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Boldon stood out ..... poorest year for track and field





December 30, 1997

History was made last August 8 when Ato Boldon burst out of the blocks, flew around the curve and outsprinted Namibia's Frank Fredericks and Brazil's Claudenei DaSilva to cross the line in premier position.

That victory in the 200 metres at the World Track and Field Championships in Athens, marked the crowning of Trinidad and Tobago's first global athletics champion, and also alleviated the disappointment of Boldon's fifth-place finish in the 100 metres final. More importantly, Ato's triumph was like the serene, bright blue surface of the ocean which masked the darker currents that lurked beneath. For, the plain fact of the matter was that, inspite of the events in Athens, 1997 was one of the poorest years in local track and field in Trinidad and Tobago. The year-long renovation work at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, plus the ruined condition of the mondo track at Arima's Municipal Stadium, meant that top-level training was limited. This was a major reason Trinidad and Tobago sent underprepared teams to both the Junior Carifta Games in Bridgetown and the Pan American Junior Championships in Havana.

For the first time in some 25 years, the National Championships had to be held on grass at Guaracara Park in Pointe-a-Pierre, setting this country back, behind regional rivals such as Jamaica, Cuba and Barbados. The track and field year for Trinidad and Tobago began back in March with participation at the World Indoor Championships in Paris on the weekend of the 9-11. The contingent comprised three athletes - Boldon, Neil DeSilva and Adina Valdez - and coach, Allan Baboolal. br> With DeSilva and Valdez going out in the first rounds of the men's 200m and women's 400m respectively, the best performance came from Boldon who had been having a good indoor season. He made it to the 200m final, where he was ranked one of the favourites. Unfortunately, just as he was turning into the second turn, the 22-year-old aggravated a chipped vertebra and collapsed onto the track. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, treated and discharged a few hours later. His indoor season had been brought to an ignominious end - allowing him to rest and prepare for the challenging months ahead on the outdoor circuit.

With the Hampton Games being cancelled due to the unavailability of the Hasely Crawford Stadium, the only major local meeting outside of the national championships was the Palo Seco Games on March 22-23. The highlight of this event was the top notch men's 400m final which was won by DeSilva in 46.64 seconds - ahead of a field which included Alvin Daniel, Patrick Delice and Ian Morris.

DeSilva later recorded a comfortable victory in the 200m, posting a time of 20.90, with Delice (21.02) second and N'kosi Barnes (21.45) third. Morris' sixth-place finish in the 400m was the sorrowful point of the meet, one which confirmed the end of the 38-year-old's time as a top-class quarter-miler.

In April, Trinidad and Tobago's underprepared juniors travelled to the Carifta Games in Bridgetown. Only 15 medals were won as this country finished fifth in the overall medal standings - behind Jamaica, Barbados, Bahamas and Martinique, in that order. However, if there were one positive aspect, it would be the emergence of yet another teenaged female sprinting sensation, Fana Ashby. Like Alicia Tyson and Ayanna Hutchinson before her, Ashby was 16 as she completed the 100-200 under-17 double, clocking 12.03 and 24.23 respectively. Two months later, she repeated the feat at the National Championships in Pointe-a-Pierre, taking the women's 100m in 11.58 and the 200m in 23.69.
Angela Joseph won her fourth straight 400m (55.88) and Makeda Prime, her third 100m hurdles (15.27). Stacy-Ann Williams also doubled by winning both the women's shot putt (11.31 metres) and javelin (34.44).
Among the men, notable winners included Alvin Daniel (200 m), Winston Aberdeen (800m and 1500m), Mickey Ruben (110m hurdles), Kerry Edwards (high jump) and Dave Stoute (shot putt).

Meanwhile, the National Amateur Athletic Association (NAAA) received a vote of no-confidence from the member clubs in May, and the entire executive was asked to resign. Several top members, including president Jules Bernard and secretary Clyde Forde, were temporarily deposed. But they were returned to office following an overwhelming victory at the emergency executive meeting in June. The shortage of funds was another factor which continued to plague Trinidad and Tobago track and field. This country had to, literally, scramble together a team to compete in the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico from June 27-30. It came as no surprise when little impression was made at the games. In the end, the best performances came from Wendell Williams (4th in the long jump), Ronnie Holassie (6th in the men's 5,000m final) and Winston Aberdeen (8th in the 1500m). There were pretty much the same returns at the Pan Am Juniors in Havana, the following month.
In the end, the best performance came from Fana Ashby who reached both the women's 100 and 200 m finals, finishing 7th and 6th respectively. Kerry Edwards came 7th in the high jump and Dave Stoute 8th in the shot putt. Lack of funds was responsible for two athletes being cut from the team for the world championships in Athens. Another athlete, Wendell Williams, had to be left out when it was once again discovered that his best jump, at the CAC Championships, was wind-aided.

Eventually, the contingent was pruned down to competitors Boldon and DeSilva, coach Kenny Bermudez and delegates Jules Bernard and Clyde Forde. While DeSilva pulled up in his first round 400m heat "another victim of insufficient preparation " the spotlight fell on Boldon. The Los Angeles-based speedster had made an excellent start to the outdoor season, clocking a sensational 9.89 in the 100m at the Modesto Relays in California. He made a slow start to the European season but recorded five straight victories in both 100 and 200 races in meetings in Lausanne, Stockholm and Stuttgart. In Athens, Boldon's form in the shorter sprint was excellent, but he might have overextended himself in clocking 9.87 in the second round, while trying to gain a psychological edge over eventual winner Maurice Greene of the USA. His fifth place finish in the final, however, was partially attributed to dehydration.
In the 200m, Boldon paced himself better, even allowing Fredericks to win their second round heat. In the final, it was all Ato as he took over the lead from Fredericks and crossed the line in 20.04.
Boldon returned home to a hero's welcome as he was honoured by both the government and the public. While in Port of Spain, Boldon, annoyed at the fact that he had not been provided a Trinidad and Tobago flag, during his victory celebrations in Athens - suggested he might not run for this country at the next Commonwealth Games unless the NAAA executive resigned. For a few days afterwards, the general public joined in calls for the NAAA to follow suit, but Forde hit back by reminding everyone that his organisation had a constitution to adhere to, and could only be voted out by due process. In the meantime, Boldon completed his stint on the track circuit: coming fifth in the 100m in Zurich; second in the 200m in Monte Carlo and Brussels; second in the 100 at Gateshead, England and fourth in the 200 at the Grand Prix Finals in Fukuoka, Japan. The year did end on a good note when, in December, Boldon returned to Trinidad and Tobago where he was presented with the first of four $250,000 checks from the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs. The combined $1 million is geared towards helping Boldon in his goals: winning gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and breaking the 100 metres world record.

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