TT gymnast Thema Williams’ million-dollar battle against the TT Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) began with her testimony yesterday.
Williams has sued the local body for $11.38 million compensation for what she says is the federation’s “harsh and oppressive” actions against her which shattered her dream of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil.
The trial of her claim came up yesterday before Justice Frank Seepersad in the Port of Spain High Court, where Williams spent more than four hours being questioned by the federation’s lawyers.
Williams, by virtue of her higher score at the World Championships in Glasgow, was given the nod over Marisa Dick to compete at the Olympic Test event – Aquece Final Gymnastics Qualifier – in April 2016.
She and her coach John Geddert were in Brazil preparing for the Olympic qualifier when the TTGF decided to replace her with alternate athlete Dick instead.
Williams claimed her coach, John Geddert, was informed by the federation that she was withdrawn because she was injured, a claim which she denies.
Alternate athlete Dick was flown in from Canada and eventually qualified to become the first person to represent TT in gymnastics at the Olympics.
Much of her testimony focused on the events leading up to the event in April and the federation’s executive’s lead counsel, Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, questioned her repeatedly on an ankle injury she allegedly sustained in the warm-up to the event.
She denied being injured but admitted that she experienced “discomfort” in her left ankle. She said this was not unusual for elite athletes.
“We train and condition our bodies to take the strain. It would not be a strain after time because of muscle memory.”
Williams was also questioned about reports from her coach Geddert, but she dismissed it as nothing more than him being “overprotective.”
“Coaches tend to be very anxious and cautious when it comes to meets of such grandeur.”
She said she was only told of the federation’s decision to replace her with Dick when her mother called her the morning of the test event.
Williams was also questioned by the federation’s lawyers, Justin Junkere on her claim of bias on the part of her client. She has alleged that she was prevented from participating in events leading up to the test event.
She admitted that this could have been because of her injury and that she could be replaced by the federation because of its selection policy and athlete’s agreement with her.
Also testifying yesterday was a former executive member of the federation Karen Cheng, who objected to the decision taken by the federation on Williams.
The trial continues today.
Williams’ lawsuit complains of “loss of opportunity” and damage to her personal and professional reputation allegedly caused by the actions of the Federation’s executive. She further contends that by failing to be given an opportunity to qualify for the games, she suffered a huge loss of opportunity of endorsements, motivational speaking engagements, business opportunities, and a full scholarship to the Michigan State University, which she gave up in her bid to represent TT at the event.
She is represented by a team of attorneys, led by Martin Daly,SC.