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Where’re our Olympic medals? T&T track stars await silver lining

The London 2012 Olympic Games closed its doors three years with a cultural segue way by a Brazilian delegation, which hinted at the fun and beauty that awaits athletes and sport enthusiasts at the Rio 2016 edition.

But, for the Trinidad and Tobago 4×100 metre relay team, the interlude between London and Rio has been traumatic due to a burning feeling of injustice and neglect over a perceived daylight robbery that occurred in front of millions of viewers.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's 2010 Olympic Games 4x100 metre team (from left) Marc Burns, Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callender and Richard Thompson.
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s 2010 Olympic Games 4×100 metre team (from left) Marc Burns, Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callender and Richard Thompson.

Sprinters Richard “Torpedo” Thompson, Keston Bledman, Emmanuel Callender and Marc Burns have one question for the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and everyone in between.

Where are our silver medals?

On Saturday 11 August 2012, the Trinidad and Tobago team were fourth across the line in the 4×100 metre final behind Jamaica, the United States and Canada respectively. However, officials quickly spotted that Canada’s third leg runner, Jared Connaughton, had stepped across the line and his disqualification meant Thompson, Bledman, Callender and Burns were promoted to bronze.

It was another two years before the second shocking twist to the tale of this race. On Saturday 2 May 2014, American sprinter Tyson Gay admitted to using anabolic steroids during a period that included the London 2012 Olympics and handed over his 4×100 metre silver medal.

An IAAF amendment in 2003 means that a relay team will be disqualified if a member fails a doping test. Ironically, this rule change became necessary after another drug scandal involving a US team as disgraced sprinter Marion Jones tested positive but her teammates kept their their 2000 Olympic gold medals after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Photo: Sprinter Tyson Gay was using anabolic steroids when he helped the 4x100 metre US team to silver medals at the London 2012 Olympics. (Courtesy Vnews)
Photo: Sprinter Tyson Gay was using anabolic steroids when he helped the 4×100 metre US team to silver medals at the London 2012 Olympics.
(Courtesy Vnews),

But, a year after Gay was outed, the Trinidad and Tobago quartet is still waiting word on the silver medals that they believe to be their just due.

“I believe we should get our silver medals,” said Callender, who also got relay silver at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, “because I ran out there with my natural God-given ability (and) with much hard work to make it to the Olympic finals. The sport has been tainted by performance enhancing drugs and I choose to stay away from it.

“If anyone is caught taking it they should be stripped of their medal immediately after being found guilty.”

Thompson, who got two silver medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, agreed and suggested that United States 4×100 metre sprinters Justin Gatlin, Ryan Bailey and Trell Kimmons should not need to be told to return their medals.

“The circumstances are obviously not the way we want to win medals,” Thompson told Wired868. “We always hope to line up and overcome a fair field. However, we didn’t line up against a field that played by the rules.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprint star Richard "Torpedo" Thompson. (Courtesy Power 102FM)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprint star Richard “Torpedo” Thompson.
(Courtesy Power 102FM)

“They competed with someone who gave them an unfair advantage and, as a result, the other members of the US team shouldn’t even be asked to return their medal. They should give it up voluntarily and allow us to be upgraded.”

Enter the sporting administrators…

Wired868 telephoned the IOC’s press office and, at the latter’s request, submitted the following questions by email:

“Is a process in motion to determine whether London 2012 Olympic silver medals would be given to Trinidad and Tobago’s 4×100 metre relay team? If so, can you inform me: At what stage is this process at? Is there any timeline for its completion?”

Up to the time of publication, the IOC press office had not responded.

The Trinidad and Tobago sprinters believe they did their part on the track and it is time for the local sport administrators to support them off of it.

“I personally have not spoken to (TTOC president) Brian Lewis or (NAAA secretary) Allan Baboolal about the matter,” said Thompson. “However, it’s part of their responsibility to handle matters of this nature given the posts they hold.

“I’ve recently seen Mr Lewis openly tweet that he hasn’t heard anything from the IOC regarding the matter. But it’s been over a year now. So I think it’s necessary that we reach out to them about it.”

