Our shrunken Olympic horizon
A youngster who was ten years of age when Dominica made its entry into the Olympic Games is now a young adult of thirty and approaching life maturity. Participating in the games was not considered an end in itself, but the securing of a toehold within the door whereby the spirit of Olympism might in time be afforded growth consistent with the very idea of the national psyche being paraded internationally in the world's foremost showcase. Everyone was happy to see Dominica's flag flown and its handful of representatives march proudly at the Atlanta Games 1996 – eighteen years after we had gained our national independence. It is to be asked: "have we observed and embraced our sporting horizon and have we held it in distinct focus?"
That most of our inaugural Olympic representatives were entered in the sprints and middle distances on track, it was inherent that the foreseeable focus would lean in this direction. There was Dawn Williams-Sewer in the Women's 800 metres, Cedric Harris in the men's 800 metres and Stephen Agar in the Men's 1500 metres, Hermine Joseph had the women's 100 metres and 200 metres as her specialty. Jerome Romain had gained some international prominence in the long jump and triple jump, while Woody Lawrence was accepted to do the preliminaries of the men's 50 metres freestyle swim. Williams-Sewer, Harris, Agar, Joseph and Romain all qualified suitable for entry, each having also attained excellence for their respective university: This was arguably a grand means to set the pace for others to follow in later Olympic Games. Since that time, there has been a void and our relevant sporting horizon has receded.
In light of a reasonable discussion on our athletic potential, I delight in citing the case of the highly talented track star Kirani James from one of our sister island's Grenada. Kirani gained the gold medal in the men's 400 metres in the London Olympics of 2012. He has since suffered defeat in some of his contests but by and large remains one of the favourites for the Rio Games due to take place next month. This is a highly competitive event which nowadays does not see stagnation as far as upward mobility goes.
Now 23 years old, Kirani James, though not sleeping on his laurels and recently blazing a time of 43.74 seconds, is by no means certain he can find the burst to enable him to climb the medals podium in Rio. If he doesn't, it won't be for want of trying. He has sustained a potent drive upward that started in primary school and continued in college in the U.S.A. So far, the strongly built Grenadian star has been able to avoid injury despite arduous training and competition programmes.
What is the likely road to be followed by any of Dominica's talented primary school runners if potential is to be realized similar to that of Kirani James? Assuming a bid for a gold medal is to be made at the 2020 Olympic Games, it means an athlete in question will at the age of 15 have already shown a performance of about 47 seconds for the boy's 400 metres. If I am not mistaken, our boys at this age group tend to register around 55 seconds. That is, eight seconds off the mark. Can we bridge the gap? Yes, I think we can. The consideration, though, is how! You can't wish for it. You must work for it and must not ever be inclined to allow distractions to get in the way. Work simply has to be relentless.
It is the same for a girl looking to elevate to the Olympic standard of around 50 seconds for the 400 metres. Reasonable projection for a girl of 15 who does around 60 seconds for that distance. Obvious question is, do we have the talent? My past discussions with people like Godwin Dorsett, Emanuel Loblack and Cedric Harris would lead me to have faith in the quality of our genetic material. Dawn Williams-Sewer was producing times of well below two minutes for the women's 800 metres and Harris himself did better than 1 minute 47 seconds for the men's 800 metres. Agar, too, achieved comparable times in the men's 1,500 metres. Similarly, Hermine Joseph held her own in top circles in the women's short sprints.
We have the genes. What we do not have is the wherewithal, I gather. The very positive case is made that Grenada, St. Vincent, St Lucia, Antigua, St. Kitts, Anguilla, Cayman Islands – to mention only the smaller territories – each has had for some time a standard synthetic athletic track suitable for international competition. Dominica is the odd man out. Such a limitation inevitably constricts our Olympic horizon drastically and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency if the oft repeated idea that our youth are our greatest resource is to be afforded due credence.
Seeking an area of athletic compatibility for our educational institutions, I could hold out for our new state College to be equipped with suitable track facilities. Somehow this was never remotely entertained for the construction process. Anyone with an inkling of what the modern era is all about would be incensed at the manner we have allowed opportunity to slip in this direction. Seemingly, the Olympics have been extraneous to us – even to our institution of higher learning. Can we be serious, in this day and age?
All the blatant apathy exhibited by us towards sports development rings a hollow tone vis a vis the third stanza of our wonderful national anthem. Have we really been contritely urging our youth to come forward, to do the right, to be firm, to be fair? Have we been sounding forth the challenge: "we must prosper, sound the call in which everyone rejoices, all for each and each for all"? The critical time for a young person to actively invest in his or her sporting life extends from about age of eight to around twenty-five to thirty, depending on the take-off-point – in which regard we may suggest that about twenty to thirty thousand of our young individuals have very well missed the call to come forward, it is a default not exactly of their own making, and forces the visions of our Olympic horizon backward, into a distorted mirage. The vanguard of our intelligentsia must stand up and be counted. The grim count is exacerbated under the depraved advance of anti-social behavior in our midst. We simply can't wait for the year 2040 or 2050 to shake ourselves out of self-imposed slumber.