London 2012 – a realistic assessment

We are less than one year away from the commencement of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
In a recent interview on the state of preparation in London, England, International Olympic Committee President, Jacques Rogge, expressed his satisfaction with the state of the facilities and ancillary infrastructure. Of course there is much work still to be done but the fact is that all systems are in place for yet another successful edition of the Summer Olympics.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines the National Olympic Committee launched its Road to London 2012 Campaign a few weeks ago and continues to sensitise this nation’s children and the public at large about the Games. Part of the Campaign is building awareness of the Games themselves from antiquity to the present and to promote the positive values attendant to the Olympic Movement.
True the world continues to be in conflict but there is still hope that if the leaders of sport at whatever level commit themselves to the lofty ideals of sport we may yet be able to achieve global peace and understanding.
Twinning of schools
Effective September 2011 the St Vincent Grammar School and the Emmanuel High School Mesopotamia would be twinned with schools in London, England, as part of the London 2012 Olympics.
The students of these two schools would be part of a global programme aimed at familiarising them with knowledge about London and the various components of the culture that is being used to welcome the world in the summer of 2012.
One therefore expects that the principals and staff of these institutions would prepare their students for the activities in which they would be involved.
More recently the St Vincent and the Grenadines National Olympic Committee (NOC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the county of Hertfordshire.
The leadership of the county are now expressing an interest in facilitating the twinning of schools through its jurisdiction with schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines outside of those already signed on by the Long=don 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG).
The NOC must ensure that the schools involved are up to the task.
Students of this country could find themselves becoming particularly informed and enthused in the way a city that wins the bid to host the Olympic Games prepares itself and seeks to capture the rest of the world in this regard.
We must also expect that our local media would take time to follow the relationships that are established so that even though we may never host an Olympics we would nonetheless have afforded our children to be knowledgeable of what is involved.
Vincentian students would interact with students from different parts of London exchanging pictures and ideas about the pending Summer Olympics. We can expect that our students would seek out different historic sites to inform their London counterparts about. The should also share our music, our festivals and other aspects of Vincentian life.
Twining of Schools
There will be every opportunity for Vincentian students to write essays, stories, poems and dramatic pieces about life in St Vincent and the Grenadines as part of their ongoing dialogue with their London counterparts.
The exchanges between students can extend to the entire school and parents, leading perhaps to exchange visits and avenues for tourism on both sides of the Atlantic.
Pre Olympic Training
The aforementioned MoU allows the NOC access to the seventeen accredited pre-games training venues within Hertfordshire as well as the specialist strengthening and fitness equipment facilities at Hertfordshire University Sports Village.  The LOCOG has offered each of the NOCs affiliated to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) twenty five thousand pounds sterling as a preparation grant to facilitate their honing of skills of their best athletes for the Olympic Games of 2012.  The presumption is that most of the NOCs would have athletes who are capable of making the established qualifying standards for the Olympic Games and who would benefit from training at one of the counties in the United Kingdom before going on to compete at the Olympics.  The LOCOG’s offer is really an attempt to engage as many counties and components of the British Isles in the celebration of the Olympics of 2012.  Thus it is that NOCs have been wooed by all of the counties.
There is no transfer of monies to the NOCs under this programme.  All monies are to be spent by Britain in Britain.
St Vincent and the Grenadines and several other small Caribbean NOCs have opted for Hertfordshire.
In the case of St Vincent and the Grenadines, accessing the facilities at Hertfordshire would depend on their varying levels of success in the qualifying competitions for London 2012.
The qualifying period for track and field athletes wishing to compete at the London 2012 Olympics began on 1 May 2011.  This means that, whereas in the past athletes would have had essentially 18 months within which to make the qualifying standards they now have just over one year.  In our case, this essentially means that thus far, no Vincentian athlete has attained the qualifying standards.
Athletics is one of two sports, which commands a very high profile at the quadrennial Olympics. The other sport is Aquatics, formerly called Swimming. Over the years the IOC has accepted the stance of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the international federation for Aquatics (FINA) that regardless of qualifying standards each NOC would be allowed to have their respective national Athletics and Aquatics governing bodies nominate one male and one female athlete to participate at the Olympics.
For several years this country has benefitted from the IOC policy in respect of athletics but this is certainly not good enough.
Vincentians have a point when they argue that Vincentian track and field athletes do not seem to understand what is required of them to meet the standards established by the IAAF.
Of course there remains heavy reliance on the overseas-based athletes because of their access to international-standard facilities and frequency of competition. But even these have turned out to be quite disappointing, especially this year. In each case there has been on-going requests for financial support that is simply not available in the way in which it is required.
Natasha Mayers received monthly funding from the government here while Kineke Alexander and Courtney Williams are on Olympic Solidarity scholarships. None of these have as yet come close to the standards for 2012 and only Mayers made the World Championships standards when she won the 100m at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India last year.
Home-based athletes have suffered from the absence of adequate facilities but several of the senior athletes also lack the commitment to consistent training and the discipline required for international success. They have had no shortage of chances in 2011 to even make the qualifying standards for the Pan American Games. Two attempts at qualifying a team for the 4 x 100m relay at the Games resulted in disaster, first in St Kitts/Nevis and later in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
TASVG cannot be satisfied with the performances of its athletes with less than one year to the Olympics. What is more is that the athletes of whom much is expected continue to disappoint. Excuses abound but that does little to change the reality.
Vincentians correctly point to the performances of others in the region. They point to the performances of athletes from Grenada and St Lucia to say nothing of the tiny island of Kitts/Nevis.
Admittedly all of these countries now possess synthetic surfaces, which have engendered greater interest in the sport. They have also produced athletes who have attained enough international recognition to attract sponsorship from sportswear manufacturers, not just for themselves, but also for their national athletics bodies. The latest such has been Grenada’s sponsorship by PUMA.
Of the several disciplines involved in Aquatics this country participates only in swimming. Like Athletics there are no adequate facilities here for swimming. Rickydeane Alexander must be credited with keeping the sport alive when it was all but dead. Happily there is new leadership in the sport and there is one athlete who has been selected for the Pan American Games scheduled for Guadalajara, Mexico, in the October later this year.
Unfortunately there is no female mature enough in the sport to gain nomination but it is expected that this is possible by the time the Olympics comes around.
With a small swimming pool at Shrewsbury House being renovated it is expected that we would see more swimmers coming forward and already there are several youngsters showing keen interest.
As yet there does not seem to be much interest in developing Open Water swimming, which is a new feature of the sport on the Olympic programme.
The rest
Of the other sports Boxing and Cycling may be eligible for wild cards at the Olympics of 2012. Cycling would find the going particularly tough although the local Cycling Union has been awarded a place at the Pan American Games later this year.
Keithland King has shown much promise in the region and farther afield in Boxing and could very well gain a wild card if he continues to show good form and does well at the Olympic Qualifier held just prior to the Congress of the International Boxing Associations (AIBA) in Asia in late August and again at the Pan American Games in October.
For St Vincent and the Grenadines the Road to London 2012 is not exactly an easy one.
Still, in the face of all of the aforementioned challenges there is a commitment to work with the associations that can still make it through to the Games if their athletes up the ante in respect of their performances.
There is indeed much work to be done.