Photo: TTOC president Brian Lewis (right) and NAAA president Ephraim Serrette. (Courtesy NAAA/LoopTT)
Photo: TTOC president Brian Lewis (right) and NAAA president Ephraim Serrette.
(Courtesy NAAA/LoopTT)

TTOC president Brian Lewis countered that there was simply nothing he can do but wait at this stage. He told Wired868 that he had enquired on behalf of the quartet.

“The responsibility for that matter is squarely in the hands of the International Olympic Committee,” said Lewis. “The usual procedure is they will address the issue and make a deliberation. My understanding of the process is that a ruling has been made and even the IAAF has said is it in the hands of the International Olympic Committee…

“It is not unprecedented that these things, for reasons best known to IOC and WADA, go through a very protracted period.”

There is the hint—from track observers—that the supposed leniency of Gay’s one-year ban suggest that a boardroom deal might have been struck.

Might horse-trading behind closed doors have affected the case of Trinidad and Tobago’s 4×100 metre team?

Lewis declined to speculate on the machinations of the relevant sporting bodies on the matter. However, he pointed out that CAS has returned medals to punished athletes in the past, which might have led to increased caution by the IOC.

Photo: Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt, Keston Bledman, Marc Burns and Emmanuel Callender show off their gold and bronze medals respectively after the 4x100 final in London 2012. (Copyright AFP 2015)
Photo: Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt, Keston Bledman, Marc Burns and Emmanuel Callender show off their gold and bronze medals respectively after the 4×100 final in London 2012.
(Copyright AFP 2015)

“Being a signatory to the WADA code, we are obliged to respect the code as it deals with confidentiality, public exposure, etc,” said Lewis. “It is not a matter in our jurisdiction, so we have to be careful how we go into the realm of speculation.

“From what I have seen in the public space, there seems to be interesting aspects between what has been agreed to between the US Anti-Doping Agency, the IAAF and Tyson Gay. In the absence of that information, I cannot speculate as the president of the TTOC.

“My expectation is the matter is receiving their ongoing consideration.”

There is more. Thompson, Burns, Callender and Bledman argue that, since the Trinidad and Tobago Government rewarded them for a third place finish at the Olympics, an improved placing should also mean enhanced recompense from the Government.

“It’s visible to the entire country that a precedent has already been set for each colour medal,” said Thompson. “We have confidence that the current Government will respect it as such and grant us the monetary upgrade along with the medal when it’s finalised.”

Callender agreed and pointed out too that the sprint team is yet to receive any returns from the State for second place at the Berlin 2009 World Championships.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Sport Minister and Senator Brent Sancho. (Courtesy SPORTT)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Sport Minister and Senator Brent Sancho.
(Courtesy SPORTT)

New Sport Minister Brent Sancho, in a recent interview with Wired868, proposed that a committee be set up to look into the needs and reward system for the various sporting disciplines.

However, Sancho was noncommittal as to whether rewards for national athletes should be standardised so as to avoid confusion about what they deserve for feats in red, black and white strip.

“Obviously it is at the Prime Minister’s will to deliver what he or she sees as a just reward,” Sancho told Wired868. “As much as I would like to standardise it, it will always come down to what they want and the emotions of the country at that point in time. So there is always a challenge to say we can standardise it because circumstances vary…

“Some may argue if another team were to qualify for the (FIFA) World Cup, obviously it would not have the same impact as the 2006 team. So we need to take all those things into consideration and give it some flexibility so that, if the Prime Minister of the day wants to add or decrease, they should be able to do so.”

Sancho promised to look into the sprinters’ case.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Richard Thompson, Emmanuel Callender, Marc Burns and Keston Bledman finished third at the London 2012 Olympic Games. However, they may be due silver medals after US sprinter Tyson Gay subsequently failed a dope test. (Courtesy AFP 2015)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinters (from left) Richard Thompson, Emmanuel Callender, Marc Burns and Keston Bledman finished third at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
However, they may be due silver medals after US sprinter Tyson Gay subsequently failed a dope test.
(Courtesy AFP 2015)

“I am only guided by what has happened and transpired in the past and obviously I will have to talk to the Permanent Secretary and deputy Permanent Secretary on how they see fit (to deal with it),” he said. “Money will always be an issue here… I am dealing with taxpayers’ dollars and I cannot spend it frivolously and willy-nilly. But at the same time, I believe rewards should be given to those who deserve to be rewarded.”

