Why can’t we compete with Jamaica? Investment
Despite Bermuda having a lot to celebrate after the 49th Carifta Games in Kingston, Jamaica, one of the first questions I was asked upon my return was, “Why can’t we compete with Jamaica?”
After the Covid cancellation of Carifta for the past two years, the Bermuda National Athletics Association and Bermuda athletes — like all athletes in the region — had to deal with the absence of competition as the new normal. In resurrecting the programme, the BNAA was able to select a small, young team with a few “veteran” athletes in the under-20 age group to form the Bermuda 2022 Carifta team.
During a post-mortem, Bermuda’s Carifta staff of head coach Devon Bean, assistant coach Jerome Richards, assistant coach Terry-Lynn Paynter and team manager Janine Scott reflected on the leadership of team captain Sancho Smith, Za’Kayza Parsons and the rest of the under-20 team.
Bermuda’s under-20 athletes are genuinely role models, athletically and academically. They are also nurturing leaders and did all that was possible to ensure the under-17s also felt included and encouraged. That was so important when this was the first Carifta experience for every member of the under-17 team.
The leadership of the under-20s was needed immediately. The under-17s were in awe, if not star-struck, as they made their way past the statues of Merlene Ottey, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Don Quarry and the legendary Usain Bolt. With eyes wide, mouths dry and their hearts beating loudly in their chests, the under-17s were the first to take the track in the National Stadium in Kingston.
There was also an intimidation factor, as most of the team had watched the ISSA Grace Kennedy Boys and Girls Championships — better known as “Champs“ — shown live on a regional sports television channel. This also took place at the National Stadium, one week before Carifta in front of 20,000 spectators.
Saturday morning’s session started rough for Team Bermuda: J’Naz Richards lined up first for the 100 metres. J’Naz was the smallest person on the track, running into a 2mps headwind, and although she did run well with 13.26sec, she felt that she could have competed better.
Zenji Washington, the second competitor for Bermuda, was distraught when she was disqualified from competing in the 100 because she was charged with a false start. Regrettably, Zenji jumped out of the blocks when a security officer slammed shut a metal gate in the stadium, near the starting line. We sought redress from the starter’s team; however, they said that they did not hear the gate slam — a sound that could be heard throughout the stadium!
Both girls sought solace from their parents, who were in attendance, and their coaches, but I was told by the coaches that it was Za’Kayza, Caitlyn Bobb, Ketura Bulford-Trott, and Sanaa Rae Morris who helped to settle the under-17s and helped them to prepare to do their best in their next events — which they both did as members of the 4 x 100 relay team.
The under-20s were next on the track, with Za’Kayza Parsons running a 12.26 and Ketura Bulford-Trott running 12.28, times that were expected because both of these collegiate athletes had limited opportunities to compete this year owing to injury and weather complications. They should continue to progress throughout the rest of the season.
Denver Tucker made his debut in the under-17 men’s division and reached the 100 metres finals. Denver was seventh in 11.06. Miles Outerbridge, another young newbie making his Carifta debut, ran 11.62.
Madisyn Bobb and Elise Dickinson made their debuts in the 200, running into a strong headwind, and clocked 26.53 and 26.56 respectively. Both rebounded from their average performance as members of the 4 x 400 relay. Caitlyn Bobb the 2021 Bermuda Junior Athlete of the Year, also ran in the 200 in the under-20 division and was fifth with 24.79 and, like collegiate team-mates Ketura and Za’Kayza, should continue to improve as her season progresses.
Denver Tucker and Miles Outerbridge returned to the track for the 200, competing in heats one and three, with times of 23.16 and 23.97 respectively.
S’Nya Cumbermatch took to the track in the under-17 400, placing sixth in 1min 2.41sec. Caitlyn Bobb returned for the under-20 400 and battled her way on to the podium for Bermuda’s first medal of the Games in 53.95.
The youngest member of the Bermuda team, and one of the youngest competitors at the Games, Jaeda Grant competed in the 800. She was another beneficiary of the under-20 support and made the final, placing sixth in 2:20.50. Shayla Cann competed in her first Carifta Games, in the under-20 division, and raced to a fifth-place finish in 2:21.58.
In the under-20 men’s 800 metres, Nirobi Smith-Mills, the 2019 gold medal-winner in the under-17 division, won his heat in 1:55.11. Team-mate Sancho Smith produced a personal best of 1:56.22 to accompany Nirobi into what was an incredibly fast final for this age level.
Nirobi got boxed in by his Jamaican rivals but fought around it to get fourth place in 1:52.20, while Sancho improved his PB to 1:55.36 in finishing sixth.
The 1,500 metres featured under-17 first-timer Fenella Wightman, who ran an excitingly gutsy performance in delivering a personal best of 4:59.98, while team-mate Jaeda Grant was sixth in 4:57.14. Simeon Hayward, another Carifta debutant, ran a personal best of 4:20 in the under-17 men’s race.
