Shah: Saluting speed, strength and stamina; but is T&T glorifying mediocrity?

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By the time I was ready to turn in on Sunday night, my pulse rate was back to normal. And, like the Buddha you encounter at the entrances to many Thai restaurants, I wore a silly grin, like a man whose appetite was sated.

No, I did not overeat: I was overfed with athletics performances—and it was only Day Three of nine days of track and field events at the Rio Olympics.

Photo: Jamaica's Usain Bolt celebrates after winning the 100 metre Olympic final for a record third successive time at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 14 August 2016.  (Copyright AFP 2016/Wired868)
Photo: Jamaica’s Usain Bolt celebrates after winning the 100 metre Olympic final for a record third successive time at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 14 August 2016. 
(Copyright AFP 2016/Wired868)

Usain Bolt, who has stamped his authority as the greatest sprinter ever, almost gave me a heart attack by trailing druggist Justin Gatlin up to the half-way mark in the 100 metres final. Then he delivered, in style—but I was nervously massaging my chest!

Earlier, in the 400 metres final—in which we had a stake in the youthful Machel Cedenio—and a kith-and-kin interest in the form of Grenada’s Kirani James, we were treated to one of the most spectacular quarter-mile races in history.

In the 43-or-so seconds one had to watch the race develop, most eyes were focussed on the duel between joint favourites LaShawn Merritt and James. Few observed South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk, cast into the difficult Lane 8, run the race of his life, which, by the 325-metre-mark, would change dramatically into the best 400 metres race in our lifetime.

KFC Munch Pack

It’s not as if keen athletics fans like me, who monitor all the competitive meets year-round, and dig into the statistics, were unaware of Van Niekerk’s tremendous achievements by age 24. He has been among the top in the IAAF’s 400-metre rankings for the past few years.

And, at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing, he beat Merritt to claim gold in a stunning 43.48 minutes.

Photo: South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk (far left) pulls away from the pack in the Men’s 400m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 14 August 2016.  (Copyright Fabrice Coffrini/AFP 2016/Wired868)
Photo: South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk (far left) pulls away from the pack in the Men’s 400m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 14 August 2016. 
(Copyright Fabrice Coffrini/AFP 2016/Wired868)

Even more impressive, Van Niekerk is the only athlete who has run sub-10-seconds in the 100-metres, sub-20 in the 200, and sub-44 in the 400. The boy was destined for greatness.

On Sunday night, I imagine all of us hoped that 21-year-old Cedenio would somehow run past the favourites to win a medal. Or, failing that, Kirani would flog Merritt.

But it was the South African wunderkind—looking neither left nor right, only straight ahead, and running like a man possessed—who broke Michael Johnson’s 20-year-old record of 43.18, clocking an astonishing 43.03!

And to think that up to 1990, with apartheid still law in South Africa, talents like Van Niekerk’s will have remained buried under rabid racism.

As I sat watching this spectacle in shock, I noticed Kirani fend off Merritt for second place, and saw Cedenio place fourth, at long last breaking Ian Morris’s 24-year-old national record with a deserving 44.01. Next stop for Machel must be a 43-point. At age 20, his prospects are boundless.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago's Machel Cedenio (second from left) beats (from left) Grenada's Bralon Taplin, Bahrain's Ali Khamis and Botswana's Karabo Sibanda to the finish line in the Rio Olympics' 400 metre final on 14 August 2016. Cedenio finished fourth behind South Africa's Wayde Van Niekerk, Grenada's Kirani James and the United States' LaShawn Merritt. (Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Machel Cedenio (second from left) beats (from left) Grenada’s Bralon Taplin, Bahrain’s Ali Khamis and Botswana’s Karabo Sibanda to the finish line in the Rio Olympics’ 400 metre final on 14 August 2016.
Cedenio finished fourth behind South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk, Grenada’s Kirani James and the United States’ LaShawn Merritt.
(Courtesy Sean Morrison/Wired868)

Now, only Keshorn Walcott and Michelle-Lee Ahye remain in contention for an individual medal. Cedenio and Ahye will also have another realistic shot in the men’s 4×400 and the women’s 4×100 metres relays—and that’s it for track and field.

Look, I applaud local Olympic Committee president Brian Lewis for trying to psyche up our athletes and sports administrators with his mantra of “10 gold medals by 2024”. Brian is well-intentioned. But it takes more than good intentions to pave the track to Olympic glory.

