Sporting diversity’ reflected in Pan Am squad
Branwen Smith-King believes Bermuda’s Pan American Games squad is a positive reflection of the sporting diversity on the island and has backed the athletes to “overachieve” in Lima.
Smith-King, Bermuda’s chef de mission, will be responsible for creating an environment for the 17-strong team to produce their best performances at the largest sporting event in Peru’s history, which starts on Thursday.
Held every four years, the Games will feature about 6,700 athletes from 41 nations, competing in 39 sports and 62 disciplines, with Bermuda being represented in athletics, bowling, cycling, sailing, squash, swimming and triathlon.
“This is my first time as chef de mission, but I think what’s really impressive is that for a small country we have a diverse pool of athletes in different sports,” Smith-King said. “That says a lot about sport in Bermuda.
“My service is to provide an environment and opportunity for the athletes to perform at their best level.
“Their managers and coaches will have expectations of them performance-wise; I’ll be looking to make sure everything is in line for them to compete well and be proud to represent their country.”
Although triathlete Flora Duffy, the island’s top medal contender, and high jumper Jah-Nhai Perinchief will be missing because of injury, while rower Shelley Pearson opted out of the Games, Smith-King expects some memorable displays from Bermuda’s contingent.
“I admire the Bermuda athletes who have stuck to the wicket and are really pushing forward,” said Smith-King, a pentathlete at the Pan Am Games in Cali, Colombia, in 1971.
“We should not and cannot undervalue the opportunity they have to go and perform at the world-class level.
“Hopefully they can perform to the best of their ability and a little bit more than that. That’s my mantra. We’re looking for the athletes to overachieve and feel like they belong.”
Having already visited Lima to inspect the competition’s facilities along with other delegates in January, Smith-King is confident the event will be a rip-roaring success and leave a lasting legacy in the bustling city, which has a population of about nine million people.
“These type of games always try and leave a legacy and the organisers talked a lot about that,” said Smith-King, whose daughter, Arantxa King is a two-times Olympian in the long jump.
“They’re trying to upgrade certain areas of the city and inspire young people to take up sports. A lot of infrastructures have been put in place to not only make the Games work but also leave something for generations to come.
“Some of the facilities are remarkable and that’s the feeling for most of the facilities.”
Last month a successful operation was performed to check on the system of dedicated road lanes intended to guarantee that competitions and ceremonies take place according to planned schedules.
“There’s lots of traffic, but the two positives for them is that it’s during the school holidays so the children are out of school and they will have a designated lane for transport,” she added.
“That will help tremendously. I think Lima will be a wonderful host; the people are very gracious and accommodating.”
Smith-King has the distinction of winning Bermuda’s first medal at the Carifta Games, a gold in the shot put in Barbados in 1972 with a throw of 9.75 metres.
“Clive Long was my coach and he left a legacy for a lot of track and field athletes in Bermuda,” she said.
“I was a long jumper but then Clive made me a pentathlete. I didn’t want to throw the shot put, as it was my least favourite event, but I was told that I was throwing it [at Carifta]. I won the gold medal when I was 15; I didn’t really know what that meant at the time.
“I later injured my knee and thought my career was over. However, I decided to pick up the shot put and worked on it and did quite well at the collegiate level [at Springfield College].”
Smith-King, the Bermuda Sloop Foundation executive director since 2017, spent 36 years at Tufts University in Massachusetts, serving as the head women’s track and field and cross-country coach and assistant director of athletics.
She believes her vast experience of working with coaches and athletes in several sports will stand her in good stead in Lima.
“Part of my job as an administrator was working with all types of different sports from ice hockey to sailing to squash,” she added. “I worked with coaches to provide any opportunities they needed to be successful and to win.
“I got a job at Tufts when I was 25. I thought I’d stay a few years and then go to Florida State, Arizona State or some big-time Division 1 programme.
“We were a Division III college and didn’t give out athletic scholarships. For me, it was a great fit because, although the goal for our teams was to win and do well, it was always about balance and the students had to reach a high level of academics.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished, not just on the track but also in terms of what some of the young women are now doing with their lives. They’re lawyers, doctors and game-changers in the world.”
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