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Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee

By TERENCE HILTON-CLARKE
(c)copyright

Part 1


 

Monday, June 22, 1998
 

FIFTY YEARS HAVE PASSED since Trinidad and Tobago began its Olympic journey. A half century since a team of three athletes travelled to the 1948 games in London with the aim of attaining glory for a small British colony. With the exception of 1960, the last five decades have seen this nation represented in 12 Olympiads with a total of 90 athletes in eight different disciplines: badminton, boxing, cycling, shooting, swimming, track and field, weightlifting and yachting.

This period has seen nine medals being earned by eight competitors. The first of these medals actually came at the 1948 games: the weightlifter Rodney Wilkes - a southerner known as "The Atom" because of his phenomenal lifting ability - taking a silver medal in his discipline and making up for the disappointments endured by his track and field team-mates, sprinter Georgie Lewis and long-distance runner Mannie Ramjohn. Four years later in Helsinki, during Trinidad and Tobago's second Olympic Games appearance, Wilkes was there again to claim another medal, a bronze, while another bronze was earned by weightlifter, Lennox Kilgour. Wilkes was to complete a hat trick of Olympic appearances in Melbourne in 1956 - this time, placing fourth in the featherweight division with an aggregate lift of 330 kilograms. Another creditable performance came on the track with Mike Agostini making up for the early elimination of his fellow sprinters - Joe Goddard and Edmund Turton - by making it to the finals of both the 100 and 200 metres. Although he came sixth and fourth respectively, Agostini did set a standard by becoming the first of 25 athletes to appear in various track finals while representing Trinidad and Tobago. Meanwhile, cyclist Hilton Mitchell finished 19th in the 1,000 m time trial. This was to be this country's last appearance in the Olympics for a period of eight years for the 17th Games in Rome occurred during the brief period of West Indies Federation with the International Olympic Committee giving their approval to a unified Caribbean contingent. Nevertheless, this team did include three Trinidadians: track athlete Cliff Bertrand, cyclist Clyde Rimple and John Bennet, a yachtsman.

It wasn't until the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo that Trinidad and Tobago returned to the fold as an independent nation with a team of ten competitors. It was on the athletic track that the greatest prosperity was attained. Edwin Roberts, an outstanding collegian with the University of North Carolina, made it to the final of the 200m where he earned a bronze medal.Wendell Mottley took silver in the 400m behind the USA's Mike Larabee with Edwin Skinner finishing in eighth spot. Further success would come in the 4x400m relay, with the team of Roberts, Skinner, Mottley and Kent Bernard winning the bronze medal behind the United States and Great Britain. In the other disciplines: Roger Gibbon placed eighth in the one kilometre time trial in cycling; lightweight Hugo Gittens and heavyweight Brandon Bailey came eleventh and twentieth respectively in weightlifting and, in yachting, brothers Rawle and Cordell Barrow were twentieth in the Flying Dutchman class. Overall, a haul of three medals meant that Tokyo '64 represented this country's greatest performance at an Olympic Games. In October 1968, 5,531 athletes from around the globe descended into the rarefied cauldron of Mexico City for the Games of the 19th Olympiad. Included among the legions of sportsmen and sportswomen were the eleven athletes of Trinidad and Tobago. Despite the rigours of competing at 7,000 metres above sea level, local representatives made it to three track finals. Edwin Roberts was in the final eight of the 200m for the second consecutive time - finishing fourth - Benedict Cayenne was eighth in the 800m in a time of 1:54.03 and there was a sixth-place finish in the 4x400 relay. A creditable performance came from Roger Gibbon in the 1km time trial - a fifth place finish in 1:04.66 - while Hugo Gittens turned out to be Trinidad's last weightlifter at the Olympics, an incident which also signalled the decline of his discipline in this country. Instead, Geoffrey Ferreira and Bert Manhin were Trinidad's first Olympic representatives in swimming and shooting respectively. While the former went out in the first round of the men's 100m freestyle, the latter claimed 38th spot in the free pistol event with a score of 539 points. After twenty years of Olympic action, the figures at this point indicated two decades, 29 competitors and five Olympiads in which six medals were won.