How does one rationalise Cleopatra Borel’s effusive boast, after she finished sixth in the shot put finals, that after three Olympics, she had achieved her dream? With the greatest respect to Cleo, you go to the Games to win, not to “make de finals”.

That mentality of glorifying mediocrity, or worse, aspiring to it, is one reason why our achievements have been… well, ordinary.

Wendell Mottley, Edwin Skinner, Benedict Cayenne, Edwin Roberts, Hasely Crawford and Ato Boldon shone brightly in their time in spite of governments and administrators, not because of them.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis (left) with a delegate at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto. (Courtesy TTOC)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis (left) with a delegate at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto.
(Courtesy TTOC)

The athletes of today are showered with largesse for achievements that, in other countries, merit only thanks and some assistance, preferably through scholarships, and encouragement.

Let me put this as politically correct as I can: if Bolt were a T&T athlete, he would own half of the country, gifted to him by grateful governments. If the other Jamaican superstars were ours, we’d have to annex or conquer Grenada, St Vincent, maybe even Venezuela, to reward them with mansions and estates.

Get my point?

I have always loved athletics, so my interest in the Olympics has been there since my boyhood. I support my country’s athletes once I know they are working hard to achieve the loftiest goals. I extend my support to Caribbean competitors, since I see the region as one.

Most of all, though, I admire and support athletes who perform superbly—be it a Bolt, a Diekerk, a Kirani, a Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price who has done us proud in three Olympics, or an Elaine Thompson, the new sprint queen.

If speed, strength and stamina be the pillars of satisfaction, race on, give me excess of it…

Photo: Jamaica's Elaine Thompson celebrates winning the Women's 100m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 13 August 2016.  Trinidad and Tobago's Michelle-Lee Ahye is second from left. (Copyright: AFP 2016/Franck Fife)
Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson celebrates winning the Women’s 100m Final at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on 13 August 2016. 
Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye is second from left.
(Copyright: AFP 2016/Franck Fife)
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About Raffique Shah

Raffique Shah
Raffique Shah is a columnist for over three decades, founder of the T&T International Marathon, co-founder of the ULF with Basdeo Panday and George Weekes, a former sugar cane farmers union leader and an ex-Siparia MP. He trained at the UK’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and was arrested, court-martialled, sentenced and eventually freed on appeal after leading 300 troops in a mutiny at Teteron Barracks during the Black Power revolution of 1970.

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  1. Warning: Undefined variable $userid in /www/wired868_759/public/wp-content/plugins/user-photo/user-photo.php on line 114

    Lasagna was Dr.Hypolite the manager of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic team?

  2. “For most countries, the Olympics aren’t about racking up medal after medal. They’re about trying not to come home empty-handed or embarrassed.” – from an article in NYtimes, tried to post it

  3. Hey lets be real when we send then to the games we know well what they will do if all stays the same, yes i want them to win too but people sit back look at their times prior to going there, they had to run out of their skins to defeat the best, Micheal did her best times ever yet it placed her fourth.She has the potential to regain her tail end finish, she came back from injury. Our gold chain cyclist had to wear his chains for the world to see when all others want to be aerodynamic his top open, Reality is this ask Ato or Maurice green if you cannot run under ten seconds constantly at 100 meters then forget about medals at the Olympics cannot break 20 in the 200 same thing. Yes when we see them there as anything else we want them to win and when they do not medal we vexed, stop it is about times, The “terror from Toco” has the best chance he did over 90 meters just before the games our relays have a chance their times are good, some of us should show up at one of the stadiums and try to run under 15 seconds in the 100 and we will understand the difficulty, yes i know we do not train for it but we will understand.

  4. we always settling for mediocrity. why should i contribute to losing athletes. Look back at the last Olympics, the team was prepared. Prior to this current team, was obe bacchanal after the other. we werent hearing about some of the athletes preparation. so why is Romany making excuses?

  5. What we need to ask ourself is if the ministry of sport know what it doing

    Do elite athletes pay taxes on their foreign income?

  6. Lasana Liburd, I was just reading the online release of Friday’s news and saw that Larry Romany former head of TTOC suggest that “the public expectations of our Olympians is too high”. Therein lies the source of many issues. Let me also be very clear “we all love and support our Olympians!” But who does not want to win?

    • We feel their pain. I would like to say ‘wow’. But then Trinidad and Tobago sporting bodies have often had their teams overnight at airports where they would sleep on the ground…
      And that’s hardly the worst of it.

