This month sees the refocusing of national athletics in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This comes about as the governing body for the sport in the country, Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG) continues its ongoing evaluation of where it is in relation to its Project 2012, launched two years ago.
Project 2012 was officially launched here in 2007. The emphasis was on ensuring that by the time of the London Olympic Games this country would have produced a cadre of athletes in athletics capable of making it to the finals of the competition and perhaps claiming this country’s first Olympic medal.
The Project called for the commencement of work on the introduction of Kids Athletics for children aged 5 – 10 years and the expansion of the Right On Track Programme. The systematic training of more individuals as coaches to broaden the base of people working with athletes across the country was also an areas receiving much attention in the Project. It also spoke to better performances from our athletes and the attainment of higher positions, including mounting the awards podium at the regional and international levels.
Project 2012 has suffered some serious setbacks. In the first instance the individual coach sent to train as lead instructor for the Kids in Athletics Programme failed to deliver and never really passed on his knowledge to other potential coaches and/or teachers as anticipated.
It is only recently that TASVG has been afforded another training programme in Puerto Rico to which two coaches were sent and trained. Since this latter action a national course has been held and 14 teachers have been trained. There was a pilot project in Ki=ds Athletics involving schools in the North Windward area ending in a competition between the participoatimng schools.
The primary school in Biabou was also invited since one of the locally trained teachers introduced the programme there. This latter school won the competition.
Then there was a national competition which was again won by the Biabou institution, attesting to the considerable work being undertaken by Mr Shortte there.
At the Carifta Games we have been able to attain a medal earlier this year in the 5000m. This was long in coming and most welcomed by the TASVG.
At the regional level while there have been medals won at the NACAC Open Championships in El Salvador in 2007 and at the NACAC Under 23 in Mexico in the same year – Adonson Shallow and Kineke Alexander, our athletes have not gone on to better things at the world level in the period covered by Project 2012.
At the Beijing Olympics Kineke Alexander and Jared Lewis both disappointed to the extreme. Neither athlete went beyond the first round of competition.
At this year’s world Championships there was some redemption for Kineke Alexander who made it to the semi finals of the 400m. Clayton Latham however faltered badly in the Long Jump.
Three athletes have been in receipt of IAAF assistance to train at the High Performance Training Centre (HPTC) in Jamaica but without much success. The three returned home citing several problems experienced in Jamaica much of which remain at variance with the Centre’s reports.
TASVG has opted to refocus its attention effective September 2009 in order to meet its targets for 2012.
The first area on which great emphasis would be placed is the field events – the horizontal jumps, and the throws.
Orde Ballantyne won this country’s first Carifta Games gold medal and his achievement came in the Shot Put. Unfortunately, while we have had successes at this level in other Carifta Games through Jacqueline Ross, Saville Sayers and Adonson Shallow, there has not been deliberate emphasis coming from the governing body.
In the absence of a synthetic surface there is little likelihood of our sprinters being able to favourably compete at the regional and international levels unless there is immense talent. This is the reason for a return to the field events.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is blessed with many young persons, male and female, who are favourably disposed physically to participate in the field events. In the rural communities in particular there is no shortage of individuals possessive of the physiological make-up suited to the requirements for the field events.
In many respects the throws seem almost natural to many of the young people in these communities and all that is needed is consistent exposure to a systematic training programme supported by sound coaching advice and supervision.
The intention is to ensure that every week during the conditioning period, September – December 2009, witnesses coaches from TASVG working in the rural areas of St Vincent and the Grenadines Mondays through Thursdays. Saturdays would focus on particular events ion the urban area where the High Jump and throwing circles for the Shot Put and other field event facilities are readily available.
Discussions are advanced with the National Sports Council in respect of upgrading existing field events facilities and providing them where they do not already exist.
The extremities of St Vincent would be well served with coaches whose mandate would extend to the upgrading of the skill competencies of teachers and community personnel interested in the sport.
Pamenos Ballantyne has been this country’s foremost distance running athlete. While undoubtedly he was not the first to make his mark on the regional scene he has certainly become the nation’s biggest achiever.
While Ballantyne has not made it at the highest international level – Olympics and World Championships, he continues to keep the nation’s flag flying in the face of much difficulty.
Distance running has shifted from an urban to a rural focus. The TASVG’s Road Racing and Cross Country Commission has found the enthusiasm in distance running greatest in the rural areas.
At the regional level the likes of Jamaica, Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago and Bahamas are certainly not the very best at the distance running events and there is ample room for success here. Of course, at the international level, anything above 800m often transforms into an African Championships.
Effective September this year, there would be renewed emphasis on road running especially in the rural areas.
The leadership of Pamenos Ballantyne and the members of his ‘Chatoyers’ grouping would be critical.
The Cross Country and Road Running season would assume greater importance since the best performers would be brought under a more stringent programme aimed at raising the level of performances at the regional and international levels.
With TASVG hosting this year’s NemWil OECS Half Marathon in October much is expected in terms of participation by our athletes but also enhanced performances. This marks the beginning of a new era in this particular aspect of the sport.
Work has already begun in the area of accessing the necessary funding for the overseas-based athletes to professionalise. It is one thing to expect better from Kineke Alexander but she is at a level where her peers are into professional clubs where their respective governments pay the training fees or they are fully sponsored by international sports companies. At this level one cannot, as an athlete, rely on the occasional pittance that national federations can access. Much more is required.
Some of our athletes who are based here at home do need access to better training. The sand-based facility at Arnos Vale suffices for little more than the conditioning period, as our footballers will find out yet again. They need access to better, high quality training.
TASVG has pledged to continue its pursuit of access to high level training for all of its athletes and seek governmental and others support for scholarships.
It remains an unfortunate reality that after having trained close to 100 coaches in track and field athletics the number of active coaches can be counted on one hand. There is no excuse beyond the lack of genuine commitment to the voluntarism that is required.
TASVG’s Coaches Commission remains active but without many coaches. Several of those who once committed to the Right On Track Programme where they were paid $50 per session for three to four hours work on a Saturday morning have found the heart to request as much as $90 instead for the same period, a rate far in excess of most of the employees in the State and yet they have seen nothing wrong with their request. They have opted out of the programme, leaving the burden to fall on a few.
Several of our coaches have also sought to engage in petty ridicule of those who have bitten the bullet and excelled in the training offered enough to access the highest levels of certification. This has allowed for a fair measure of acrimony amongst the fraternity and certainly hindered the process of coaches’ development.
In reality too many of our coaches have become envious of others. The interest seem not to be on ensuring that ‘each one teach one’ such that the nation benefits. Those who are less qualified must work diligently with those who have excelled.
We can go nowhere in sport without the coordinated approach to coaching.
It is therefore most important for the coaches to refocus themselves and work collectively in the best interest of the sport.
Track and field athletics can make an important difference in the lives of countless Vincentians.