Swimming’s big moment looms

gal5Mark the dates, 10 – 13 November 2016. These are the days of competition for the annual OECS Swimming Championships.
The first three days, 10 – 12, will witness competitive swimming in the pool and on the final day, 13 November, there will be Open Water swimming.
Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Grenada, Martinique and St Lucia will join host, St Vincent and the Grenadines to provide the nation, family and friends of the athletes, with exciting competition of a friendly nature.
What’s the big thing?
This is the first time that St Vincent and the Grenadines is hosting the OECS Swimming Championships.
The journey
Like so many of our island neighbours St Vincent and the Grenadine sis surrounded by water yet the vast majority of Vincentians have never learnt to swim.
In this country the very first thing we consider in planning a picnic is either to go by the river or the sea yet for the most part, participants to the activity would do little more than venture into the water merely for a dip rather than enjoy the pleasure of a good, long swim.
We are not alone.
Some years ago the Bahamas Olympic Committee realised that in any given year far too many Bahamians die by drowning and embarked in a project aimed at encouraging people to learn to swim as a mere survival skill. They could not believe that with so many small islands making up the nation water was everywhere and so many could not swim.
Here at home it may well be necessary to have the swimming association undertake a similar programme in an effort to stave off the chances of death by drowning among young and old Vincentians alike.
The decision to establish a swimming association took some time in coming and the path through to where we are today has not always been smooth. Those committed individuals who helped in the journey must indeed be commended for without their efforts we may never have attained any measure of success.
In the absence of a pool of its own and no pool in St Vincent and the Grenadines of competition size the swimming fraternity was still able to get enough done to gain national representation.
Participation in Games
This country first participated in swimming at multisport Games in 1998 when Natahki Antoine made the national team to the Central American and Caribbean Games in Maracaibo, Venezuela.
With Mrs Ophelia Alexander as her manager/chaperone, Natahki contested the 50m freestyle and placed 22nd overall with a performance of 35.84. She also competed in the 100 freestyle where she was ranked 21st overall with a time of 1:24.27.
One year later, interest in the sport grew despite the absence of adequate facilities and for the Pan American Games 1999 held in Winnipeg, Canada, Natahki Antoine and Stephenson Wallace were the representatives in the swimming competition. In the 100m backstroke Natahki placed 7th in her heat with a time of 1:33.20. Stephenson Wallace participated in the 100m breaststroke where he placed 8th in his with a time of 1:28.59.
For the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia in 2000 Teran Matthews and Stevenson Wallace were the swimmers with President of the Swimming Association, Wendell Lewis, as the manager.
Wallace competed in the 50m Freestyle with a performance of 27.84, not good enough to advance to the next round. In her 50m Freestyle Matthews attained a time of 31.71, not enough to advance.
The CAC Games of 2002 were held in San Salvador, El Salvador and Stephenson Wallace and Fidel Davis were the selected swimmers with Grenadian coach, Michael Davidson, on assignment with the Vincentian association, as the team’s coach. While the experience was beneficial the performances were not outstanding. The local athletes in the sport were really not well equipped for the level of competition.
For the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, 2004, things changed somewhat for swimming in terms of representation. Donnie De Freitas, son of former president of the NOC by the same name, based in Cuba, contested the 50m Freestyle. In his heat he was timed at 27.72 seconds, finishing 74th overall, not good enough to allow him to advance beyond the first round of competition.
Two years later however, at the CAC Games in Cartagena, Colombia, Stephenson Wallace returned to the national team and was accompanied by Rickydeane Alexander as coach. Wallace contested the 50m freestyle but came up well short of the competition with a time of 27.00. In the 50m breaststroke, he again failed to impact the competition covering the distance in 36.00.
Swimming went into a very slow period. The Grenadian coach had returned home. The leadership of the association seemed to have grown tired.
Thanks to Rickydeane Alexander the sport survived but barely so. The structure had collapsed. Still, there were people swimming and some thought that it was important to support athletes in the sport.
At the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, 2011, Tolga Akcayli swam to a personal best of 25.65 finishing 7th in his heat. This performance was not good enough to get him through to the next round of the competition.
At the Olympic Games a year later in London, England, Akcayli was again the lone swimmer.
Initiatives had however begun to revitalise the association led at the time by Andre Cadogan, his wife and a few keen individuals. They sought and obtained access to the unfinished pool at Shrewsbury House, completed it and made it operational.
