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Forty years of hurt does not equate to failure

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For eight brave souls, and the two who will follow when the world's best Paralympians roll into Rio de Janeiro next month, these are the absolute best of times.

When the Olympic flame is lit tonight to mark the official opening of the Games of the XXXI Olympiad, the best of the best of our available athletes will rub shoulders with the best the world can provide in 39 different sports.

We crave winners and, in this instance, we crave someone to bring home a medal for little Bermuda. But the biggest battle has already been won.

Qualification and selection for an Olympic Games is no mean feat, and is cause for celebration — on a personal level for the athletes and on a wider scale for their families.

Getting to a Games signifies reward for all the hours of sacrifice, the early-morning training, the punishing schedule that at times can create fissures between loved ones, the blood sweat and tears. Anything more is a tremendous bonus.

For Bermuda, it is no surprise that we have only the one Olympic medal-winner. Some cringe at the obligatory mention of Clarence Hill, who took the bronze at the Montreal Games in 1976, but that is for those who cannot look beyond the former boxer's humanity or within their own souls for absolution to come to grips with.

We have only the one medal-winner, primarily because we are a small island nation but also because we lack the infrastructure and the funding consistently to build challengers at the highest level. When we can, it is as individuals rather than as teams that we thrive, for the latter requires far more cohesive effort, far more funding and an infrastructure that is fixed and developing.

Those who have come close to joining Hill on the “Bermuda podium” are deserving of a nod in their direction because they are among a rare few who have touched the heights at Olympic level.

Fourth is often said to be the worst position that anyone can finish at an Olympics, albeit not so bad in the modern era of drug cheats when belated elevation can lead at least to a bronze medal after all.

But for the Star class sailing pairing of helmsman Peter Bromby and crew Lee White, who missed out on bronze by a mere six points at Sydney 2000, and Brian Wellman, the former indoor world champion triple jumper, who was a fraction more than four inches shy of a medal but finished fifth at Barcelona 1992, their near-misses elicited pure agony, which eventually was followed by a sense of achievement. Reflection is a great thing.

Arguably the greatest miss of all occurred at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, where high jumper Clarance Saunders lost out on bronze by three quarters of an inch, and on the gold and an Olympic record by twice that height. Saunders, who like Wellman four years later was fifth, followed up to rule the Commonwealth in Auckland, New Zealand, two years later but the Olympic flourish with which he yearned to crown his illustrious career proved elusive. It is to this backdrop that Flora Duffy, Julian Fletcher, Rebecca Heyliger, Tre Houston, Shelley Pearson, Cameron Pimentel and Cecilia Wollmann, and then the Paralympians Yushae DeSilva-Andrade and Jessica Lewis must apply their craft between tonight and September 18, when the countdown towards Tokyo 2020 begins in earnest.

Duffy, in the triathlon, and Lewis, in the wheelchair sprint, are the undeniable stars of the show, with both better than outside shots to end the “40 years of hurt” by returning to Bermuda with the most sought-after silverware in sport.

But if they do not, if Team Bermuda are destined merely to make up the numbers in Rio, there is no shame in that. This should be the time of their lives and we should join in celebrating it with them.

The Olympic Movement was founded in 1892 on the ideal that sport can bond mankind. Here, 124 years on in the era of professionalism, the same holds true: winning is great but many of the most cherished memories will not be from those who leave Brazil medal-laden; it will be from those who have touched hearts, much as Derek Redmond, the British sprinter, did at Barcelona ‘92.

Our hearts are at the ready for our Bermuda team to make us laugh, cry and maybe, just maybe, leave us delirious.

The Olympic Charter says: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Cracked it.

They have won before they have started. Go Bermuda!

Golden girl:triathlete Flora Duffy
High hopes: Jessica Lewis, in the wheelchair sprint

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Published August 05, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated August 05, 2016 at 8:24 am)

Forty years of hurt does not equate to failure

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