extended to December 31 and will close off the year with its annual awards ceremony on December 29.