Trinidad and Tobago’s cycling trio of Nicholas Paul, Kwesi Browne and Quincy Alexander is expected to fly en route to Milton, Canada, on Wednesday, as they continue pursuit of Olympic qualification at the final leg of the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cup, which rides off on Friday.
However, whether or not they will be joined by Sport Company of TT’s (SporTT) cycling technical director and national team coach Erin Hartwell, remains uncertain, as the two-time American Olympic medallist is currently on leave.
During a short conversation with the veteran coach, on Tuesday, Hartwell affirmed he was still employed at SporTT but also revealed, “In light of the recent events in cycling that have impacted upon my professional reputation and career, I’ve been granted leave by the Sports Company to pursue other opportunities.”
Hartwell’s request for leave was acknowledged by SporTT CEO Jason Williams and comes on the heels of several unexpected hiccups within the national team over the past month.
On December 23, 2019, five new Mavic wheels valued at US$15,600, were taken from the National Cycling Velodrome, Couva, by two-time Olympian Njisane Phillip. Despite being explicitly told by Hartwell the wheels were “the property and assets of the TTCF”, Phillip stated the TT squad had been using his personal wheels to train/compete over the past two years, destroying five in the process. He also claimed the equipment was being taken into his possession to facilitate training ahead of the 2024 Olympic campaign.
Three days later, Panam Sports added fuel to the fire by indicating TT had been stripped of two medals (Men’s Team Sprint gold and Men’s Individual Sprint silver) due to doping discovered at the Pan American Games in Peru, in July/August of last year. It has been confirmed though, the athlete tested positive for a controlled substance and not a performance enhancer. However, to date, the athlete has not received any official confirmation from any reputed doping agency confirming this test result or a penalty.
Then in early January, things took a turn for the worst. Phillip and Team Sprint partner Keron Bramble omitted themselves from all pre-Tokyo 2020 Olympic training and qualifier competitions citing TT’s chances of securing a Men’s Team spot as impossible. Since then, the pair have not returned to training, even though Hartwell believed there was still a slim, mathematical chance of qualifying.
With the pair’s omission, TT’s hopes of qualifying in this event were dealt another blow as it was recently revealed that a Team Sprint squad will not be heading to Canada for this weekend’s crucial, penultimate Tokyo qualifier.
When asked, on Tuesday, to elaborate on his availability for the Milton World Cup and future as TT coach, Hartwell then directed all questions to attorney Shari Niles Hypolite.
When Newsday contacted Hypolite, she was also reluctant to divulge any additional information, especially those surrounding her client’s pursuance of “other opportunities”.
“I cannot comment on anything in relation to his position with the national team. I won’t be able to let you know his moves from here. These are not questions I can answer,” said Hypolite.
SporTT’s CEO Williams confirmed accepting Hartwell’s recent request for leave. He however, was also unsure where the coach stood in relation to national team duty.
“He would have sat with us and spoken to us about him wanting some leave and we would have said, ‘Okay, go ahead and take some leave’, and then we will work out the situation going forward,” explained Williams.
When asked to shed some light on Hartwell’s availability for this weekend’s crucial Olympic qualifier, Williams then directed these questions to the TT Cycling Federation.
“You would probably need to reach out to the TTCF for that (World Cup presence) because Erin would have been an employee of SporTT but he would also have had dual roles with TTCF. The trip is going on as planned and the team is expected to leave on Wednesday,” he continued.
Newsday then contacted a high ranking official of the local cycling fraternity, who wished to remain anonymous, to confirm, deny or aid in affirming if the talented coach’s leave would span throughout the Milton World Cup. The official chose to remain tight-lipped saying a statement would be released within the next two days to clarify this matter.
Hartwell concluded in his short message, “I can be expected to provide statements in the future. Right now, I cannot comment further and I recommend that you contact Ms Hypolite for any additional statements for now. Right now I do not want to be a distraction for the athletes. Just know that my heart is in Trinidad and Tobago.”