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“She should’ve run relays!” Ahye’s ex-coach praises sprint star but criticises response to Ato’s barbs

If long-standing Concorde Athletic Club coach Ken Barton were still guiding Commonwealth Games 100m gold medal winner Michelle-Lee Ahye, she would have run in the 4x100m relay. And if he were in charge of the National Association of Athletics Administrations of Trinidad and Tobago (NAAATT), the umbrella body would not hesitate to develop and implement policies concerning athletes’ participation in relay events.

That, he says, is necessary to prevent future damage to this country’s hopes of winning medals on the world stage.

Photo: Michelle-Lee Ahye celebrates with the Trinidad and Tobago flag after her women’s 100m final triumph during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games at the Carrara Stadium on 9 April 2018.
(Copyright Saeed Khan/AFP 2018/Wired868)

“No, I was not surprised [that she did not run the relays],” Barton told Wired868. “When she said she wasn’t going to run, I knew she was going to follow through because she always sticks to her word. The NAAATT needs to stamp its foot down because it will hurt our medal chances in the future.

“Right now, there is no kind of policy in place and an athlete should not be allowed to pull out of a relay unless they’re injured and able to provide the medical records as well. […] The NAAATT should have stepped in earlier when Michelle made the ‘home girl’ statement.”

And Barton’s dissatisfaction extends beyond the athlete and the umbrella body to the Guardian newspaper, which published a front page story seeking to make capital of Ahye’s sexual preferences.

“That should not have been printed,” Barton said. “Her lifestyle is wrong in the eyes of God. As her [former] coach, I had to accept her and I accepted her […] Michelle wears her heart on her sleeve and she never intended to hide what she likes. She never hides anything. It’s either you accept her or you don’t.”

Ahye’s response to the Guardian story was to take down all her social media pages. Barton was disappointed that the former Concorde athlete had not handled other matters quite as tactfully.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago sprinter Michelle Lee-Ahye (right) bigs up her country at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

Involved in a very public verbal spat with multiple Olympic medallist Ato Boldon before the start of the Gold Coast Games, Ahye had announced her intention to sit out the relays. And even after winning gold in the 100m dash, in which there were two other Trinidad and Tobago runners, Khalifa St Fort (6th) and Reyare Thomas (7th), Ahye did not change her mind.

The Trinidad and Tobago quartet clocked 43.50 seconds to earn fourth place in the final, less than 0.75 of a second out of the medals behind England (42.46), Jamaica (42.52 and Nigeria (42.75) that left supporters wondering “What if…?”

“I know her withdrawal from the relays was because of her tiff with Boldon,” said Barton, who noted that the now 26-year-old Ahye had joined Concorde at the age of nine and only left 12 years later at the age of 21, “not under the best circumstances.”

Barton, a coach with over 30 years of experience, explained that the plan was for Ahye, upon leaving Concorde, to go through the US Collegiate system before turning pro. However, the sprinter, whom Barton described as a “ball of fire always rearing to go,” opted to turn pro immediately.

It was a decision which, at the time, had not gone down well with Barton but he admits that he is now happy that Ahye is reaping some rewards.

Photo: Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle-Lee Ahye (right) beats all comers to take the 100m Commonwealth Games title at the Gold Coast on 9 April 2018.
(Copyright Adrian Dennis/AFP 2018/Wired868)

Prior to her 11.14 second triumph in the 100m final—the country’s first gold at the Commonwealth Games for 20 years—no T&T athlete had placed first at those Games since Boldon won the 100m event in Kuala Lumpur in 1998. Boldon beat Namibia’s Frankie Fredericks and Barbados’ Obadele Thompson to the tape in a time of 9.88 seconds, then the fourth fastest legal 100m run ever.

It was ironic, then, that Boldon’s “lane fillers” comments might have been the spark that drove Ahye to speed down the Gold Coast track to 100m glory and then stay out of the relay. Particularly as Jereem “The Dream” Richards also fought hard to earn T&T a second gold medal in the Men’s 200m event before competing in the 4×400 metre relays.

Barton declined to say whether he was aware of any earlier tensions existing between Ahye and Boldon. But he did tell Wired868 that, at the tender age of 13, just after she had had great difficulty getting the better of then club-mate Crystal Rogers, his former charge had told him that she did not want to lose another 100m race.

Barton said he could give her no such assurance but he promised to do what he could to get her upright and into her drive phase so as to be able to compete with the world’s best.

In Concorde, Ahye was soon upstaging her seniors Fana Ashby and Ayanna Hutchinson. And gold medals would follow at the Carifta Games and Pan Am Juniors in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Photo: Rebirth sprinter Michelle-Lee Ahye beams after setting a new Trinidad and Tobago record of 22.33 in the women’s 200 metre event at the NAAA National Open Championships on 26 June 2016 at the Hasely Crawford Stadium.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

It was plain for all to see that Ahye was knocking on the door recently. She finished in sixth place in three major finals—the 100m and 200m finals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and the 100m finals at last year’s World Championships in London. But that coveted big stage gold remained elusive until this month, when the former Tranquility Secondary student blew away the opposition in Gold Coast, relegating the Jamaican pair of Christiana Williams, fourth in the Rio 100m, and Gayon Evans to the minor placings.

In 2010, the coach had told his then teenaged charge that he expected her to stand on the podium at an international event in six years’ time. He was two years off but he is overjoyed to see his prediction come true, doubly so since the medal is gold.

Barton explained that the Carenage-born Ahye has never been afraid of any competitor and has always preferred to let her feet do the talking. It is what she should have done, he suggested, after Boldon’s initial social media post which blasted the NAAA for not selecting St Fort in their Commonwealth Games contingent.