The 1972 Olympic Games in Munich saw two important records being established. Trinidad and Tobago fielded its largest ever contingent of 20 athletes, among whom a female sprinter, Laura Pierre was included for the first time. Once again, the top performances came on the athletic track.Hasely Crawford made it to the men's 100m final, but could not finish the race due to a muscle injury sustained after only a few metres. Edwin Roberts, as durable an athlete as any, reached the semi-finals of the 200m along with Ainsley Armstrong while this country came eighth in the 4x400 relay in 3:03.06. Leslie King superseded Gibbon on the cycling track, recording a 19th place finish in the 1km time trial with the road team of Peter Gellineau, Vernon Stauble, Anthony Sellier and Clive Saney finished 29th. John Bennet returned to the Olympic Games, after a 12-year absence to team up with David Farfan. Together, the two yachtsmen completed the Flying Dutchman class in 27th position. Unfortunately, the Munich Games will forever be remembered for the tragedy which occurred when eleven Israeli athletes were left dead after being held hostage by Palestinian terrorists. However, the games were allowed to continue in honour of the Israelis.

On a positive note, with six appearances at the games, this country had more or less established itself as a full-fledged member of the Olympic family. An unstable family, though, one which would be tested during a 12-year period of political boycott - starting in 1976 with a pullout of mostly African countries due to the presence of New Zealand, whose rugby team had toured South Africa. In spite of this, the Olympic spirit persevered and Trinidad and Tobago were among the 88 teams that stayed on until the closing ceremony. This time, the emphasis was on sprinting with the ten member track squad containing no less than five 100-200 runners including Crawford the ill-fated finalist, four years before. John Fong Yew was at the shooting range for the second, consecutive games as was Anthony Sellier, who competed at the cycle velodrome along with Leslie Rawlins. But, as everyone knows, it turned out to be Crawford's year. The burly sprinter from San Fernando breezed through his heats but still had to face the might of the USSR's double gold medallist from 1972, Valery Borzov, in the final. Despite Crawford's pre-race bravado, he still experienced some nervousness in the final few minutes prior to the event in which 19-year old American Harvey Glance held the early lead. But, just as the great Jamaican Don Quarrie was taking over, Crawford came bursting through on the inside to claim this country's first - and so far only - Olympic gold medal. The sight of Trinidad and Tobago's flag being hoisted in conjunction with the (abbreviated) national anthem is one that is still to be repeated, 22 years on. The 1980 Olympics in Moscow saw the continuation of the boycott theme, with the United States President, Jimmy Carter, announcing the withdrawal of his country's team in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While several western nations displayed allegiance in this regard, the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee undertook the decision to sanction a team comprised entirely of track and field athletes. The biggest disappointment was abysmal fashion in which Crawford surrendered his Olympic gold: suffering elimination in his second round heat, after Francis Adams had gone out at the first hurdle. But, more satisfactory performances were to follow. Chris Braithwaite reached the semi-finals of 100m, with Andrew Bruce reaching the same stage of the 200. Both Michael Solomon and Joseph Coombs made it to the final of the 400m, placing sixth and eighth respectively. Those same two individuals then combined with Charlie Joseph and Rafee Mohammed to lead Trinidad and Tobago to the last of its five consecutive appearances in the 4x400 relay final - one which culminated in a sixth-place finish in 3:06.06. While the East Bloc countries took their turn in boycotting the Los Angeles games in 1984, Trinidad and Tobago was there, proudly holding the Olympic Torch aloft by sending a team of 17 athletes. While Crawford bowed out of his fourth games without making much of an impression, a break-through event occurred when the team of Janice Bernard, Gillian Forde, Esther Hope and Angela Williams reached the women's 4x100m relay final, placing seventh in a national record time of 44.23. Top quarter miler, Mike Paul, made it to the semifinals of the 400m. But, the best achievement was that of cyclist Gene Samuel who came fourth in the 1km time trial in 1:06.69 - behind West Germany's Fredy Schmidtke (gold), Curt Harnett of Canada (silver) and Fabrice Colas of France (bronze). It was this this race which really earned Samuel's status as a medal hope for the next three Olympics. Meanwhile, Don Smith and Nirmal Lorrick were Trinidad and Tobago's first boxers at this great multi-sport event, Paul Newallo competed in swimming while Jean-Marc Holder was the last of the yachtsmen.

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