MANY sporting enthusiasts and officials might have labelled TT Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis a madman or unrealistic, when in 2013 he first uttered the phrase "ten gold by 2024". The mantra adopted by the TTOC seemed more of a pipe dream back then but thanks to the indomitable spirit of this country's athletes and the support given to them, six years on, ten Olympic gold medals by 2024 can no longer be viewed as pie in the sky. Instead, it's been a rallying cry for support for this country's athletes who have had to battle significant obstacles to make their dreams come through.
Lewis might have meant Olympic gold when he first spoke of ten golds but the country has gleefully welcomed 2017 World Championship 4x400m gold (Jarrin Solomon, Jereem Richards, Machel Cedenio, Lalonde Gordon, Renny Quow) as well as Paralympic javelin gold and double World Para Championships gold (javelin, shot put) from Akeem Stewart. An Olympic gold retroactively awarded to TT's 2008 men's 4x100m relay after Jamaica got disqualified for a doping violation by Nesta Carter, has also helped the cause, taking TT's Olympic golden tally to three. Despite all odds, TT athletes have achieved and are set to give a strong showing at the Tokyo Games in 2020.
The compelling performance by TT in a variety of events at the 2019 Pan Am Games leaves spectators eagerly awaiting the Tokyo experience, but more importantly gives athletes the motivation to work extra hard to put in even better performances on sports' biggest stage. A record haul of 13 medals in Lima, Peru, bettering the eight medals won in Toronto in 2015 is testament to the diverse sporting force TT will be coming with next year.
In the past, athletics has shouldered the burden of expectation to bag the majority of TT's medal – a task they've managed well. At the Pan Am, TT's cyclists bagged five medals to match the track and field tally, with rowing, boxing and swimming also adding one apiece. Ranked 17th at the conclusion of the 2019 Pan Am Games, there is much to look forward to where sport is concerned.
TT's showing however must not gloss over the problems that still exist for many of our athletes.
This country's first medallist in Lima, boxer Michael Alexander, told Newsday he is desperate to make his Olympic debut but needs additional training to go to the next level.
Alexander, 26, earned bronze in the men's light welterweight (64kg) category at the Miguel Grau Coliseum, losing to silver medallist Keyshawn Davis of USA.
Alexander said claiming bronze was surreal as Pan Am boxing is of an extremely high standard.
"Boxing (here) is some of the best in the world. Some of the best boxers in the world are from Cuba and USA, so for me to place third I was proud."
The pugilist said the ten golds by 2024 target set by TTOC gets him excited.
"Knowing I haven't gone to an Olympics, this is my first shot and I want to be the first boxer from Trinidad to medal at the Olympics. It's motivating for me."
Alexander knows though that things must improve for his Tokyo dream to be realised. Although grateful to his coaches and amateur competitions hosted by sporting legend Brian Lara, he said more is needed.
"I need more sparring – foreign sparring. All my training here is very good; in terms of conditioning, it is very high but if they could bring in some foreign sparring partners or take me abroad to some boxing camps to spar, that would be great."
Training facilities, practice camps, sponsorships, proper administration and overall public support can go a long way in helping TT's athlete bring glory to this country. The public must be reminded that these athletes on the cusp of the greatness did not start there. They were once young and developing and in need of support. So, the focus must not be solely on international meets, although these moments are what they all aspire to.
With one year to go to the Tokyo Olympics, one can't help recall what Pan Am 2019 double medallist Teniel Campbell told the media at the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games.
"We’re coming for the world, watch out," she declared.