For the past several months time has been taken to inform the Vincentian community about the process in which the National Olympic Committee (NOC) had been involved in preparing the national representative team to the London Olympics. Now that the Games are here and the team selected there is need for a detailed summary.
It should be noted that the sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines that were eligible to have athletes participate in the London Olympics are: Athletics, Aquatics (formerly Swimming), Basketball, Boxing, Cycling, Table Tennis, Taekwondo and Volleyball.
As early as 2009 the NOC began its preparations for the Olympic Games of London 2012.
The preparations began with the organisation’s commitment to participating in the Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC) scheduled for the summer of 2010 in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. National associations were advised of the requirements to participate in the Games and set about facilitating both their preparation and participation.
In the same year, 2009, the NOC was asked to submit the names of individual athletes who could qualify for Olympic scholarships funded by Olympic Solidarity, the development arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Unfortunately only Athletics could have benefit from this since all of the other sports were simply too far from the qualifying bar set by their respective international federations (IF). The rules for accessing the scholarship state that individuals, who, in the opinion of the IF can, with the necessary training over the 18 months prior to the Olympic Games, could have a fair chance at making the standards established by the international body and approved by the IOC for getting to the mega sport event.
Kineke Alexander and Courtney Williams were the successful applicants for the Olympic scholarships for the London 2012 Olympics.
Team Preparation Grant
The NOC also had to submit application to Olympic Solidarity for a Team Preparation Grant that is essentially used to assist a national team sport in its attempt at qualifying for the Olympic Games.
Over the previous two editions of the summer Olympics The Basketball Federation here has been in receipt of the Olympic Solidarity Team Support Grant. This facilitated their attendance at and participation in the Centro Basket Competitions which are the qualifiers for the Pan American Games held one year prior to the Olympic Games and the latter serves as a qualifier for the Olympic Games next round of qualifiers.
Basketball has never gone beyond the Centro Basket competition.
In 2009 the decision was therefore taken to assist the Volleyball Association with the Team Preparation Grant.
Pan Am Games Preparation
The preparations for the Pan American Games began in earnest in 2010, one year prior to the event. 2010 was also the year of both the Centro Basket Competition and the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
The NOC provided support for the national Women’s Basketball Team to get to and participate in the Centro Basket competition and the subsequent CAC Games. Unfortunately the team was unsuccessful in getting beyond the Centro Basket in terms of Olympic Qualifier.
Athletics, Boxing, Cycling and Tennis were also included in the team to the CAC Games, all hoping to make the requisite standards set for the Pan American Games and the Olympics thereafter. None succeeded.
Athletics and Aquatics received assistance in getting to competitions to facilitate preparation for the Pan Am Games. There were no qualifiers per se but the respective continental federations established standards for their sport.
Cycling participated in a number of competitions in order to gain the right to participate in the Pan Am Games.
Football was not selected for the Pan Am Games based on the process agreed to between CONCACAF and South American Confederation.
Squash, a sport on the Pan Am Games schedule though not on the Olympic Programme, requested and received support for the Caribbean Squash Championships hosted here in St Vincent.
Following his performance at the CAC Games, Keithland King got the nod of the local Boxing Association to approach the NOC for further training. This he received in Puerto Rico. Two other boxers were afforded the opportunity to benefit from training in Trinidad and Tobago, again funded by the NOC. They were later afforded the opportunity to participate in the Pan Am Games qualifying Tournament in Panama.
Rugby, which has only recently been included on the Olympic Programme was accepted in the CAC Games Programme in 2010 and again on the Pan Am Games programme of 2011. A Vincentian team was assisted by the NOC to attend and participate in the qualifying competition in Mexico.
Table Tennis received assistance to take a team to Guadalajara, Mexico, to participate in the Pan Am Games qualifying tournament.
By the time the Pan Am Games came around only Athletics, Aquatics and Cycling were in attendance as participants.
Other Qualifying competitions
The Pan Am Games served as qualifiers for some sports. However, there were several qualifying competitions for the Olympic Games.
