St Lucia’s Zephrinus Joseph and Victor Ledger worked as a team to lead a showcasing of road running talent in the recently concluded NemWil/National Lotteries Authority OECS Half Marathon here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Road running has always been an important part of the annual calendar of the several governing bodies for athletics in the sub region. However, in recent times there have been significant changes in this regard. In some instances road running has virtually ceased to exist while in others there is a move to resuscitate the activity.
Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG) has established a Road Racing and Cross Country Commission to oversee the planning, organisation and administration of road races and the annual cross country championships.
Several years ago the TASVG began a road race series called, “In Every Place A Race”. The intention was to bring road running to all parts of St Vincent and the Grenadines. At the time the popularity of Pamenos and Benedict Ballantyne was at its height and it offered the people of this country to see them compete together and encourage the nation’s youths to get involved.
The successes of the Ballantyne brothers across the Caribbean served to bolster interest in road running generally across the country and especially in the North Windward area of Sandy Bay from which they hailed.
At that time too an English couple, the Dingleys, were engaged in voluntary work in the North Leeward area. Their own interest in youth development saw them encourage participation in sport as a vehicle for community development. They encouraged the youths to train regularly and assured their participation in the entire road running activities of TASVG.
There were several good corporate citizens that came forward in support of the road running events organised by TASVG. Trophies and medals were the order of the day.
The period September through to November has long since been designated TASVG’s Road Running and Cross Country season. Many track athletes are encouraged to use this same period as their pre-season preparation phase and several have participated in the shorter road races in this regard.
It is unfortunate however that the tightening of the national economy has caused a change in the way things are done in respect of road racing and cross country running. There is now an annual Road Race Series replacing the In Every Place A Race concept, driven in large measure by the availability of funding from a few generous sponsors and TASVG’s own resources. Additionally, road races no longer feature trophies and medals. Prize monies are provided in accordance with the available sponsorship.
The most successful athletes have the opportunity to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines in road races and cross-country championships across the NACAC area. We have therefore had representation in the NACAC Cross Country Championships, the Run Barbados Series, the CLICO Marathon and the University of the West Indies Half Marathon in Trinidad and Tobago, the South American 10K in Guyana, the annual Caricom 10K and the OECS 10K and Half Marathon.
Every year therefore, as the August vacation comes to a close Vincentians can expect September to usher in the annual Road Racing and Cross Country season with the four-legged Round D Town Road Relay in Kingstown followed by the National Properties Cross Country Championships at Diamond.
The current strategy is fuelled by the fact that distance running is very weak in the Caribbean. It is the one area where even at the junior level we can access the awards podium. Recent evidence of this is the case of Delhonni Samuel who medalled at the Carifta Games earlier this year in St Lucia.
TASVG believes that this strategy could work and lay the basis for a strong road running and cross-country team in the future.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has had the good fortune of hosting several editions of the annual OECS Half Marathon. The first time that this country played host to the gruelling event it was sponsored by ECGC. NemWil soon enough replaced the ECGC as the main sponsor of the event.
For several years now the sponsorship has stood at $25,000 wile expenses continue to climb. It was therefore necessary for the TASVG to pursue additional funding to realise the event in a professional manner. The National Lotteries authority, The News newspaper and the National Olympic Committee all responded to the needs of TASVG.
Last Sunday’s NemWil/NLA OECS Half Marathon saw a 41-strong field begin their trek to Kingstown at Spring on the windward side of the island. By the time they got to the finish line in front of Corea’s on Bay St, local agents for NemWil, 37 of the starters completed the course.
The winning time of 1:14.13 must be considered very good given the hilly nature of the terrain used for the event. Joseph’s performance was particularly outstanding as he worked his strategy in grand style leaving all others in his wake. His compatriot, Victor Ledger, stayed on the heels of Pamenos Ballantyne, the primary local challenger, until he thought it most opportune to make his own bid in pursuit of Joseph. Curtis Cox of Trinidad and Tobago finished third with Pamenos Ballantyne in fourth and Jules LaRode of Trinidad and Tobago rounding of the top five prize money winners.
On the women’s side, Shemin Lasaldo of Trinidad and Tobago proved herself to be particularly prepared and more so than our own Lisa Daniel. Lasaldo completed the course in 1:39.18. Kenisha Pascal of Grenada finished third, with SVG’s Nadia Delpesche and Trinidad and Tobago’s Samantha Shukla rounding off the top five positions.
Road race courses are usually conducted on flatter terrain but that is difficult to find in St Vincent, even for a 10K far less a half marathon. Sunday’s race was therefore particularly challenging to the runners and all must be congratulated fro taking on the task.
Perhaps special mention should be made of Shareen Gumbs, Louise Mitchell-Joseph and Jermine Cambridge, three women who started training only a short time ago but who were committed to participating and have fun doing it. They crossed the finish line together in just over three hours. We understand that they are now considering taking on a similar event in the Run Barbados series in a few weeks. They must have been a source of inspiration to many of our girls and women and this can only augur well for the future.
Generally, the race was exciting. Up front there was an early battle for the lead between Joseph, the eventual winner and Curtis Cox who eventually finished third.
The support of Vincentians, lovers of sport, all along the route was great. Loyal patrons lined the route in their vehicles along the new road at Argyle to give their support and enjoy the enthusiasm of the runners. In Kingstown a very large crowd was on hand to see the finish of the race and enjoy the musical accompaniment provided and the Avenues Dancers.
Credit must be given to Leroy Llewellyn and the members of the Road Racing and Cross Country Commission for the excellent administration of Sunday’s event. Obvious attention to detail in the preparatory exercise facilitated the success that the events obviously turned out to be.
The Executive of TASVG chipped in to ensure that all aspects of the event received appropriate attention.
The provision of portable toilets at both the start and conclusion of the race was most welcomed by participants and patrons alike and showed a shift to a higher level of organisation on the part of the Commission.
Given that the race was conducted in the midst of hectic politicking in respect of the referendum on the proposed new constitution it was commendable that since the Police could only have provided one outrider the members of the Motorcycle Club were sufficiently committed to the broader sport development process in this country that they readily responded to the request from TASVG to lend support by moving between the race to ensure adequate protection of the participants. This was necessitated by the fact that despite the advertisements and the cautionary measures indicated by the lead vehicles and the Police Outrider, many of the motorists drove without appropriate care for the fact that a race was in progress. Indeed the attitude of some motorists was that the race was a burden to them and that everyone should have vacated the road for them.
Still, one has to be very grateful that there were no accidents along the route.
The medical support was good with water stations appropriately located accompanied by representatives of the Red Cross. Perry De Freitas did the honours of being the doctor on the route, monitoring the situation. Lennox Adams was also on the route.
There is much to be learnt from the recently concluded OECS Half Marathon. What is important is that we can learn the lessons and move forward with confidence. The TASVG must continue to strive after ever-higher levels of professionalism in its operations. Our coaches must engage themselves more in encouraging our people to run. It is good for life.
There is an urgent need for greater support from the corporate sector if we are to do more with road running in this country.
There ought to be one major regional; road race event hosted here annually. Our capacity for road running and our various challenging routes allow us to create a niche for producing, annually, the region’s most challenging road race. One would hope that the National Lotteries Authority has seen the kind of mass support the recent event generated and eagerly support this proposed venture.
Our athletes could certainly move in larger numbers to the pinnacle of road racing in the Caribbean.