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A future filled with hope

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Ready to carry on: Houston, left, believes he still has a lot to offer at the highest level (Photograph by David J. Phillip/AP)

A tantalising glimpse through the looking glass perhaps best sums up Bermuda’s collective performance at the Olympic Games.

The success stories and exceeded expectations of some athletes were tempered by the disappointments and failed ambitions of others.

On the whole, however, the Rio Games painted a positive bigger picture for Bermuda’s Olympic programme.

The medal the island dared dream for might not be heading home, but with the majority of the team intending to compete for at least another four years, the Bermuda Olympic Association will be confident of assembling an even stronger squad for the Tokyo Olympics.

Of the eight who checked out of the athletes village or rented accommodation yesterday, only long jumper Tyrone Smith has said he will no longer be hurling himself into the sandpit at the next Games.

Smith’s loss will be keenly felt.

He might not have bowed out in the way he envisaged after failing to reach the medal round, but Smith should be proud of his achievements as a three-times Olympian.

A finalist at the London Games, Smith has always handled himself impressively in victory and defeat, with Carlos Lee, Bermuda’s chef de mission, hoping the 32-year-old will delay hanging up his spikes until after the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the Gold Coast.

“Tyrone had a slip-up in his last jump otherwise I think he would have made it and done well in the final,” Lee said.

“In London he made it into the medal round with his last jump, but here it didn’t go so well for him. It wasn’t meant to be on the day.”

Although there was no fairytale ending for Smith, several of his team-mates closed the first chapters of their Olympic stories with exciting flourishes.

Aside from Flora Duffy’s eighth-place finish in the women’s triathlon, Cameron Pimentel was arguably Bermuda’s standout performer in Rio.

The wildcard entry has only competed in the Laser class for two years but punched above his weight in several races, with finishes of 27th and 31st out of 46 sailors.

Cecilia Wollmann, one of the youngest in the Laser Radials at 18, also learnt some harsh but important lessons in the rough seas and strong winds of Guanabara Bay.

With more experience both sailors could realistically expect to challenge in the middle of the pack in four years’ time.

“I think the sailors acquitted themselves well against the best in the world,” said Lee, who attended every event involving a Bermuda athlete.

“It’s funny because the medal races were held in next to no wind at all.

“That’s a totally different kind of sailing which I think they both would have thrived in.”

Shelley Pearson is another who laid down solid foundations with her fourth-place finish in the single sculls C final.

“Shelley did really well to place sixteenth in the world,” Lee said. “That’s a huge accomplishment. I’m looking forward to seeing her in four years’ time as well as the sailors.”

All three are at critical junctions in their athletic careers and it would be a travesty if Rio was to be their one and only appearance at the “greatest show on earth”.

It is now up to the BOA to help secure Pimentel, Wollmann and Pearson the financial assistance they require for the next Olympic cycle.

Sprinter Tre Houston and swimmers Julian Fletcher and Rebecca Heyliger also have time on their side to commit another chunk of their lives to qualifying for Tokyo.

None were able to achieve personal bests in their events in Rio, although Fletcher did set a national record in the 50 metres breaststroke during his 100.

“One tiny error here or there cost Julian and Rebecca from doing better than they both might have hoped,” Lee said. “I think they will be a little disappointed but they both did very well.

“Tre didn’t quite bring home the finish but I think it’s given him the encouragement to think, ‘You know, I can compete at this level and want to continue’.”

Duffy’s display on the penultimate day of the Games felt both exhilarating and anticlimactic.

A medal favourite on the strength of a slew of scintillating performances this season, Duffy led the race for two laps of the bike but was unable to capture her best form.

“Eighth place when you’re not at the top of your game at this level is incredible,” Lee said. “She gutted it out and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

“You could tell she was disappointed because she put herself in a position this season to get on the podium.”

No medal for Bermuda then, just some memories to last a lifetime and a healthy portion of hope for the future.

Roll on Tokyo 2020.

Not quitting yet: Duffy, left, is one of a host of Bermuda athletes who competed in Riol who have targeted a spot at the Tokyo Games in 2020