Za’Kayza Parsons set a season’s best distance in the long jump with a leap of 5.43 metres that earned her sixth place, while Kesay Bell had a personal best of 10.03 in the shot putt.
Jauza James, Bermuda’s first multi-event competitor at Carifta in more than 30 years, was in eight events over two days. Jauza’s efforts were remarkable because not only was this his first Carifta but it was also the first time that he competed in an octathlon. He had personal bests in the 400, 1,500, high jump, shot, 100 and javelin. In his exuberance, Jauza fouled three times in the long jump and scored no points. If he had managed a legal jump of his average practice distance, Jauza could have been in medal contention. All in all, a remarkable performance by this dynamic young athlete.
Relays were a source of heartbreak and redemption for Bermuda’s women. The 4 x 100 relay teams were agonisingly close to earning medals. In the under-17 division, Madisyn Bobb, Elise Dickinson, J’Naz Richards, and Zenji Washington raced valiantly and took fourth in 49.50. The under-20 team of Caitlyn Bobb, Ketura Bulford-Trott, Sanaa Rae Morris and Za’Kayza Parsons also placed fourth while setting a national junior record in 46.13 — they missed the podium by one hundredth of a second!
Redemption came in the 4 x 400 relays. The under-20 women’s team of Sanaa Rae Morris, Ketura Bulford-Trott, Shayla Cann and Caitlyn Bobb powered their way on to the podium with a third-place finish and another national junior record in 3:48.69. Not to be outdone, the under-17s took to the track with a medal clearly on their collective agendas. Madisyn Bobb led off holding her own with the strong field, keeping the team in medal contention. She handed off to S’Nya Cumbermatch, who moved the team into third position leg and handed off to Jaeda Grant. A middle-distance runner who had not raced in the 400 this year, Jaeda not only maintained third place but she dropped a new gear as she sprinted down the 100 metres stretch to hand off to Elise Dickinson. Elise was not satisfied with bronze and powered the team into second place and the silver medal in 4:03.23.
It is obvious that Bermuda athletes not only competed with the Jamaicans, but they also competed outstandingly well.
But the question remains: “Why can’t we compete with the Jamaicans?”
It is a recurring question from a wide circle of people. My initial reaction would be to bristle at the questioner with a retort such as “we have 60,000 people and Jamaica has nearly three million, we punch way above our weight class and we do it successfully”. I know that answer is factual, but it does not help to answer a follow-up statement that I heard from people, which was “well we used to!”
Until this trip, I probably would have withdrawn from answering that question because I did have a response that would speak to the reasons why Jamaica has become a world power in athletics specifically and competitive on the international stage in other sports.
During the 49th edition of Carifta, I was introduced to Olivia Grange, Jamaica’s Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport. I thanked her for her country stepping in as host and ensuring that the region could return to competition at the Carifta Games. I also congratulated her on her country’s success in athletics.
However, she stopped me in mid-sentence, explaining that “we [Jamaica] are reaping the dividends of our investments. We believe that investing in sport, entertainment and youth benefits our goals of improving national health, strengthens our patriotism and love of country, improves our young people’s academic performance, and helps to decrease antisocial behaviours”. She went on to say: “Of course this investment is not a panacea, but the benefits are undeniable.”
The minister’s conversation was extremely poignant and powerful, as we were in the National Stadium at the foot of the Blue Mountains, where thousands of green, gold and black flags were waving, where the heartbeat rhythms of reggae music were blaring and where Jamaican athletes were collecting medals in abundance. All of this — the environment, the national pride, the camaraderie and the athletic success — represented the dividends of Jamaicans’ investment in youth, culture, entertainment and sport.
Investors put financial plans and property in place and nurture their investments with patience to achieve profits or, in this case, success. Conversely, our youth, culture, entertainment and sports investment are analogous to playing the lottery — lottery players drop a couple of dollars and hope for a win. Lottery playing is not a strategy for long-term success. Bermuda has celebrated world-class success in arenas, despite the minimal investment — sort of like hitting the lottery. But, like lottery winners, that pathway to world-class success is not sustainable.
I am extremely proud of our Carifta athletes’ success. I am also proud of all of the national sports governing bodies that continue to help Bermudian athletes compete regionally and internationally. Bermuda continues to punch way above its weight class. We compete intensely with everyone, but playing the lottery will continue to lead to moderate and episodic success.
If we are ever going to improve the collective health of the country, minimise antisocial and violent behaviour, improve academic performances, establish and improve national pride so that we might compete more favourably with Jamaica, we are going to have to follow the Jamaican formula ... invest.
Invest in school sport, invest in national sport, invest in entertainment and culture, invest in our youth.
• Freddie Evans, PhD is the president of the Bermuda National Athletics Association
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