Lewis is unimpressed by the present inconsistency that athletes endure, though. The TTOC president recently launched his “10 or more Olympic gold medals by 2024” programme, which aims to improve the country’s Olympic efforts in terms of preparation, performance and marketing.

He pointed out that the Ministry of Sport has a habit of creating procedures and guidelines only to subsequently ignore them and restart the entire process under successive Ministers. One such initiative, he claimed, was a proposed guideline on rewards that is already 13 years old.

“It takes 10 to 13 years to develop an Olympic athlete,” said Lewis. “If we implemented and executed some of those documents, policies and guidelines and monitored and evaluated them, sport would be much further ahead than it is right now…

“We have had programs drawn up after extensive input and consultation by stakeholders through the length and breadth of the country. But, before it is implemented, we hear about someone wanting to reassess and then we are starting over again.

“You are asking a valid question (about having standard rewards for athletes) but that document is in the Ministry somewhere and then you will hear about it being reviewed when it wasn’t executed in the first place.”

Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Government feted Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.
Photo: The Trinidad and Tobago Government feted Keshorn Walcott on his return from the London 2012 Olympics.

For the first time, the TTOC plans to introduce a medal bonus program for its athletes, which will start at the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games and carry on into Rio 2016. This incentive is not meant to replace Government rewards but to further complement them.

Either way, Thompson vowed that he and his teammates would not be distracted as they prepare to do battle again in national colours. His hope is they will face a clean field in Brazil.

“I wouldn’t say (the outstanding medals and bonuses) play on our minds,” said Thompson. “As much as we are aware of it, we cannot let it distract us from achieving what we want to in the future. Our goal is always to be the best that we can be and we can only do that by focusing on ourselves.

“There are anti-doping agencies to find those trying to beat the system. We expect that they will do their job to eliminate issues like what we’re dealing with now.”

Callender had the final word for drug cheats and those who benefitted from them.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Richard Thompson (far right) chases Jamaican legend Usain Bolt (far right) during the London 2012 Olympics 4x100 metre final. (Copyright AFP 2015)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Richard Thompson (far right) chases Jamaican legend Usain Bolt (far right) during the London 2012 Olympics 4×100 metre final.
(Copyright AFP 2015)

“It takes four individuals to run a relay,” said Callender. “If one drops the stick, then all are automatically disqualified due to a violation of the rules. So in this case, I believe Tyson Gay dropped his baton and his national pride.

“We deserve what belongs to us.”

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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34 comments

  1. It’s a very tricky situation because US athletes will get $25, 000 but $25 million in endorsements so there is no need for the Gov or Association to spend that sort of money especially at the amount of medals they attain…
    However, I think there should be some standard especially in the case where younger athletes stand to benefit.
    We have to keep in mind,Keshorn extended celebration was a cover up for lack of prep for 50th Independence
    Maybe you should ask keshorn what he received thus far

  2. Well, the elite athletes funding program is supposed to offset athletes’ needs in the build up to the tournament. Maybe the Gov’t can spend more to help assist athletes at that end and less on feteing athletes who already made it. Hope they get the balance right on that one.

  3. I agree that the rewards that have been given to our athletes who have received rewards were over the top but feels strongly that there should be realistic fixed incentives based on success at tournaments and it does not necessarily have to be financial if the athlete is properly assisted with medical bills, gym facilities, nutritional needs, stipends, even

  4. On a side note here, do you know that Lequay had to receive assistance for his medical bills and funeral? I was gobsmacked when I heard this

  5. I’m not sure Savitri. They suggested a gold medal would do the trick. Perhaps not for all. But Britain definitely doesn’t give athletes cash or land.

  6. Maybe the total package is valued slightly less that what Singapore’s gold medalist would get.

  7. Prince Borde, Keshorn Walcott got: A TT$2.5 million Federation Park, St James, home; 20,000 square feet of land in Toco; TT$1 million cash and a Toco Housing Development Corporation (HDC) housing development named in his honour. They eventually changed the house.

