By Sanya Jarvis
The Olympic Games are an International commemoration of at least 33 different sporting events. Held every four years, athletes from over 200 countries compete to break world records, national records and of course personal records. For many athletes the Olympics can be considered the pillar of one’s sporting career. Though the vast majority of them are high performing professional athletes, an Olympian- “Any athlete that qualifies for the Olympic Games” , is considered an amazing achievement whether one medals or not, as the games foster sportsmanship and individual growth amongst competitors.
To qualify for these games one must meet the Olympic standard and be selected by their country’s National Olympic Committee. One may think that qualifying for the games grants an automatic pass to medal, however, prior to becoming a finalist, the athletes compete in various levels of ‘heats’ or rounds with the intention of making it to the finals. Track and Field has approximately over 500 athletes at the preliminary level, which in the end boils down to 9 finalists for specific events.
Over the years, Trinidad and Tobago has been significantly consistent with the number of athletes that have qualified, reached the finals and medalled. However, this year’s Summer Olympics held in Tokyo proved to generate unprecedented results. Whilst many citizens look forward to these games anticipating the glorious return of a gold medal , ‘cause you know ‘Is holiday for Gold Medal’. We often overlook the realities that have undoubtedly hindered the level of our athletes over the years. I’ve had the privilege of catching up with three of our up and coming track athletes who would have anticipated qualifying for the Olympic games, one of whom went the extra mile to qualify. I’m sure these stories mirror those of many other national athletes in various disciplines. By the end of this article we can get a better understanding of what it takes to become an elite athlete in Trinidad and Tobago, or in this case an Olympian.
Jonathan Farinha, made his debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, after what he described as a “chase” to qualify for the games. He was faced with several challenges which included financial restraints, restrictions due to the pandemic and injuries. The 25 year old started competing at the age of 11 and dreamt of representing his country to the best of his ability. Evidently, Farinha has met this goal thus far as he also competed at several regional and international games representing Trinidad and Tobago. Following the reduction of his training, where he was unable to make proper use of training time due to the pandemic, the young athlete booked a one way ticket to Bahamas eager to compete and have a chance at qualifying for Tokyo. Confident in his ability, the sacrifices he made did not go unrewarded as he successfully met his goal and qualified for the Olympic Games! Though this may be a small achievement for some, he expressed that this has been his greatest achievement thus far. He has now gotten a taste of what he is capable of and is motivated to reach the highest level.
“At the age of 11yrs old I began my quest to represent my country at various regional competitions. Growing up and seeing the likes of Ato Bolden, Darrel Brown and others, had a young athlete like myself having big dreams for one day in the future.” , said another promising athlete, who preferred to remain anonymous. The young athlete also went on to showcase his ability at various regional and international competitions. He was also selected as a part of the Senior Commonwealth team, which is a great accomplishment for any athlete! He went on to describe how his commitment to the sport outweighed the many struggles he encountered. As he further exclaimed that he made many uncomfortable decisions such as sleeping outside of the comfort of his home to make it to training the next day, and requesting financial leniency on payments needed to develop his athletic career. Unfortunately, the young athlete was unable to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games. Leading up to this, due to the limitations on sporting activities of the State Of Emergency, he would have gone from training everyday, locally and abroad to not having the opportunity to train at all. As a result of this he was unable to prepare adequately to meet the qualifying time.
At a relatively late age of 15, Ayodele Taffe competed in his first ever race at the 2010 CARIFTA Trials. Taffe’s talent was evident as he went on to qualify to represent Trinidad and Tobago as a Junior athlete. This was followed by several other appearances at major competitions. “I wanted to become a professional athlete and win an Olympic Gold Medal,” Taffe said, when asked what his goals were as a young athlete. Taffe’s talent and hard work was evident after he was given the opportunity to make a senior team as a junior athlete, and was offered an Athletic Scholarship in the USA. Eager to compete and show his skills, he won both races, however by his third race an unanticipated turn of events occurred.
In what he considered the height of his career at that time, Ayodele Taffe was forced to leave his collegiate career behind, as he suffered a major injury which he was unable to secure the finances to rehabilitate. Taffe was faced with a difficult decision and therefore had no choice but to hang up his spikes as to prevent further Injuries. 2019 was the year that ignited Taffe’s passion for track, as a student at the UWI St Augustine Campus he was approached by Jamal James – former 800m runner and former UWI STA Track and Field coach, who indicated that he was interested in helping him get back onto the track. The young athlete immediately grabbed at the opportunity as he was very much confident that he could meet his true potential. After a relatively long hiatus from the sport, hard work and commitment were Taffe’s main focus. In May 2019, the university of the West Indies held their Bi-Annual ‘UWI Games’ at the Mona Campus, Jamaica. Here Taffe struck Gold in the Men’s 100m final, an event typically dominated by the athletes of UWI Mona Campus. After a stellar comeback, Taffe wore the ‘Red , White and Black’ at the Aliann Pompey International Invitational Guyana, 2019.
All three athletes would have undergone rigorous training schedules. Their routines would have included regular sessions at the gym and on the tracks as well as supporting nutrition and psychological regiments. They shared the same sentiments with regards to nutrition, “it’s so expensive to maintain a well balanced diet” Farinha lamented. He even went as far as to compare his body to that of a vehicle whose engine needs the adequate fuel to be high functioning.
Leading up to the Olympic Games, the three athletes were only able to compete approximately 3 times here in Trinidad and Tobago as a result of the Ill fated Covid 19 pandemic.This has undoubtedly hindered their readiness for an olympic qualifier as track meets are also imperative to an athlete’s performance. One would think that this would have crushed their spirits , however the young athletes seem to be more motivated than ever as they go back to the drawing boards, excited for what the new year has to offer them on the track. When asked how they would like to see track and field progress in Trinidad and Tobago, they all expressed similar sentiments. They hoped for more development as early as Pre-school. The continued development of programmes throughout the years is therefore required to ensure that there is a successful transition from ameteur to professional levels.
We’ve heard the call for the government and corporate agencies to support our athletes year after year. While this is undoubtedly needed for our sporting industry to successfully grow and for athletes to gain significant rewards for their hard work, we the people need to start to show up and foster a competitive sporting community. This means encouraging our young ones to take sport seriously, supporting national and club competitions. This also means prioritising sport as a viable career path which can cultivate a winning attitude at all levels.
Let’s continue to demand greater investment into the development of sporting programmes for both coaches and athletes. Let’s continue to demand better sporting facilities and resources needed for athletes’ growth. By doing this, I believe we can add value to what sport can mean to Trinidad and Tobago. Currently our lackluster attitude does not allow Trinbagonian athletes to reach the apex of athletic performance. We continue to expect athletic excellence without providing the economic, social and cultural support necessary to achieve said excellence. Due to this we have diminished the potential of promising athletes who could have excelled on the world’s stage. Nonetheless, the future is bright for these 3 athletes as they have shown the grit and perseverance needed to become successful athletes.
So, are we ready to wholeheartedly support our athletes?