Following the London Olympics the NOC afforded the association a long term programme, Development of the National Sport Structure (DNSS), which saw them have the guidance and support of David Farmer of Barbados for approximately six months.
At the Commonwealth Games 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland, Nikolas Sylvester – 50 Meter Butterfly – 29.03 seconds (Personal Best time) – 46th position, Dillon Gooding – 50 Meter Butterfly – 30.62 seconds (Personal Best time) – 48th position, Storm Halbich – 50 Meter Butterfly – 31.09 seconds (PB) – 49th position, Shne Joachim – 50 Meter Breaststroke – 34.80 seconds – 22nd position, making the qualification standard for the Pan Am Games 2015. She also placed 24th in the 50 Freestyle in a time of 27.3 seconds. In the 50m Butterfly Shne swam 30.10 (PB)
Adora Lawrence swam a personal best time of 31.23 seconds in the same event.
In the 100m Breaststroke all the male athletes swam personal best times as follows: Nikolas Sylvester 1:12.80; Shane Cadogan 1:18.29 and Storm Halbich 1:20.24. In the 50m Backstroke: Storm Halbich – 31.80 seconds (PB); Nikolas Sylvester – 32.28 seconds and Dillon Gooding – 32.64 seconds – PB)
In the men’s 100m Freestyle: Nikolas Sylvester – (59.43 seconds – PB) Storm Halbich (1:01.93 – PB); Dillon Gooding (1:01.93 – PB).
At the 2nd Youth Olympics held in Nanjing, China in 2014, Adora Lawrence contested the 50m Butterfly, finishing 8th in her heat.
Of course at the Pan Am Games 2015 Shne Joachim and Nikolas Sylvester represented the country as they did again earlier this year at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In both cases they were somewhat overawed by the competition but gave good account of themselves under the circumstances.
Tyrone James, a member of the Vincentian management team at the Commonwealth Games summarised the performance of our swimmers as follows: Success is defined as “achieving your goals,” doing what you intended to do” and “achieving your full potential” among many others. It suggests that in embarking on any project or activity one must have a defined objective in mind. What many persons do however is identify the final goal and dismiss the many milestones of measurement to their intended objectives.
This however is not the case with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Commonwealth Swimming team, which comprises a group of wide-eyed teenagers and pre-teens that seem intent on making their mark in Commonwealth history. Certainly at this 20th Commonwealth Games St. Vincent and the Grenadines has the youngest swimmer in Shane Cadogan at thirteen years.
This however, is not the measure of success as defined by these young swimmers as they campaigned among stronger, more seasoned and experienced swimmers. Despite this however, these young crusaders have in most part come to terms with the conditions in Glasgow and has been progressively whittling away at their times. Almost without fail every swimmer has achieved a personal best every time they enter the pool – these are the milestones to success.
The foregoing remains very true even as the local swimming body moves forward.
There is now an expanded six-lane pool of 25m at Shrewsbury. This is the result of the tremendous amount of work undertaken by current president, Stephen Joachim, and the corps of support that is his executive and friends and family.
The swimming facility now accommodates a larger number of athletes in change rooms and an area where they can either prepare for their events or recover after competing
Close examination of the work undertaken over the past few years to upgrade the facilities, train coaches and encourage greater participation amongst Vincentians provides the average individual with a sense of pride.
That the SVG Swimming Association can now proudly invite our neighbours to compete here in the organisation’s own pool (leased of course from government as an almost abandoned facility several years ago) is a great achievement.
It is true that swimming is relatively expensive.
Despite the very best efforts at opening up the sport to all Vincentians there are recurrent costs attendant to the maintenance of the pool, the treatment of the water to avoid contamination of the athletes, the pump, to name a few. Not surprisingly therefore, coaches and teams must pay user fees in addition to the cost of training the athlete sin their charge.
Countless Vincentians want to swim and to be part of what is emerging. They all understand the significance of having a facility as one’s own to use as often as training and competition dictate.
Numerically, SVG will perhaps have the fewest number of athlete sin the OECS Championships. Some will mount the podium and others will not.
We can however be sure that every Vincentian athlete who dares to compete will give of his/her very best and that is what really matters.
Lovers of sport in SVG would trek out to Rathomill to lend support regardless of the outcome for all the participants are winners for having been there and giving of themselves.
Let is join hands and hearts and welcome the sub regional teams and enjoy as one family, the very proud and historic moment for swimming in St Vincent and the Grenadines.