  8. Lasana, to get featured on a British stamp, don’t you have to be consistent as in Daly Thompson and Lord Coe? These athletes actually give back to their communities and country in one way or the other and are taken seriously

  9. Great Infomation bro! I’m sure the average citizen or sporting enthusiast has no idea. Judging by the list you just posted we could easily be ranked number one in the world.

  10. Australia gold winners get US$20,900, feature on an Australia stamp and get a flight upgrade home. India medalists get coaching jobs. British athletes get featured on a national stamp.
    The best rewarded athletes according to this are from Singapore. They get US$800,000 for gold. Even that is well short of what Keshorn Walcott got when you value house and land and so on.
    Trinidad and Tobago athletes might be some of the best rewarded in the world. But there is no consistency. You can get all of that… Or nothing at all.

  11. I’ve checked. Many countries give rewards. Quite a few don’t as well. Britain does not give financial rewards, for instance. The US has a standardised system. They give US$25,000 for gold which is probably far short of what our athletes get for collecting any type of medal at all.

  12. Great topic guys. Has anyone looked at what occurs in the rest of the world where rewards and funding of athletes are concerned. I’d be quite interested to see what is best practice around the world or even just in Jamaica where they seem to be winning medals consistently.

  13. But the two teams ahead of them violated the rules Prince. When it comes down to the runners who competed within the rules, they were second.

  14. Not sure if I would care about the medals. Finished 4th and got silver.

  15. They’ll prob be given bonds and financial literacy advice

  16. So wait nuh, allyuh ain’t know dat Kamla and Anus Roberts sell dem?

  17. Totally agree Lasana Liburd..this as the wind blows approach needs to stop…ESPECIALLY when Sports Ministers coach the same athletes getting said reward….that way we can avoid a swimmer getting 600K for winning zero medals

  18. Hahaha… Well, they said that there is a promise from the State for a particular reward for bronze and another for silver and gold.
    My opinion is that we should have some sort of criteria for rewards so it stops being guesswork or whether or not the winner is trained by the Sport Minister.

  19. I was going good until I got the part about increased compensation from the state -_-

  20. Anything is possible if the Gov’t thinks there is enough PR to get from it I think. Like Kendall suggested, a good question is: What DO they deserve?

  21. Well, it will be good for the IOC to know that we are watching closely from the Caribbean. There are some interesting topics for discussion here as far as Olympic rewards go though.

  22. It this going to be another post/thread about RACE

  23. The TTOC needs to step up its leadership in this matter. Waiting around is not good enough, regardless of process.

  24. They have been taken for a ride,true.But with billions of dollars gone,oil prices sliding downwards as we write,and a mountain of debt,it is hardly likely to be paid.

  25. “Obviously it is at the Prime Minister’s will to deliver what he or she sees as a just reward,” Sancho told Wired868. “As much as I would like to standardise it, it will always come down to what they want and the emotions of the country at that point in time. So there is always a challenge to say we can standardise it because circumstances vary…”

    What nonsense is this? And why is it even a question whether the medals will be handed over? Callender is quite right. Relay is a team sport. You win and lose together. If the win is voided due to doping then the medals can’t belong to that team.

  26. Of course not. That’s completely unacceptable Lasana but I have the feeling that nothing is going to come of this anytime soon.

    I think any reward is unacceptable. I would much prefer to have the funds channelled to developing future athletes.

  27. But what about the thought of the US relay team keeping their medals Kendall Tull. Do you think they should?

  28. I think a discussion about standardising rewards will help. That’s my opinion.
    The Strike Squad were promised NHA houses that they never got. I would say national athletes should have priority for NHA housing just like other public statements.
    In terms of cash payments and mansions and so on, there should be a longer debate on what is fair there.

  29. This whole concept of rewarding athletes with taxpayers money doesn’t sit well with me. I have no problem with programmes that deal with development but the houses etc for success is another matter completely. Thompson and their claim that they deserved bigger rewards is in poor taste to me but that’s just my opinion.