Trinidad and Tobago Cycling Federation technical director Erin Hartwell is standing by his team in the face of a current doping controversy surrounding their participation in last year’s Pan American Game in Lima, Peru.
Team T&T, who included Njisane Philip, Nicholas Paul and Kerron Bramble, was last week stripped of two medals won in the team and individual sprint events by Pan Am Sports, the governing body for the event, following an alleged doping violation during the competition in August. The matter is currently under arbitration after the team lodged an official protest.
But speaking at the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee’s annual sports awards ceremony at the Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain, on Sunday, where Nicholas Paul and he himself collected awards for their 2019 performances, Hartwell distanced his team from any performance-enhancing drugs.
“Well if it is one thing we all know, it is that there is no performance-enhancing drugs involved in any of this,” Hartwell told Guardian Media when pressed on the issue.
“So if it is one thing I am confident of with this team, it is a clean honest team and that is going to come out in the near future to corroborate that, so I am not worried about that. Yes, it is a bump in the road but I think all the guys understand we have a lot of work ahead of us and we have put a lot of work behind us and the Olympics are the ultimate goal, so we are just staying focused on the task at hand and really gearing up for that World Cup in less than a month’s time.”
He also said he did not think the issue, heading into an Olympic year, would put any more stress on his charges, noting they had put in the work.
“There is definitely no pressure on cycling. We are where we are because of the hard work we have put in over the last two and a half years, so while I am surprised and impressed with the level of accomplishments received tonight from the TTOC for cycling …it is not a surprise in the fact that these guys have worked that hard to get to this point. They are just great all-around people, great athletes and it is a privilege to be here working with them and to receive these awards tonight.”
As to the training ahead for the team, Hartwell revealed, “We took Christmas Day off, we came back from the World Cup series and we plan to train right through because we have the World Cup in Canada at the end of January then the World Championships after that so there is no rest in this case and we have to keep on.”
In terms of the team sprint qualification for the Tokyo Olympics, Hartwell it would be a challenge.
“Mathematically, we’re still there so we are going to keep going,” Hartwell said.
“It is hard on everybody, we saw a lot of desperate athletes and teams at these last World Cups, so at least on the individual side we are rock solid, mathematically it is impossible for Nicholas not to get in the sprint and in the Keirin we are in a very similar position, we are pretty much guaranteed at least two riders, but obviously we are working on team sprint, it is our priority and premier event, and so it really is going to take the next two events, so if we can get to medal rounds at next world cup and top five, top six at the World Championships and hope the way with other teams work in our favour.”
A philosophical Hartwell said he continues to believe in his cyclists and the people of Trinidad and Tobago.
“This is a beautiful country and a lot of it comes from the way that life is just lived here. So you have your ups and you have your downs, but at the end of the day, Trinidad and Tobago will survive and thrive and I am a big believer in that.
“I married into this place a long time ago and love it to this day and it has been good to this stage and yes we have bumps in the road and some of them hit pretty hard but I have got a lot of faith in what we are doing and the support we are getting from the TTOC, Sports Company and the Ministry of Sport to keep us on the right path, so I am going to keep my head up.”
Meanwhile, Paul, who was named the TTOC’s Sportsman of the Year and People’s Choice on Sunday, told Guardian Media his faith and family were important to him.
“Firstly I like to thank god for all the accomplishments I have been getting and it is just awesome…I never really put pressure on myself, I just go out there and do my best, whatever I come home with, hopefully it is a medal, I am grateful.”
The 21-year-old Paul, the only cyclist to keep his Pan Am medal and the world record holder in the match sprint event, had a strong message for all athletes.
“I tell anyone out there, just work hard for anything you do and it will come through … Just work hard and believe in yourself and your dreams will come through,” Paul, who kept his individual Pan Am gold medal from Lima, said.