Basketball, Table Tennis and Volleyball had already failed to go beyond their earlier competitions. There were no more competitions for which they were eligible.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) established standards, which essentially selects the top players in the world based on current rankings.
Keithland King benefitted from participation in the World Championships organised by the international federation, AIBA. He attended a training Camp in Wales and was later sent to train in Cuba by the NOC in preparation for the Olympic Games qualifying tournament in Rio de Janeiro. The Boxing Association and the NOC applied for a ‘wild card’ for King but was as unsuccessful at that as he was in the qualifying tournament.
Football received assistance to contest the Olympic Qualifying Tournament but was unsuccessful.
Cycling had an outside chance of getting someone into the mix for the Olympics but this fell through the cracks.
Only Athletics and Aquatics therefore had the chance of either making the qualifying standards at any IF-approved competition or benefit from the long-established agreement between the respective IFs and the IOC – regardless of standards each NOC is allowed one male and one female athlete – in both these sports.
Unfortunately for Aquatics the international parent body, FINA, modified its own rules and insisted that while each NOC would be eligible to have one male and one female athlete at the Olympics regardless of standards the selected athletes must have attended the FINA World Championships. Only one athlete here, Tolga Akcayli, attended these Championships. This immediately ruled out a second representative form St Vincent and the Grenadines at the sport in London.
The athletes who have gained the right to go to the London Olympics to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines have essentially selected themselves.
Kineke Alexander and Courtney Williams have not made the established IAAF standards. However over the past two years they have shown themselves to be the best that we have available to us at this stage. They have shown some measure of improvement though one would hope for the attainment of at least personal bests at the Games.
Williams has been attaining personal bests since training in Texas along with Kineke, one Jamaican and several Kittitian athletes.
Courtney Bascombe who has benefitted from six months training in Texas did not make the cut ahead of Williams.
Natasha Mayers, the eventual gold medallist at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, following the disqualification of the original gold and silver medallists, did not do enough to make it to the Games. Her injuries at the CAC Seniors in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico in 2011 and again at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, later that year, may well have negated her chances.
As always the questions will be asked about the fact that our athletes have failed to make the standards yet again. The absence of any home-based track athlete would also be a discussion topic as will be the matter of the selection of officials to travel with the team.
Track and Field Athletics does not yet have a home here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The unavailability of a synthetic surface denies anyone serious about sprinting the opportunity to be truly competitive in the selection process while staying at home. The approach of the authorities here in respect of access to and use of Arnos Vale #1 once Cricket is in the air, adds to the problems confronting those who are anxious to make something of themselves on the track.
We are still lethargic about paying more attention to the field events, which do not necessarily require a synthetic surface.
The selection of officials to accompany the athletes remains the purview of the respective national associations not interfered with by the NOC. The NOC’s President and General Secretary do not form part of the Vincentian delegation to the Games but are instead the invited guests of the IOC The Chief of Mission is the head of the nation’s delegation.
This edition of the Olympic Games will for the first time witness the attendance of our Head of State, His Excellency, Sir Frederick Ballantyne. It would be the second occasion on which the Minister of Sport would be in attendance.
The Head of Government, Hon Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, has been invited by the NOC to attend. Thus far it seems likely that he would attend. None of these government officials form part of the Vincentian delegation to the Games. They too are guests of the IOC.
Expectations are for most exciting competition throughout the Games with heightened security because of the global situation.
It is unfair to compare host cities. London, being typically British, cannot afford the expense witnessed by Beijing when the Chinese used the Olympics four years ago as its official ‘coming out party’ to the international community. The English has been far tighter in all aspects of the Games preparation than the Chinese and this may hurt them in the long run.
Team St Vincent and the Grenadine swill have the support in England, of the leadership and staff at its High Commission as well as from the students at the Lealands High School which unsuccessfully sought for the better part of the last year to establish and maintain sound relations with the St Vincent Grammar School and of course, all Vincentians living in the Britain.
We must continue to hope that our young sports enthusiasts would follow the Games and strive to be there one day. For those who would still be under 18 years in 2014, the 2nd edition of the Youth Olympics Beckons in Nanjing, China.