Track athletes seeking to represent Trinidad and Tobago at the Tokyo Olympic Games should realistically “be able to make at least the semi-final, preferably the final in their event,” says Trinidad and Tobago’s Gold medalist in the men’s 100 metres sprint at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, Hasley Crawford.
“Three guys are going to the Olympic Games who qualified two to three years ago; but right now they are running poor times, not even meeting the standard,” says Crawford. That kind of marginal participation, he says, is for countries that have never won a medal in athletics at the Games.
“Since 1948 we are accustomed to winning medals, participation for the sake of participation is not for us,” Crawford told Guardian Media Sports on Tuesday.
He notes that “athletes cannot be running 10.5 and expect to drop down to 10.05 in Tokyo, that will take years to reach such times to qualify for a medal.”
But he is sure that having the standards of going beyond mere qualifying times should not be applied to sports that T&T has only recently begun to participate in. He says sending the representatives in judo and rowing for the experience of participation is a good option.
“I think we need to re-think our way of picking a team and a number of our athletes and coaches need to re-think their approach to training and other forms of preparation,” says the Olympic Gold medalist. “The Olympics is about excellence; the CAC Games, the Pan Am Games and the Commonwealth Games are the events in which our athletes can get the experience of participation,” says Crawford.
On the issue of training grounds for the athletes, Crawford is sure that it’s destructive to the feet of those who train on the hard rubber tracks and at the Brian Lara Stadium on the concrete. “They cannot last,” says Crawford noting that he trained on dirt tracks leading up to the international competition.
“Yes they can use the stadium tracks for starts, hurdles and speed work, but not day-by-day running on that track, it’s not right for the athletes,” he sees it as being destructive to the best interest of the athletes.
On our athletes getting scholarships to attend the U.S. College system, Crawford who went through the system says the constant competition wears them out. “They run our athletes to the ground in the College system. They are running every weekend and some of them are running in three and four events; the coaches do not understand that rest is part of training,” says Crawford.
Developing training programmes and systems in T&T, the Olympic gold medalist says is the solution. He likes Ephraim Serrette’s idea of taking our athletes to our two universities to give them five years to complete four years of work.
“Jamaica has done it,” says Crawford. He notes ruefully that he was part of a team of individuals who went to Jamaica and spent two weeks looking at their system of training for their athletes and produced the “Pathway to the Olympics” which reached cabinet but seemed to have been interred there.
“Right on Track: From the Cradle to the Olympics” is another such programme produced here by Hasley and others. He says the programme was participated in by several countries of the Eastern Caribbean inclusive of Grenada to enhance the performance of the athletes.
Out of that programme, he says emerged Kirani James, the Grenadian 200 and 400 athlete who won gold in the World Championships and Olympics in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
Hasley is not optimistic about the chances of Trinidad and Tobago athletes to win medals at the Tokyo Games later this month. “Depending on which side Keshan Walcott gets up on the morning he has a good chance,” says Crawford “because I find him very temperamental; he will get up one morning and throw the javelin quite down the road and the next morning he will throw it by his big toe,” says Crawford in assessing the chances of this country’s only other Olympic gold medalist.
“Our next best chance is if Machel Cedenio heals from his injury we can have a good chance in the 4X400 metres relay,” he says. Crawford says the infrastructure of five stadia, an elite athlete funding programme and a measure of support from the private sector should have provided the impetus for producing Olympic quality athletes.
“What is needed is a new thinking, the Association must change their philosophy, the national track and field body needs to revamp the whole system of utilizing training facilities,” Crawford says for there to be an achievement at the Olympic Games.
But the Olympic gold medalist feels he “is a voice in the wilderness which is not listened to.”
He is sure that the aspiration of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Association president, Brian Lewis, for the country to win an additional eight gold medals by 2024 is worthy to have; but we have to be realistic.
With regards to the new additions to the Tokyo team, Crawford says they are not likely to get past the first round of their events given their best times. Similarly for the shot putter, whose best throw is 18.61 with the standing world record at 22.52. But Crawford says Deon Lendore is a good addition for the 4X400 relay team.