  7. Lasana et al, so yesterday I posted my opinion on the gushing accolades for the TT team, which I think are somewhat excessive, I don’t believe we should praise people simply for effort but rather for outcomes, of course the backlash was YUGE (as the Donald would say) …. becasue of course, no one is supposed to hold an opinion that is contrary to what the group thinks is sacred ….lmao ….

  8. Put your money where your mouth is Mr.Shah. Our sportsmen/women are trying to build something out of nothing. Every river leads to the ocean. Some of these Olympians don’t have the kind of financial support and training facilities as afforded to their competitors of other nations.

  9. ..And here’s what the Germans think about two sisters representing them in the marathon who crossed the line together:

    ..“Victory and medals are not the only goal,” German Athletics Federation director Thomas Kurschilgen said in an email to the New York Times on Tuesday. “Still, every athlete in the Olympic competitions should be motivated to demonstrate his or her best performance and aim for the best possible result.”..

    The German public is ALL over them for turning their performance into ‘a fun run”. Live with it. Comes with the territory..

  10. ..Here is an excerpt from a report on the progress of the Brasilian team in the Olympic football tournament, and the fans love-hate relationship with Neymar:

    ..”Brazilian fans had jeered and mocked Neymar after disappointing performances in the first two Olympic games – scoreless draws against South Africa and Iraq. But his recent level of play – victories over Denmark in the group stage, Colombia in the quarterfinals, and Honduras in the semis – has been more than enough to bring the fans back to his side.”

    Need I say more? You want to be a top performer without supporter pressure, justified and/or injustified (in your opinion)? Wait on that nah..

  11. What most people don’t get especially columnists like Mr shah, is that whether our athletes come first or last, they’re champions because they represent US! these men and women compete against the worlds best because they ARE the best. There are thousands of countries in the world yet we show up there every Olympic set. Perhaps what we should address is the mediocrity of patriotism and snap judgements, even by those who are educated and listened to, and think about what these men and women accomplish even in the face of initial lack of support, diet and finances. Inferior training facilities, with coaches that are barely recognised and hardly ever well paid and a nation that knows nothing of their struggle, but quickly throws them under the bus for entertainment. This HAS ALWAYS BEEN Trinidad and Tobago’s problem

    • Nice but that does not cut it. We have been performing the same way for decades. We could do better. To do so we, the citizens, need to hold the TTOC, the MOS, and the T&T sports organizations accountable for the billions of TTDs allocated to sports over the last 3 decades. Additionally, being frustrated when our sports ambassadors under perform is not being unpatriotic. It’s because we are patriotic and we are holding all accountable for performance that’s how performance improves. Holding people accountable. This is not a free ride. It cost millions annually to prepare for the Olympics. We, like you, have a right to express our frustrations because we know we all can do better. We must raise the bar.

    • Yes and I like you have a right to express what I feel because I’m aware of the side of the coin that many don’t pay attention to. It’s easy to say that we should take the men and women that perform to task, but it’s not nearly as cut and dried as we would like to believe. With all the money that’s being spent on sports, who is it going to really? I can afford to make my statement because the facts PROVE that not much of whatever is spent is being used to facilitate and help the athletes and coaches to reach their full potential. I highly doubt any of our athletes are getting a “free ride” as you put it and certainly none of them are trying to be anything less than number one. No one goes out there to lose, so perhaps we should stop THIS type of hype and take your OTHER suggestion and hold the organizations and governmental bodies accountable. Yes we CAN do better, but that statement should also encompass how we address issues as a nation. The general CULTURE of the Trinidad and Tobago person is to cut and comment first. We’ve ALWAYS been a tough crowd, so I concur with SOME things you may say comrade, but let’s agree to disagree as I have my own information and am also well within MY RIGHT to say what I feel I must, for those who can’t or won’t get to say it for themselves

  12. Maybe just maybe one day we will take sport seriously, should we choose to recognize that some very talented youths slip through the school system with no one seeing that they will not be doctors or lawyers but a gold medalist at the games and start placing emphasis on them in schools,then maybe we will find our Bolts ect. The powers that be that are responsible for the upkeep of facilities and making them available is awful, our Regional Co-operations sport administrators think just cut the ground and it to quote one Chairman”it perfect” Keshon will know too well about what is being said, prior to his gold medal ask him his conditions in Toco. Sport needs to be treated as a subject in our schools and not a pass time or free time for teachers we need specialist coaches in the schools and not P.E teachers sending you to sweat. Hey Q.R.C Fatima, St Mary’s and the south schools know this

  13. So from a man’s sickness to our sports men and women! Who next?

  14. Sometimes Raffique is a little too critical for me.

  15. Lasana. What have we come to when two of our dailies have the news of an athlete coming sixth in a race as headline, front page material. So what happens if Keshorn comes first? If he doesn’t, given the hype already, there will be a lot of disappointed people.

