Natasha Mayers has handed St Vincent and the Grenadines its first gold medal in the sport of Athletics at the quadrennial Commonwealth Games when she won the 100m at the 19th edition of the event in Delhi, India, on the second day of the athletics competition.
Mayers’ achievement places her alongside Frankie Lucas, another Vincentian, who was at the time resident in the United Kingdom, won gold at the Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch, New Zealand, 1974, in the Middleweight Division (75kg) of the Boxing competition. Prior to Mayers he was the lone Vincentian gold medallist at these Games who competed for St Vincent and the Grenadines. This distinction is made because George Manners, a Vincentian, won medals in Weightlifting while representing England at the Commonwealth Games.
The Commonwealth Games started of as the Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games), a quadrennial event mirroring the Olympic Games, but limited only to those countries that were part of the British Commonwealth, namely, former and existing colonies of Britain.
The first edition of the Empire Games took place in Hamilton, Canada, in 1930.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has been participating in the quadrennial Commonwealth Games since 1958 when Elton Anderson and Godfrey Roberts competed in Cardiff, Wales, under the banner of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Athletics Association, which at the time doubled as the Commonwealth Games Association (CGA) of this country. The National Olympic Committee now doubles as the local governing body for Commonwealth sports and is affiliated to the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF).
We have participated in the Commonwealth Games in 1966 in Kingston, Jamaica, 1974 in Christchurch, New Zealand, 1978 in Edmonton, Canada, 1994 in Victoria, British Colombia, Canada, 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2002 in Manchester, England, 2006 in Melbourne, Australia and most recently, earlier this month, in Delhi, India.
Significantly, this country’s participation has been increasing as more sports compete for available places. In 2006 the national Netball team qualified to compete in Melbourne. This year even without a team sport the Vincentian contingent was still relatively large.
By and large our participation at the Commonwealth Games has not yielded the best of results but there have been good moments albeit all to infrequently.
The 100m in Delhi
Natasha went to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, ready to run the race of her life. She was eager to prove herself as an athlete of some stature. She wanted to redeem herself and recommit to representing her country with pride.
In the days ahead of her competition Mayers seemed at peace with herself regarding her chances in the pending 100m. She thought that her preparation was good enough to take her through to the final.
In 2002, competing in Manchester, England, Mayers had reached the final of the 100m but found the going tough. She finished eight. In the 200m she improved significantly, finishing overall fourth in the final.
In Delhi, Mayers got the perfect start to her 100m. In the first Heat she came out of the blocks particularly well, accelerated just as well and at 80m switched off, cruised through the final 20m completing an easy victory in the good time of 11.33. This was the fastest time in the first round of the Women’s 100m competition on the opening day of Athletics.
In his report on the semi final round of the competition, Athletics team manager, Tyrone James wrote, It was not as easy for the semi finals as the competitors took the challenge to her. But Natasha again rose to the mark and fought off the challengers, with determination.
James made the point, Unlike the first Heat where she had an excellent start and was able to run 80m and slowed for the remaining 20, her start in the semi final was not as clinical and she had to step up once again to win her heat in 11.38.
The semi final would have indicated to Mayers that she would have to run at her best if she wanted to medal in the final. Australia’s Sally Pearson won the other semi final in the very good time of 11.28, her personal best and she looked ominous.
The final of the Women’s 100m was filled with drama. Natasha was placed alongside Sally Pearson. When the starter’s gun went off it was clear to everyone in the stadium that Pearson had false started. This sent shivers amongst the Vincentian delegation in attendance given that she was alongside Mayers. Indeed, immediately after the recall pistol sounded, Pearson placed her hands to her face, turned away, perhaps expecting to be identified as the guilty individual. This did not happen.
The competition officials at the start of the race then falsely fingered England’s Laura Turner as the athlete guilty of the false start. For her part Turner insisted that it could not have been her and immediately invoked her right to run under protest. This was permitted.
