Reviewing our sport options – the case of athletics

Certainly, in many respects, Alexander’s success is TASVG’s success in so far as the latter organisation has long since been deliberately involved in the preparation of this athlete for a strong athletics future.
Alexander’s success is a Vincentian success and we should all be proud.

Hard work
Alexander has come a very long way in respect of her involvement in athletics.
The late Sister Pat of the St Joseph’s Convent Marriaqua must be singled out for her remarkable understanding of the situation of this young lady and her support in so many different ways.
Sister Pat was special and Kineke held a very special place in her life’s work. If only she were here to be part of the success story that is unfolding in so far as the athletics and academic progress of Kineke Alexander is concerned.
Sister Pat saw both the academic and athletic capabilities of Alexander and sought to encourage her every step of the way with the commitment that was consistent with her religious vocation among the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny.
Cecil Chin, in his capacity as Physical Education teacher at the Marriaqua Convent must also be given due credit for his own involvement and encouragement to Alexander in her formative years in athletics.
Lotia Rose and her husband, Dexter Rose, must be credited for their role in Alexander’s stability, growth and development in so many different aspects.
Many coaches in St Vincent and the Grenadines have helped Alexander over time, especially Gideon Labban who helped in her understanding and appreciation of drills and consistency with her training regimen in her athletics development.
When she left local shores she had already attained just over 54 seconds in the 400m.
She had also attained a gold medal at the CAC Junior Championships in Quatzoqualcos, Mexico, and had been on the podium at the Carifta Games.
The foregoing achievements must be considered against the backdrop that they came from an athlete working with local coaches training only on grass surfaces.
There was no doubt in the minds of any who worked with Alexander that she possesses an abundance of athletics talent and that she can move on to higher levels of success once she continues to apply herself.
James Grant, coach at Iowa where Alexander pursues studies while being the beneficiary of an athletics scholarship, joined the long line of individuals impacting the athlete’s athletics career. Gradually he got her to engage in training workouts that local coaches had been insisting upon, but from which she shied away over time.
During her first year at Iowa, Alexander’s 400m time began to drop at a more rapid pace than had been the case hitherto. Coach Grant informed TASVG of her eagerness to work hard and of her responsiveness to the particular workouts aimed at taking her to higher levels of achievement on the track.
In her second year, Alexander showed such remarkable progress that she won the 400m at the NCAA Indoor Championships. This was followed by a second place in the NCAA Outdoors.
The bronze medal at the CAC Games did not therefore emerge out of thin air or by accident. It was the result of Alexander’s commitment to hard work in athletics and recognition of her potential.

Scholarships in the Schema
Track and field athletics in St Vincent and the Grenadines, like some other sporting disciplines, suffers from a lack of adequate facilities.
The absence of adequate facilities has impacted the growth and development of athletics in the State and many athletes, including Kineke Alexander, have had to turn elsewhere for advancement in the sport.
This country’s athletics history is not short of examples of potentially good athletes having little choice but to move out if they are to make progress.
A number of our athletes have been able to access athletics scholarships to the USA. Not many of them have however stayed with the sport in a manner that we would have relished.
The most successful athlete who went abroad via the scholarship route remains Eswort Coombs. Alas, when all the athletics world waited patiently for his international blossoming, Coombs unceremoniously abandoned the sport that had elevated him to international recognition in the first place.
Kineke Alexander now seems set to be a major challenge to Coombs’ record in this regard.
Unlike some of our neighbours in the Caribbean, Vincentian athletes have not been accessing many Junior Colleges via the scholarship routes. Instead they have had to battle for the places in four-year universities which require Scholastic Aptitude Test, SAT, scores of 850 or above. Unfortunately too, despite the fact that the Peace Corps operations in St Vincent and the Grenadines have offered assistance to those Vincentians wishing to do the SAT with their educational preparations, not enough athletes have seized the opportunity and those who have and not attained the required score have not returned for a second chance at the exam.
Many Vincentian athletes who have accessed the four-year universities have actually opted to spend more of their time pursuing their studies and have gradually stopped competing. The career options have been in the direction of employment opportunities within the USA, for the most part rather than a return to local shores of economic uncertainties.
None of our athletes on scholarships have ever opted for a career in athletics on the track as is the case with athletes from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago the Bahamas and Barbados.
In the recent past, the International Olympic Committee, IOC, has been offering scholarship opportunities to athletes in sporting associations that are affiliated to their respective National Olympic Committees, NOC. These opportunities have been offered through the IOC’s development arm, Olympic Solidarity.
Eswort Coombs and Natasha Mayers have been recipients of Olympic Solidarity scholarships designed to have them better prepared for the Olympic Games.< br />During the course of this year, Casnel Bushay and Adonson Shallow have been recipients of Olympic Solidarity scholarships in preparation for Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
In the previous cases, Coombs and Mayers, the athletes rose to the occasion and attained the qualifying standards set by the International Association of Athletics Federations, IAAF, for participation in the respective Olympic Games: Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004.
The foregoing examples should serve Bushay and Shallow well in their respective quests to meet the established standards for the Olympic Games of Beijing 2008.
Scholarships are very useful for Vincentian athletes but do not necessarily guarantee that the athletes will stay with the sport. This poses several critical questions in respect of the development of athletics in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It necessitates a revisiting of the entire approach to developing the sport in the State.
In the absence of adequate facilities and genuine commitment on the part of the Government there is little to attract athletes back home following their accession of scholarships to study and compete abroad.

