Swimming and athletics have recorded successes at the annual Carifta competitions in each of the two sports. The Carifta Games for athletics were held in St Kitts and Nevis while the Carifta Swimming competition was held in neighbouring Barbados.
The recorded successes point to what emerges from hard work and a consistent approach to the development of the sport.
For yet another occasion the country’s Athlete of the Year, Shne Joachim, emerged the lone medallist at the Carifta swim meet. She swam to two silver (200m and 50m breaststroke respectively and one bronze (50m Butterfly) medals. She produced a Pan Am Games qualifying time of 2:45.67 in the 200m Breaststroke event to become the country’s first ever official Pan Am Games swimming qualifier. She also set three personal best times in the competition showing improvement since starting schooling in Canada last September..
Nikolas Sylvester, Shane Cadougan and Alex Joachim gave good account of themselves although they did not make it to the podium.
All of the athletes were competitive in all of their events, testimony to the work they have been doing in training for the event.
Significantly, the competition was of a very high standard as always.
There is little doubt that the swimming fraternity can feel justly proud that over the past three Carifta Games the delegation has returned with medals, a feat that few associations can boast of having achieved.
For the past two years the swimming association has taken home the majority of the awards at the annual National Sports Awards organised by the National Sports Council (NSC), a fitting tribute to the work being undertaken.
The sojourn in St Kitts and Nevis was something of a mixed bag.
The TASVG Selection Committee examined the performances of our athletes very closely and determined that only two athletes were deserving of making the team.
Of course, selection is always a bone of contention especially when coaches seem to think that their athletes will improve their performances merely by being at the Carifta Games.
Perhaps the day will come when coaches will be sufficiently professional to allow the selectors to do their work.
Fortunately the selectors remain professional in their approach and seem to have made the right choices.
For her part Shafiqua Maloney did not do as well as expected and was unable to come close to her performance in the 400m that led to her selection. Medical advice was accepted and she was pulled from the 200m.
TASVG will have to ensure a thorough medical examination is undertaken to determine the next step in respect of Maloney.
Reuberth Boyde performed relatively well in the competition.
In the first event, the 100m, he made it relatively easy through to the final with a second place performance of 10.49. In the finals he lost his running form in the event. He complained of pain and simply did not really get off on an even level with the others. His performance in the event, which took place on the same day of the Heats, saw him go past the line in 10.70, much slower than anticipated, finishing seventh.
In the 200m he again achieved a second place finish in the Heat with a time of 21.22. Unlike the 100m however, the final for the 200m was sent for the following day of competition, allowing him to benefit from some rest and recuperation.
In the final Boyde placed second, completing the distance in 21.70, just being beaten on the line by Barbados’ Mario Burke who completed the double winning both the 100m and 200m Under 20 Boys.
The standard at this year’s Carifta Games were as high as they have ever been.
A total of 14 records were broken at the Games with athletes from 19 of the 25 participating teams mounting the awards podium, evidence of the very competitive nature of the athletics festival.
Over the past three years the sport of swimming has experienced significant progress. The number of Vincentians getting involved in the sport continues to grow.
While athletics continues to benefit from significantly larger numbers of participants the difference in the progress being made may rest, for the most part, with facilities.
The swimming fraternity has the benefit of a facility to call home. Once the association was given access to the pool at Shrewsbury House the sport moved to another level It did not matter that the pool was just short of the 25m minimum requirement by the world governing body, FINA and that it only had three lanes. What really mattered was that there was a pool that was available to them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The association grabbed at every coaching development programme offered by the National Olympic Committee (NOC) and has been able to benefit from training camps in Florida, USA.
Professional coaches have been to the pool to aid the local association’s coaches and athletes in understanding and appreciating what is required at the highest level of training and competition. This has been of immense benefit to all concerned.
In a previous article we enunciated the tremendous support that our young swimmers receive from their parents who contribute financially to their training, acquisition of training and competition gear as well as to their attendance at regional and international competitions.
The achievements of our swimmers are quite commendable and the athletes, coaches and administrators are as deserving of encouragement as they are of kudos.
Track and field athletics has been very busy with Mini Meets having started early in the year. The Inter Primary and Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships have just been concluded and so too the Carifta Trials.
All of the athletics competitions held thus far for the year and all of the training has been done on grass. While grass is good in the early preparatory phase of the athlete it is not the best during the competitive phase when the athletes are seeking selection to national teams by achieving the established standards.
That some of our athletes have actually been able to win medals at the Carifta Games is an outstanding achievement and reflects near-exceptional talent.
Everyone is aware of the powerhouses of athletics in the Caribbean – Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados. They account for more than 80% of the medals at the annual Carifta Games. They all have synthetic tracks for their athletes.
The absence of a synthetic surface is the singly most important blight on our Vincentian track and field athletes.
While it was possible to get access to the synthetic surfaces in St Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, there was a heavy cost to this in terms of airfare, accommodation and meals. Additionally, it was not possible to get the athletes to access these facilities during the school term.
So it was that even though the Selection Committee had names the team for the Carifta Games it was not possible to get them to the neighbouring countries with synthetic surfaces in order to hone their skills in the final phase of preparation for the sporting spectacle.
Whereas our swimmers had their own pool in which to engage in their final preparation for Carifta, our track and field athletes were challenged to share facilities with cricket and football as well as uneven grassed surfaces.
Interestingly, athletes from both sports were expected to excel at the Carifta Games.
Our sport-loving population usually have high expectations of any team that leaves local shores for regional and international competition. There is a belief that if we are not going to be competitive enough to win medals we should not attend. Consequently, our athletes, coaches and administrators are often subjected to very intense criticisms when they compete abroad and return home without success.
Adequate preparation of our athletes is essential to success in competition. Unfortunately there is not a level playing field when it comes to the preparation of our athletes for regional and international competition.
When our athletes are successful everyone seems anxious to share in whatever glory there is. Few seem to remember what it took to get to that point.
In an elections year, there is every reason to expect our officials to respond to the success of our athletes much more than usual. This is to be expected.
For those genuinely interested in the country’s athletes being more competitive there is much work to be done.
Importantly, the swimming association has been engaged over the past several months with the expansion of the swimming pool from three to six lanes and the length to the FINA-approved 25 metres. This is a costly exercise but extremely necessary since it means that the body will now have a facility that meets the international regulations. This means that St Vincent and the Grenadines can host regional and international short-course competitions.
It also means that our athletes’ performances will not have to be adjusted to compensate for the shorter course over the past few years.
The improved facility will significantly lead to larger numbers being attracted to the sport and over time, more athletes making the standards to participate at regional and international events.
Administrators of the indoor sports that do not yet have a home – basketball, boxing, netball, taekwondo, karate, table tennis – have now come to an understanding that the promised facility is not going to happen anytime soon. The promised facility is now like that of the national stadium, on the backburner.
It is time for the sports associations to come together to plan a strategy that would enable them to garner support to develop their own facilities. If they work collectively they can avoid too heavy a reliance on government (already fraught with their own economic problems) to provide for them.
Evidence over per past several suggests that sport is little more that a convenient plaything for government officials. They do not yet have an understanding of and appreciation for physical literacy. They are still at the stage of seeing sport as a frivolous activity despite mouthing off about the benefits to be derived from sport tourism.
The future requires greater proactivity and collaboration amongst national sports associations to seek after their collective best interests. The athletes must be at the centre of this approach.
Associations must engage in joint ventures aimed at once at raising awareness of their activities as well as fundraising for development.
There must be an approach that places sport at the serviced of our communities engendering greater unity amongst our peoples a viable alternative to the divisiveness of national politics.