  16. Anytime we are competing on the world stage, we are competing with the world’s best. As Fazeer Moh’d said this morning, it is who presents better on the day..
    Keshorn won with a throw of 84.30 in 2012… Some of his rivals records are much higher than that.. But he was better on the day…

    We need to celebrate that we are reaching finals, despite financial issues, political issues, lack of sporting accommodations for some..
    Our thoughts towards sport in Trinidad is mediocre and archaic… When the powers that be change their attitude toward sport, maybe our medals will start coming..

  17. ..Good for Bovell too. I want medals..

  18. ..And that is the question. What they doing that we can’t? We need to send an NAAA Commission of Enquiry to Jamaica. Serious..

  19. Nobody really knew about Elaine Thompson before these Olympics was Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce…and now she is double O champion..what is Jah doing to produce such an athlete…??
    We could spring dozens of reasons..
    In my opinion, any O athlete who makes a FINAL in any event…must be recognised…
    In our case, a dot on the world map, bigger kudos…

  20. Just gonna drop this Ghandi quote here, seems fitting: “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory.” – Ghandi

    • Now Keith i still with you that PB’s can be used as benchmark, but mind you that i keep hearing: The WR holder did not make qualy, the past Olympic Champ did not make qualy… and i think we all had the one or the other bad day in our lives…. i saw a few of them live on TV last night…. the question i think is how you deal with your under performance, are you just gonna dismiss it or are you going to have a breakdown like that Hurdler last night who broke down in tears and couldnt catch herself?

    • ..Thanks for being with me but I ain’t with Ghandi. LOL. Just gimme some wins and I good. And yes, we must handle failure better than that female hurdler last night..

    • actually she made one thing very clear and no one will doubt that one second: she was unhappy with her performance. And maybe that is something: when you under perform, be humble about it, don’t simply dismiss it…

    • Ghandi ain’t god …he’s just a man like myself …. and some people need more than just satisfaction in the effort applied. In fact that’s the difference between a fete match and a contract.

  21. We need to aim for the stars to reach the moon .. if we only aim for the moon chances are we will always fall short .We must encourage them to want more …

  22. Leh Raffique go to hell. all yuh dam ungrateful.somebody has to win somebody has to loose.wen jamaica wasnt meddling wat Raffique was saying then.Before he run his mouth, these countries have proper sporting programmes in place from primary school straight up to olympics,and d whole country rally around their athletes wen they pack their stadium etc in their respective countries, we dont. Tell me, anybody ever saw Raffique at ah sporting event supporting our athletes. TALK DONE.

    • I want to suggest that you go and re-read the piece with an open mind.

      And to suggest that you also open your eyes the next time you go to an athletic meet.

      Or that you simply google “Raffique Shah” and keep your eyes open.

  23. Steups ….. what nonsense you talking? Go to yuh fricking class!!

  24. When we have teachers giving kids ultimatums of come to class or fail rather than take the time off to train for a sport then we’d always have mediocrity.


    Pierre de Coubertin got the idea for the phrase adopted as the Olympics Creed from a speech given by Bishop Ethelbert Talbot at a service for Olympic champions during the 1908 Olympic Games.

    The Olympic Creed reads: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

    The creed and motto are meant to inspire the athletes to embrace the Olympics spirit and perform to the best to their abilities.

    • How true, Lance. But I am tempted to lament in Latin “O mores, o tempora”

      And to suggest that Juan Antonio Samaranch and Jacques Rogge and the 20th and 21st century version of the Baron have only contempt for those ideals.

      Try to get your hands on Lords of the Rings and flip thru; you don’t have to read the whole thing to see that unless the whole book is a complete fabrication, we have moved far far away from De Coubertin’s principles.

      Which is not surprising, Lance; you can’t stop PROGRESS. Ha!