Regional Development Centres and High Performance Training Centres
In the recent past the IAAF has established a number of Regional Development Centres, RDC’s, and High Performance Centres, HPTC’s, in the six continental areas in which it has spread its work.
The RDCs have been designed to facilitate the development of coaches and technical officials for the sport of athletics. They develop and implement the Coaches Education Certification System, CECS, and the Technical Officials Education Certification System, TOECS, which ensures that the individuals are duly trained and accredited.
The IAAF has also developed the HPTCs with the expressed mandate of offering higher level training to athletes within the respective Continental Areas. In the North American, Central American and Caribbean, NACAC, Area there are two HPTCs, one in Jamaica for sprints and hurdles and another in Cuba for throws and jumps.
Thus far TASVG has sent Abasey Ralph and Casnel Bushay to the HPTC in Jamaica. Unfortunately the situation with Ralph did not work out as planned. The organisation is hopeful that things will be different with Bushay.
TASVG is currently in negotiations with the IAAF to facilitate two additional athletes in Jamaica.
The needs of the local athletes are manifold and the more advanced need to get out if they are to make progress. Without facilities, they can do nothing.
One the other hand, the Right On Track, ROT, Programme introduced here in the latter part of 2005 targets the children and offers them a fun-filled introduction to athletics in the hope that they will be attracted to the sport in such a manner that they would want to stay with the sport well into their future. This constitutes and important revision of the way things is done in the sport and lays the basis for future developments.

Administrators and Coaches
Athletes, however talented, do not make themselves. This is true of athletes involved in all sporting disciplines everywhere in the world. Unfortunately though, not much is heard about the coaches who contribute in no small measure to the development of these athletes. Even less is heard about the administrators of the sport in the countries in which these athletes have developed.
In the Caribbean we have often heard it said that we do not recognise and appreciate our own. This is more than just a saying. It is a reality.
We have had several examples of athletes who have been helped along the way from talent identification through to medal-winning performances at the regional level who, once involved with an overseas-based coach, especially in the USA, simply ignore those who were responsible for their foundation in the sport.
Happily this is not the case with all of our athletes but there are many to whom this can easily be applied.
It does a gross disservice to those coaches who have taken the time and expended much energy preparing programmes, implementing them and engaging in the ongoing encouragement of the athletes.
The experience is very frustrating for our coaches and it gets worse when the athletes move on to engage in training regimens with their new coaches that local coaches had long since been encouraging them to do.
Local coaches are often without recognition generally and are deeply hurt when all credit for an athlete’s later success is showered on those who benefited from the groundwork laid by these very local coaches.
Without administrators who have vision and who have been able to marshal others to work collectively in pursuit of success for the sport in the country yet they are among the least recognised contributors to the success of our athletes.
Perhaps it may be appropriate at this juncture of sporting development in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean for our coaches at home to receive due recognition for their hard work.
While it may yet be some time before Associations are able to offer appropriate incentives to coaches and administrators in one form or another we can certainly begin by recognising them for their work.
Associations are encouraged to add recognition of these individuals at their respective Annual Awards Ceremonies. This would allow the media to aid in the broader recognition of these individuals by the public.