“Michelle’s position should have been if [St Fort] is the future of track and field, then let her come out and show it and beat me,” Barton said, predicting that both St Fort and Boldon’s teenage charge, Jamaican sprinter Briana Williams, will be in contention for medals on the world stage before very long.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago’s Khalifa St Fort (centre) grabs the baton from teammate Kelly-Ann Baptiste in the first round of the Women’s 4 x 100m Relay at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on 18 August 2016.
(Copyright Jewel Samad/AFP 2016)

“Michelle should have been bigger than that,” said Barton, who also expressed his disappointment with Boldon for engaging in a public tit-for-tat with a national athlete.

But Barton explained that things have not gone swimmingly between himself and Ahye over the last few years. He cited a conversation they had had during last year’s World Championships in London, when he had offered Ahye a few tips and she was reluctant to take the information on board.

“The communication between us has not been as good as it should have been,” he said, noting that he has been careful not to do anything suggestive of a desire to override whatever instructions Ahye might have received from her overseas-based coach.

“[The foreign-based coaches] take our athletes after they are developed and make money while our local coaches continue to suffer,” Barton told Wired868, sounding resigned to accept the current track culture in which foreign coaches are almost instinctively given more respect than their local counterparts.

Ahye now runs for the Elite Performance track club in Houston, Texas.

Photo: Commonwealth Games 100m champ, Michelle-Lee Ahye (right), is the target of world attention after copping the title on the Carrara Stadium track on 9 April 2018.
(Copyright Allan V Crane/CA-Images/Wired868)

For Barton, respect is the issue at the centre of the Guardian’s front page story. It’s all the more intolerable as Ahye is the athlete who has in the past consistently clamoured for more support and respect for female track and field athletes.

The story came mere days after a High Court ruling declaring the country’s buggery laws unconstitutional had bolstered the local LGBTQI community in its fight for respect, fair treatment and eventual equality. The Guardian has since issued a public apology but Barton insisted that the story should not have been published in the first place.

He wants to see the media and the wider public consistently supporting the country’s athletes. And he wants to see the NAAA move now to put policies in place to ensure that Ahye—or any athlete for that matter!—does not repeat the Gold Coast relay pull-out, which most likely robbed the country of a podium place.

If all of that happens, he feels certain, the chances of achieving the TTOC’s Going for Gold 10×24 goal will be much improved.

About Roneil Walcott

Roneil Walcott
Roneil Walcott is an avid sports fan and freelance reporter with a BA in Mass Communication from COSTAATT. Roneil is a former Harvard and St Mary's College cricketer who once had lofty aspirations of bringing joy to sport fans with the West Indies team. Now, his mission is to keep them on the edge of their seats with sharp commentary from off the playing field.

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25 comments

  1. No one jumped out to help the young lady financially ..but want to pass their mouths.

  2. I say since ms ahyee is being criticzed over her preferal ..after winning ..its better she didn.t and take up residence and train for another state or country that would appreciate her effort..

  3. Lasana if I may ask, whose responsibly is it to give an account of this situation to the country? Or is it we don’t deserve to know exactly why Ms Ahye did not run the relay and the fact that she refuses to say why. How did the team feel about it and what was the mood of the team leading up to the race? Don’t understand why this isn’t being addressed. I know you asked Ms Ahye and declined.

  4. I stand to be corrected but I don’t recall Ato naming names. Did he call Ahye specifically? Or is it that the general interpretation was that all of the female runners were lane fillers? Considering Ahye has been our fastest for a while I can’t see how that could apply to her. And Ato does not speak for the IOC or the NAAA so I’m not following why the pull out. Or is it that she was upset at the NAAA’s response following Ato’s outburst?

    • Earl Best

      Nah, he named no names but it was crystal clear that he was addressing himself to MLA. He said that she might actually win a medal one day if she focused on things other than St Fort, still naming no names. I’m subject to correction but I think I am right in saying that he was responding to her comment that she proposed to stay out of the relay after St Fort was included in the CG squad.

    • Then why such a strong rxn from Ahye if St Fort was included? I think her times show that she is our no. 3 sprinter. (I also missed the reason for Kelly Ann Baptiste’s absence). I thought Ato’s first comment was the lane filler comment (no names) then Ahye responded negatively (not sure which comment) then Ato with the focus on winning comment. Somewhere there was the home girl is the future comment by Ahye. But I’m still not seeing Ato’s first comment as being directed at Ahye. Definitely his other responses were directed at her.

  5. Ms Ahye is a proud person who the detractors should be proud of, but people in this country have lost their pride. Ato tried to belittle her,her so called mates ignored her victory is that the way he is training them.he used to run behind Green and hugged him.So my people who was she to run with.l think you should ask Ato to apologize. And you should’ve suggested at least Kalifa not run. Power to Ms Ahye run mich run

  6. I don’t know how Ato Boldon can cause any athlete to decline to run the relay.

  7. That right there is the problem with TRINIDAD Sports, you cannot force an athlete to perform an event just for a medal for country or a coach to beat his/her chest. Athletes have PASSION and it is that passion a coach needs to develop alongside technique and sportsmanship. A coach and the NAAA should seek to nuture athletes interests intead of their own. For those who don’t know me I hold Masters Degree in Sport Management and was classmates with George Comissiong of the NAAA at that time, because of my race and color I didn’t get to serve Trinidad and Tobago Sports, hence I have moved out of that country.

  8. As much as I support her former coach with what he said that she should of taken part in the relay, I didn’t see our other 2 athletes that was in the race congratulate her after the race, maybe she might of felt some love from them and have a change of heart. ..

  9. yes she should have run she have to ignore other coaches who is fighting for their runners place but you are running for your country not ato Boldon and remember what little money you get to help with your development did not come from ato but from T&T