The pool of world class athletes Cayman Islands boasts of having hasn’t just developed through natural talent and hard work alone. The third, most vital element has been in the exceptional coaching.
Major props goes to Kenrick Williams, track and field head coach, who for 11 years has been grooming his charges to be nothing less than world and Olympic champions.
It’s been a long, tantalisingly slow process but Williams believes all his efforts will gain fruition within the next few years. And the facts endorse that.
‘We have a nucleus of talent coming through who will soon be challenging for medals in major championships,’ says Williams. ‘There’s Tyrell Cuffy (sprinter), Michael Letterlough (hammer, discus), Omar Wright (high jump), Stephon Johnson (long jump) and the Morgan twins Carl and Carlos (long jump). Then, of course, there is the young sensation Kemar Hyman (sprinter) who is preparing next year for two special events, the world junior championships and the Olympics in Beijing. All of them teenagers or in their early twenties.
‘Based on Hyman’s performances this year, including 20.06 seconds in the 200m, I know he will be in the final in that and probably the 100m final at the world juniors. He will be the man for us. Tyrell too, is coming on well. Since he went off to college he’s been running even faster.
‘It’s been a whole lot of work and I’m blessed with good kids whose parents have given tremendous support. Each child has to spend over $1,000 a year to compete in overseas meets. Sometimes it is subsidised but without the parental support and the Cayman Islands Olympic Committee’s help it wouldn’t be possible to reach that level. It took three trips for Tyrell to qualify for the 100m at the Pan Am Games and that took two main components of the Olympic Committee and his parents’ help. Also the Cayman Islands Amateur Athletic Association made their input by sending athletes to regular meets and regional IAAF championships.’
Williams is delighted that the government has approved the imminent building of a new athletics track to international standards, allowing grand prix meets to be staged there. ‘I am elated about that,’ he says. ‘It’s long overdue, a push in the right direction by the government and will only enhance the growth of track and field here. Whenever something new comes along, it enhances growth.
‘With the nucleus of what we have, we will definitely by the 2012 Olympics in London have a good team in the men’s 100m relay, 100m, 200m and long jump. In the females we will still have Cydonie Mothersill in the 100m and 200m. She is 29 now and should still be around then. She’s Cayman’s version of Merlene Ottey.’
Mothersill is the inspiration for many Caymanian girls. Leading aspirant is Alexandra Terry, the 17-year-old discus thrower.
‘She’s medalled at every regional championship she’s attended. I’m expecting a lot from her. Her last accomplishment was silver at the Island Games last month. She also won silver at the Carifta Games. She got a gold and silver last year. Her natural talent and technique is phenomenal. She will be world class if she decides she wants to be. Her only problem is going to the gym. She’s afraid of getting to muscularly.
‘We also have young Chantelle Morrison. She is only 13 and already an exceptional talent in the 100m. She’s already running 12.50s and did a hand timed 11.99.
‘I’m appreciative of what my young coach Tyrone Yen is doing with the juniors. He brings them along up to 14 and hands them over to me.’
Kareem Streete-Thompson, 34, is a long jumping sprinter and another Olympian the next generation want to emulate. Williams is certain his youngsters are maturing into world beaters.
Williams, 55, a father of three, has been coaching for over 30 years. As an aspiring sprinter he ran 10.55 seconds in the 100m. Jamaica-born he trained as a PE teacher and taught in Mandeville before getting a degree as an athletics coach in Meinz, Germany at the Johannesguthenberg University. A Cayman resident since 1996, he arrived here after a stint as the Jamaica national coach where he learned some tips from fellow coach Herb McKenley, Jamaica’s former 400m relay Olympic gold medallist at the 1952 Games in Helsinki.
‘I’m proud to see Cydonie still competing on the international scene,’ says Williams. ‘She got to the finals at the world championships in Helsinki last year. The first time I saw her was when we brought her over to Jamaica to attend high school. She won Carifta gold in the 100m and 200m and that’s when we knew we had a gem. There was no looking back for her after that.’
Despite so many successes on track, Williams’ most gratifying accomplishments are seeing kids earn track scholarships in America, get their degree and become invaluable members of Cayman society. ‘It’s so nice to see people like Ronald Forbes, Roger Smith, Lesley Ann Daley, David Hamil and Kirk White come back with their degrees. My ambition is to produce more like them.
‘We’ve already produced Olympians now I want to see an Olympic champ from Cayman. It’s possible the way Cuffy, Hyman and Johnson are developing. The twins are capable of being long jumpers and top sprinters too, the same combination as Carl Lewis.
‘For me, Carlos should think of the javelin too. He could be a decathlete but we don’t have the facility to teach pole vault.’