The Swim Theme
Rio Olympic Games are well underway and all the ill omens of possible disaster and disruption to the event have seemingly been thrust aside and given way to a grand celebration of life. All thought of the Zika virus have been put in abeyance and confidence has arisen in the ability of the more than sixty thousand deployed members of security units to maintain the peace and quell terrorism concerns. As far as the opening ceremony went, its splendor, as viewed on television, gave the impression of achieving a zenith in the spectacular. However, a fully poignant moment of the opening night was the receipt by former Kenyan distance runner Kipchoge Keino of the inaugural honor of symbolic man's triumphant upliftment of himself through sport over contending circumstances. This award by the International Olympic Committee is to be perpetuated in future Games.
Kipchoge Keino, now in his mid-seventies, was able to run a fair distance into the stadium along with a host of adoring youth and he seemed to have little difficulty in outdistancing them. All this reminds us that Keino, whose specialty covered distances from 1,500 meters up to around 10,000 meters, first entered the world of big time athletics sustained by the foundation that had arisen from being somewhat deprived. Like so many villages in his country, his was without a primary school, and youngsters ran six to ten miles to get to the nearest school, thereafter running back home at the close of school day.
That helped to make Keino into a world class runner, and his example was followed by hundreds of other East African athletes who have dominated the World and Olympic scene. Another story emerging from the Rio Games is that of a young lady brilliant enough to win a gold medal in swimming, whose most unlikely prominence evolved despite having been a migrant refugee. Actually, she was only heard of after she and a friend managed to take to the water to push to shore the boat on which they were migrating, after its engine had failed. That, indeed, represents a triumph of the human spirit.
It is necessary to look at our own situation in Dominica on the swim theme. Reports coming out of the Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships held in the Bahamas early last month indicated that Grenada, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Antigua, the U.S Virgin Islands, Curacao, Barbados, Aruba and Bermuda were among the seventeen territories which participated, all of them managing to win medals.
Significantly, Dominica, the Nature Island of the Caribbean was absent from the Caribbean Islands Swimming Championships. One would think the pastime of swimming would go hand in hand with the idea of being a young Dominican. It was quite normal for our youngsters to take to either the sea or river pools from a very early age. Of the nine territories listed above, six do not have a river. Of the remainder, St. Vincent has one river, and St. Lucia and Grenada's rivers are considered uninviting for a variety of reasons.
When we viewed some of the action at the aquatic centre in Rio it was difficult to detect any real difference physically between the contestants and our own youth. It is all a matter of what we do with the potential that we have. So when we see a Barbadian, a Trinidadian, a Jamaican, a Bahamian or a St. Lucian swimmer highlighted internationally, it isn't that they were born with gills or with flippers- something God given to them but not to our children. It is more a question of their territories being forward thinking while we are simply not.
As I see it, we have God given advantages we have failed to utilize. Rivers we have in abundance, some of them never having run dry since Columbus set eyes on them five hundred and twenty-four years ago. That we have failed to make use of our rivers is very much a sin in regard to swimming. Present day research would reveal that there are far fewer of our children capable of swimming – to save their lives- since pipe born water has become available to a larger proportion of our households. As a small boy I ran to the Roseau River for a quick dip prior to setting forth to school, and so did a number of my friends. That was the order of the day, which included river bathing or sea bathing on weekends or during school holidays.
When all is said and done, securing of an Olympic swimming medal remains only beyond Dominica's reach merely in so far as we see ourselves continue to keep it that way. But before the medals podium must first come the training platform. This latter is not by any means difficult beyond our capability. It is my willingness to discuss this in detail with all concerned individuals. The less we wait, the less distant we render our prospects, and by so doing we avoid throwing back in God's face the gifts He has so graciously heaped upon us.