Ever since Nathan Farinha began running track at the age of eight, he’s dreamed of representing the “Red, White and Black” at a major global championship.
His moment of personal glory came two weeks ago when, after 14 years of developing his craft, he joined the ‘big boys’—Marc Burns, Keston Bledman and Emmanuel Callender—for the 4×100 metre relay event in the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
Sadly, the 21-year-old sprinter’s euphoria lasted barely a second.
Overcome with anxiety, the young athlete, who failed to advance from the 200 metre individual heats at the Gold Cup, took off too soon and ran completely out of his zone. He never received the baton from Burns, who had run the second leg, and the quartet—considered genuine medal hopefuls—was disqualified.
“Walking on the track, I was pretty nervous, more than usual,” Farinha told Wired868, “because I knew this one was for the team. It was nerve-racking and my mind was all over the place.”
Farinha, who struggled with injuries as a junior and only ever struck gold in the 2014 Carifta Games 4×400 metre relay event, just stood on the track, close to tears.
“I saw Marc was right up on the Australian guy and I was so anxious, I ended up running too early,” said Farinha. “He was shouting, ‘Twin stop, stop twin!’ I tried to stop but it was too late. Ah lil bit again and I would’ve started crying. It was really hard.”
The moments that followed are etched in his memory and the rising Abilene Wildcats sprinter, who turns 22 next month, is grateful for the emotional generosity of his more senior teammates.
“Being the youngest and knowing these guys already had a great chemistry and I let them down had me really sad,” he said. “But Marc told me to keep my head up. He was like, ‘Boy, fix yuh face. Throw away that long face.’ He said it was a learning experience and that mistakes happen in track.
“Then Keston held my head and said, ‘Doh worry.’ Keston has always had an impact on my brother and I so I was grateful for his support.
“Emmanuel also gave me a hug and told me the same thing. That made me feel like they all had my back.”
Farinha grew up in Arima with his twin brother, Jonathan, a 200 metre runner, and his passion for track and field grew as he watched YouTube videos of Burns, Trinidad and Tobago’s most seasoned active sprinter and a four-time Olympian.
“I used to watch his races over and over,” said Farinha. “Marc has done phenomenally in track from a junior all the way to the Olympics and has represented his country so well. And just to know he’s still here stepping up when his team needs him is great to see.”
Burns, who debuted on the big stage some 18 years ago at the 2000 Olympic Games, urged Farinha to move on as quickly as possible.
“When we walked back, I showed him where he took off from and where he was supposed to run from,” Burns told Wired868. “I told him he’s still young and these are the types of experiences he needs to learn from early. In track, you need to have a short-term memory; you can’t dwell on things. You need to pick yourself up and move on.
“Even [Usain] Bolt false-started in the 2011 Daegu World Championships so it happens to the best.”
Bledman, a two-time Olympian and one of the nation’s most consistent runners, echoed similar sentiments.
“I felt disappointed, not in Nathan, but because I knew our chances of getting to the finals and being on the podium were extremely great,” said Bledman. “However, we are a team and it’s never a blame game. I told him it’s no fault of his because he was nervous and excited. I’ve been there too so I definitely can relate.
“I told him we are moving forward and things will be different the next time around.”
The short preparation time for relay teams has been a touchy topic for some time. Farinha revealed that the 4×100 team did not start preparing until they got to Australia—just one week prior to the competition.
“We began training about three days after we arrived in Australia because it was hard to adjust to the 14-hour time difference and our bodies needed to adjust,” he said. “Countries like England and Jamaica got there two weeks before so they had more time to adjust and practise. Some athletes were focused on their individual events and some days we tried to squeeze in practice for the relay.
“We only got to really practise for four days but we did the exchanges pretty well. The mood in the camp was really positive and Marc and Keston kept psyching me up and showing me the rundown to keep me relaxed. But I think we can positively benefit from more practice time.”
Burns concurred. Kyle Greaux, who ran the 100 and 200 metre events in Gold Coast, was carded to run the second leg for the relay team. However, because Greaux had been focusing on the individual event and had run the 200m on the previous day, Burns offered to give the younger man’s legs a rest so he would be fresher for the 4x100m finals.
“For as much talent and medal prospects we have, it’s kind of an injustice to the athletes going over that late for meets,” said Burns, “because practice for relays conflicts with practice for individual races and most times people don’t get to recover.”
Bledman went further.
“I think this was a learning experience for the male sprinters and relay team,” he said, “to realise that succession and grooming of the younger guys need to be taken more seriously.”
Callender, also a two-time Olympian and reigning 100m national champion, agreed.
“Honestly, knowing fully well we didn’t have much time to practise, I don’t feel upset at all with Nathan,” he said. “Missing out on a medal was [sad] but at the same time, I know moral support was needed. We kept in good spirits even though we knew we had a chance to perform and possibly medal.”
Still, Farinha, is thankful for his experiences—life’s best teachers. He’s vowed to continue honing his skills and has already returned to the track as he works towards qualifying for the 2018 CAC Games in Barranquilla, Colombia.
Off the track, having dropped out of Jamaica’s University of Technology last year to return to Trinidad, the talented sprinter hopes to enrol at the University of the West Indies (The UWI) to further his studies in Business Economics, .
“My parents were paying out of pocket for both me and my brother to go to school and train and it was getting to be too much for them financially,” he said. “So I left and Jonathan stayed. I’m back training in Trinidad now and I’m just focused on being the best I can be and fulfilling my ultimate goal of representing T&T at the Olympic Games one day.
“I know with hard work I can do it.”