  26. Sad thing is We did have we Own Bolt in *Darrel Brown* yet we all know how that went……sometimes it pains me to see how Bolt has gone this route, yet our own has become a Ghost that only appears and Disappears after receiving Elite Funding!! ..which just goes to show Trinibago eh going no where when it comes to sports in Athletes or any sport Seriously!! smh

    • Your comment might be valid but I ahve to point out the old wisdom that one swallow does not a summer make. DB’s case certainly is a tragedy but is it typical of what happens here in T&T? Potential talent going to waste, not to say to rack and ruin? Maybe the opposite is true, as Raffique implies. Maybe we tend to take talentless – or not especially talented – people and elevate them way beyond where they should really be by the expectations we put on them. I’m not sure…

  27. We are going to sneak up on them….

  28. I don’t think the comment about Cleo was trite . We all love and support our athletes. The conversation is about how do we use higher performance standards and expectations to get more out of our athletes. What should we be honoring at the levels we do? These are important discussions for a developing country to have

    • I agree with you about the importance of that discussion Brian. I think it was just a poor example as Cleo is someone who gives 100 percent. She can’t be considered an underachiever in my book.
      Otherwise, I do think Raffique made some excellent points and I won’t ignore them just because I didn’t appreciate one example.

  29. I have been saying all week it appears to me that “going Rio” seems to be an achievement in and of itself. No thought of medalling. How we getting those 10 gold medals if other countries don’t even perceive us as a ‘threat’?

  30. Should we be funding people who are professionals rather than focus on the amateurs (budding pros)?

  31. leave TNT athletes alone today for me tomorrow for you. Every dog has their day and every puss their 4 O’Clock

  32. Lasana Liburd did most of our medals at the Olympic games come from professionals or amateurs? We want to invest in the end product and complain after. Where was funding for all these University students before and after they got an athletic scholarship? Where was the funding for coaches and to the university programme they attended? I forgot they did it by the work they put in to get the scholarship thanks mostly to themselves, their family and local coaches who are mostly unqualified doing community service. Yet we take credit when they medal at Olympics etc and complain when they don’t perform. To those who have turned pro, can they fund their training programme? Does the elite funding cover the cost for these athletes who are no longer in school and have to make a living as a professional?

  33. Trinidad is an elaborate movie set for a movie about a fictitious Caribbean nation…….then the producers of the movie sent a team of extras to the Olympics to complete against real life athletes.

    It reminds me of Tropical Heat.

  34. At our National Champs. The athletes ran the 5000m in 17 minutes… with four participants. .. Jamaica had a 5000m semifinalist running 13:30 minutes in Rio….

  35. If Haiti move like us dey woulda congratulate that hurdler for not falling down before the first hurdle.

  36. Raff thanks breds. Saved me from writing virtually the same thing.

  37. Trite comment about Cleo and totally undeserved given all she has sacrificed for this country and for her sport.

  38. Steups to many bandwagonist Trinbagonians!So what’s the alternative? Disown them if they do not perform up to our standards? Especially when most of the criticizing population does nothing to contribute to them whether through genuine unconditional support or dare I say financial support?We owe it to our athletes to support them unconditionally they fly our flag. If we don’t who will? They know better than us how hard they want to win.

    • Do you really mean UNCONDITIONAL support, Crystal-Ann? You are, of course, aware of the adage that says that there are none so blind as those who WILL not see. I agree with your essential point that athletes (in the broad sense, not just the people who go do track and field) deserve to be supported. But I, for one, am incapable of UNCONDITIONAL support and can’t bring myself to ask it of anyone else.

  39. And not for nothing eh, but consoling ourselves by pointing out that Trinidad and Tobago isn’t the only Caribbean nation to perform poorly is the epitome of the acceptance of mediocrity.
    Cotizens of ambitious nations don’t do that!

  40. Would the TTOC sit with.the various athletes and do a postmortem when the games are done?

  41. Too bad fetting isn’t an Olympic event because we’re serious about that. We would have had Michael Phelps and Usein Bolts of our own.

  42. Justin Phelps how do u change the established and accepted culture of a country, especially TT where we know what’s going on but seem to only concerned when the athlete fails to medal…

  43. I believe athletes set their own benchmarks Jehue was a “world champion” and runs “last” in his first round heat? Kelly Ann was well beaten by poland’s participant who just ran in the u20 finals less than a mth ago….kelly ann ran 11.42 … are you kidding me? Lalonde Gordon won a bronze at the 2012 olympics and is struggling to get to 45 seconds …lendore I saw run 44.36 but can’t even make it out the first round now. ….. ah mean athletes have to do better and sport administrators need to say that what you’ve done is not enough so do better …jus sayin

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