A group of young men in shorts are seen every Saturday morning high stepping along Seven Mile Beach under the orders of a stern disciplinarian.
Curious onlookers wonder what’s going on. Little do they realise the youngsters are potential Olympic athletes and the man barking orders is celebrated Cayman Islands head coach Kenrick Williams.
He is whipping them into shape as the countdown to the Beijing Olympics goes into its final months. Many are sprinters, others field event specialists who won’t be old enough until the London Olympics in 2012 and even the one after that but Williams treats them all the same. Track and field coaching is his enduring passion and by next year, Caymanians may be standing on the medal rostrum.
Alec Porter, 12, has only been attending the coach’s classes for three weeks. He wants to get fit and learn javelin. He trained a bit in England and when his family came here three months ago mum Michaela found Williams in the telephone directory.
Michaela used to be very sporty in Sweden where she grew up. Handball, athletics and tennis were her favourites. ‘We are a very sporting family,’ she says. ‘We’re thrilled to have found coach Williams. I take Alec to the track three times a week. The facilities here are fantastic. I’m really impressed. He’s not very good at running but he’s a strong little boy and did javelin in England and I thought: ‘Why play football when you can do other things?’ I found this training and we come down here every Saturday. He loves it and the coach is fantastic. He’s been so good for Alec. I’m very pleased.’
Dad Jan is also Swedish. ‘Coach Williams has a very professional approach even for a little boy like Alec, compared to his British coach who was like an all rounder but didn’t have specialist javelin knowledge,’ he says. ‘Alec will progress. It’s not impossible that he’ll be an Olympian one day. He had the school record in his class in England. I think he’s got the potential to do such an unusual sport.’
Another Williams disciple is sprinter Robert Ibeh who at 23 is already a well seasoned competitor. Ibeh went to five Cariftas as a teenager. He’s been to the Pan Am Games and the Commonwealth Games, World Youth Championships and World Junior Championships. Only the Olympics is missing from his resume and he hopes to rectify that soon. Ibeh works as a Health Services Authority trainee manager.
‘My best time currently is 21.03 seconds in the 200 metres and the qualifying time is 20.73 secs. So I have a chance. Next year I just need to get in some more track meets because I do a lot of training but don’t have the opportunity to compete as much being that all competition is overseas and I have to work.
‘I can definitely get the qualifying time. Getting in the track meets is vital. I can train forever but I won’t see any results of the training. It’s getting continuous competition.’
Teenagers Kemar Hyman and Tyrell Cuffy emerged this summer as Cayman’s fastest. They’re based in colleges in the US. ‘I’m glad that those guys are as fast as they right now because it gives me more push, more drive,’ adds Ibeh. ‘Right now the two of them are faster than me so I have something to work for. When you’re the best, you don’t train as hard as you would when you’re not the best. Before they came through it was me, Stephon Johnson and Kareem Streete-Thompson who were the best.’
Ibeh is not setting his sights yet, preferring to wait until he tests himself in competition. ‘If I’m just running the qualifying time I don’t expect to go on to the Olympic final. But if I’m running around 20.1 or 20.2 then I can expect to progress through the rounds.
‘I’m a dedicated athlete. I train six days a week and never miss. As far as nutrition is concerned I don’t eat fast food but I don’t have a proper structured diet. So I could incorporate that into my training regime to get some better results and be much stronger.’
He has enormous respect for his mentor. ‘Coach Williams is a very smart man. He knows exactly what he’s talking about, there’s lots of knowledge in his brain, but you have to ask it, sort of pull it from him. He comes down the track and tells you what to do and how to do it but if you want more you have to go and ask him: ‘Why this?’ ‘How does this help?’ and so on.’
Williams is full of expectation of Porter. ‘To me this is what I like about these young fellas. They don’t come with a pre-conceived idea, they come to learn. He hasn’t come to learn to sprint, but to learn the javelin. I’m happy with a field event person and he shows tremendous promise. He has a good arm and if he stays in the programme much is expected from him.
‘Robbie is a good prospect for Beijing. What hindered him was that he took two years off from track and field and did some cheerleading at his university. That’s why he is this far back. However, he has shown tremendous improvement by running 21-high this year and I know he will be a good member for the 100m relay on the third leg. Hopefully, with a lot of training he’ll be able to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.’
Williams has seen his training sessions on the beach become very popular. ‘We have to rely on the natural resources that Cayman provides and one of them is a lot of sand and a lot of beach. We don’t have a lot of hills nor a big stadium with a lot of steps so we have to utilize what we have and this is what we’re doing, using the beach for general fitness and improving their aerobic capacity and also to build up their strength. We would encourage anyone just to come down for the fitness part of it. We’re here from 7am to 11am every Saturday. The little ones we make run down to Governor’s Harbour and the older ones we send down to the end or the Ritz-Carlton and back which is about two miles of running on the sand. Everybody does it willingly. They have a lot of fun.’