Letters to the Editor: Heap praise on athletes

Recently there have been a number
of negative comments in the electronic media in respect of the performance of
Cayman’s athletes at the recent CARIFTA Games and some unfavourable comments
made in comparing the performances of the Caymanian team with that of the
Jamaican team. I wish to address both and ask that you pardon the detail of the

The Cayman Islands won one medal at
the championships and that was the Under 17 Girls 100m dash won by Chantelle
Morrison. As far as these instant gratification commentators seem to be
concerned, that was the only or only noteworthy achievement by the country’s
young athletes. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to highlight
some other worthwhile achievements by our athletes:

Chantelle Morrison

Everyone knows of her gold medal
winning performance. However, she recorded her personal best for the 200m when
she crossed the line in a time of 24.57s. Her time in the 100m victory is the
fastest time to date in the world for a female youth athlete. She has qualified
for the Youth Olympic Games and the World Junior Championships.

Anissa Owen

Anissa finished sixth in the Under
20 Girls Long Jump and in the process set not only a National Junior but also a
new national senior record for the event with her leap of 5.59m.

Kristin Dixon

Originally passed over for the
selection to the team, Kristin earned her spot as an alternate in the Under 17
Girls 4x100m Relay. To keep her active, she was entered in the Under 17 Girls
100m Hurdles event. This is an event that she has only recently started
training for, but nonetheless, she qualified for the CARIFTA Games finals and
posted a personal best of 15.17s for the event. Bearing in mind the very short
period of time in which she has taken up this highly technical event, her
results and achievement can only be classified as remarkable.

Shanique Yen

Shanique came into the Games
carrying a leg injury. She battled bravely in the gruelling Under 17 Girls 400m
event and despite the injury managed to do a time that was good enough to
qualify her for the finals of the event. Sadly, her injury prevented her from
taking her place in the finals and we were left to wonder what could she have
achieved, but for the injury.

Melinda McLean

One of the youngest competitors in
the Under 17 Girls Division, Melinda recorded personal bests of 12.40 and 25.00
for the 100m and 200m. Given her age and relative inexperience, this too is a
good result and will stand her in good stead for the 2011 Games in St. Kitts.

Jorel Bellafonte

No Caymanian athlete has ever been
recorded as running below 2 minutes for the 800m. Bellafonte set a new National
Junior and Senior Record for the vent when he clocked 1.59.58.

Joseph Suberan

Suberan’s personal best for the
200m was recorded at these Games where his time of 21.47s also made him a
qualifier for the World Juniors Championships later this year.

Tristan von Kerchenheim

Running in his first CARIFTA Games,
Tristan returned his personal best for 3000m when he crossed the line in a time
of 10.06.05 in the Under 17 Boys Division.

Troy Long

Troy’s personal best of 22.92 in
the Under 17 Boys 200m meant that he met the qualifying standard for the Youth
Olympic Games.

Travis Webb

Travis’ fourth place finish in the
Under 20 Boys High Jump with a clearing height of 2.08 was his personal best
for the event.

Andrew Frederick, Vernon Kelly,
Alex Pascal

Competing in their first CARIFTA
Games, these youngsters, who were all comparatively new to the sport, recorded
personal bests in the Under 17 Boys Shot Put, Discus and Javelin events.

U17 Boys 4x100m Relay/Under 20 Boys
4x100m Relay

Both of these teams finished fourth
and just outside the medals at the Games.

So at the end of the Games
statistics will show that we won one gold medal, but as the saying goes, ‘there
are lies, damned lies and statistics’ and my fear is that the focus on the one
gold medal is causing us to lose sight of the bigger and truer picture.

All the athletes identified, with
the exception of Suberan and Webb, are in the Under 17 Division. Apart from
Suberan, who has completed his CARIFTA Games career, and Webb, who has one more
year in the Under 20 Division, all the remaining athletes have at least three
more years of active competition at this level and can only improve provided
much needed corrective measures are in place.

One of the measures that needs to
be put in place is, of course, support for our young athletes both financially
and, equally as important, emotionally. My fear is that the current negative
discussion is likely to do more harm than good to the emotional psyche of these
youngsters. We should be actively encouraging and praising them instead of
wrongly comparing their performances to that of the Jamaicans.

The fact of the matter is that
comparing the Jamaicans to any other nation competing at the CARIFTA Games is
like comparing chalk to cheese or apples to oranges. They are in a separate
league at this and at any other level regionally and internationally when it
comes to track and field. This is not because of any inherent makeup or because
their coaches are better than the coaches of the other nations.

Every study on Jamaican athletes
and the success of its athletes, especially at the youth and junior levels,
that I have read come back to the one conclusion, namely that the source of the
success can be traced to Champs, an institution that this year celebrated 100
years of existence. Champs of course is the annual inter-secondary schools
track and field championships organised by the Inter-Secondary Sports Association,
a body made up of officials from the various high schools in Jamaica. It is the
oldest such high school championships in the region and possibly the whole
world. It is the bedrock upon which the Jamaican track and field programme is
founded and is the starting point of any discussion on comparisons with the
Jamaican programme.

Whereas the Jamaicans have had 100
successive years of inter-high school track and field competition, the Cayman
Islands, in comparison, is the last country in the North American Central American
and Caribbean Confederation to have such a championship. A tentative start was
made in 2008 but not repeated in 2009 and a new start was made this year with
the Maples Inter-Scholastic Track and Field Championships.

The Jamaicans left the shores of
the Cayman Islands with the overall gold medal tally of 999, a silver medal
haul of 696 and a bronze medal collection of 477. No other country participating
in the Games comes remotely close to matching this record. The Cayman Islands
ended the Games with a total medal collection of 18 gold, 24 silver and 33
bronze. The Islands finished in the joint 11th position with Guyana
out of 24 countries of whom eight failed to win a medal of any hue.

This placed the Cayman Islands
squarely in the middle of the medal table, which historically again is where
they are placed in the overall medals table both in the quantity and quality of
medals won. Without a continuous inter-secondary championships, these Islands
have won 75 medals in the 31 years that it has competed at these Games. This
places the country in 11th place overall in the category of the
total number of medals won. Imagine what could be achieved if we had a sustained
and viable inter-secondary school championships mirrored along the lines of
Jamaica’s Champs or even our own inter-primary championships. It is time to put
this right.

In all the circumstances, given
Cayman’s history at these championships and the lack of a Champs, the
achievements of these youngsters far from being the subject of criticism should
be the object of praise and pride.

By and large they gave of their
best and when that is done the usual truism is nothing more can or should be
asked for.

What we must now strive to do is to
ensure that this is built on and that those who only count success in terms of
medals won or how close we can get to the Jamaicans in the medal count can join
in the celebration of our youth rather than in their castigation.

H. Delroy Murray