The race eventually got going the second time around but the impact of the false start negatively impacted Mayers. She was scared of leaving the blocks too early. Her start was relatively poor and she found herself in mid-race, well out of the top positions. Fortunately for her she did not panic but held her form, maintained her composure and ran on gamely to finish in third place.
The official results showed Sally Pearson (11.28), repeating her personal best performance, followed by Osayemi Oludamola (11.32) of Nigeria and Natasha Mayers (11.37) of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Mayers was ecstatic when she saw her name on the screen as having medalled. She jumped for joy and ran to collect the Vincentian flag from the Vincentian delegation, in order to hold it aloft, proud of her achievement for her country.
For the moment, Vincentians in Delhi savoured the third place. Thursday 7 October 2010 therefore assumed historic significance for St Vincent and the Grenadines as the country earned its first medal at the Commonwealth Games in Athletics. There was joy all around.
Behind the scenes there was much more drama taking place. Turner’s protest was met by a counter protest from the Australians. This delayed the awards ceremony. In the end, on the day following the 100m final, Friday 8 October, the decision was taken to disqualify Sally Pearson for having false started. This done, Nigeria’s Oludamola was elevated to the gold medal and Mayers to silver. The medals were so awarded.
Two days later, 10 October, the Commonwealth Games Federation announced that Oludamola has tested positive for a banned stimulant, methylhexaneamine. Due process required that the athlete be given an opportunity to respond to the accusation and to demand that the ‘B’ sample be opened in her presence. This was done and on 12 October 2010, the CGF officially announced that Vincentian, Natasha Mayers, was awarded the gold medal for the Women’s 100m.
By the time of the final announcement Mayers had already left Delhi. The Vincentian contingent felt a great sense of achievement and once more savoured the moment.
Writing in Bulletin # 5 from Delhi, Athletics team manager, Tyrone James put is thus:
After many years of being denied medals at major meets, CWG Delhi 2010 seems to be favouring Team SVG in many respects. After a sterling performance in the woman 100m and clinching the bronze medal on the 7th October 2010, Natasha Mayers of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was upgraded to the silver on the 8th October following the disqualification of Sally Pearson of Australia.
James noted, In most Games this will generally end at one adjustment but Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010 had more surprises as the saga surrounding the Women’s 100m continued with the unfortunate annoncement on the 10th October that Osayemi Oludamola of Nigeria, who had earlier been awarded the gold medal, was tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine.
Finally, James stated, As circumstances may have it and as an ultimate irony of fate on the 11 October 2010, Natasha Mayers of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is now recognized as the CWG Delhi 2010 woman 100m champion and gold medal winner.
It remains an unfortunate reality that some commentators here at home would deliberately attempt to belittle the achievements of Mayers in winning the 100m and speaks to a major shortcoming in respect of national pride and a sense of who we are as a people.
Mayers has done her time for the indiscretion of the past. She has paid her dues and everyone hopes that she has learnt her lesson.
In the world of sport it is so easy to want to reach the top taking the shortest possible route. There is tremendous pressure on those who seek to make sport their life’s career path.
Today’s athlete faces many challenges, not the least of which is the money to be gained from success in sport.
No one but Natasha Mayers can guarantee that she never again turns to drugs as a means of pursuing success. The choice remains ultimately with her.
We must nonetheless commend her for staying with the sport; for returning to the top and for working diligently to bring herself back from the brink.
There is no doubt that despite the government’s failure over the years to even consider Natasha Mayers among those needing assistance that it may now find it opportune, more so politically opportune, to make capital of Mayers’ success. Such is the nature of politics.
We can only hope that Mayers understands what her success has meant for St Vincent and the Grenadines and Vincentians everywhere just as was the case with the announcement years ago of her positive drugs test.
For the sake of present and future generations we ask her to stay the course, held her head high, be a role model for Vincentian girls and women, and continue on her path to success in life through her hard work and achievements in her sport of choice – Athletics.