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Time to focus funds on young generation, says Simons

The future: Judy Simons, the Bermuda Olympic Association president and junior minister Leah Scott (centre), welcome home the Bermuda youth Olympic team from Nanjing, China, earlier this year. Team members left to right: Kyrah Scraders, Erica Hawley, Jah-Nhai Perinchief, Cecilia Wollmann, Jesse Washington, Katura Horton-Perinchief (chef de mission), Tyler Smith and Kionje Somner.

Judy Simons thinks it may be time to review the status of some of Bermuda’s elite athletes

As disappointed as anyone with the Island’s showing at the Central American and Caribbean Games, the Bermuda Olympic Association president has questioned whether funding is going to the right people.

The decision on which athletes are awarded Elite Status is based on recommendations from the National Sports Governing Bodies, and Simons said that it could be time for the younger generation to have their turn.

“I would say to the national sport governing bodies that there is no better time than right now to take a look at your athletes, review your situation. Are we, the BOA, funding the right athletes?”

High profile athletes such as Tyrone Smith, in long jump, and Roy-Allan Burch, the swimmer, have been criticised for their failure to win a medal, and as Category A elite athletes, who are eligible for maximum assistance from the BOA, their performances have drawn a higher level of condemnation. Not least from Donna Watson, the chef de mission, who was particularly vocal in her assessment of Bermuda’s performance as a whole.

Simons believes that while Watson, as a former elite athlete and present president of the Bermuda National Athletics Association, is perfectly entitled to her opinion, she does not want the comments to distract from some good performances at the CAC Games.

Cecilia Wollmann and Cameron Pimental, the sailors, impressed officials with their performances, as did Virginia McKey, the equestrian rider, who won Bermuda a place in next year’s Pan American Games in dressage.

“The games were disappointing, but we did have some good results in the CAC Games,” Simons said.

“Virginia McKey won us a spot in the Pan Am Games which was brilliant for her first major event, she’s to be highly commended. She spent a lot of her own personal money to get herself there.

“You had two very good performances by the sailors, Cici [Cecilia Wollmann] who’s only 16, Cameron [Pimental] is in his early 20s, and all three of their coaches spoke highly of them and their dedication and commitment. We need to support that.”

Presently listed as Category C elite athletes, meaning they get funding for one event a year, Wollmann and Pimental could well be elevated to higher categories. McKey is not on anyone’s list, yet.

Changes though will have to come from the national governing bodies, and Simons said that the BOA would sit down individually with each sport in the new year to map out a way forward.

“There’s no shame in having to re-evaluate things,” she said. “I think the CAC Games was just an eye-opener for us. We could just be going through another cycle, a cycle of new athletes coming in, and I think athletes need to be realistic about their own expectations and reassess their own situations.

“If you can’t do well in your regional zone, I think you just need to do some assessment. I for one will support any athlete going anywhere, but there are certain criteria and expectations that need to be met.

“If we’re going to fund, we need to see some better results.”

With the Pan American Games little more than eight months away the pressure to perform means that assessments are likely to be based on potential as much as success, whatever form that may take.

“We at the BOA get quarterly reports on all our elite athletes and I think we will learn from what’s gone on,” Simons said. “We’ve got some great young athletes coming along, and [should] encourage them, and I think the national governing bodies need to sit down with their athletes and do a total review of their programmes.

“I have no problem spending money on our athletes, but there is a realistic expectation about results. If you take over a four-year period what you did four years ago, to where you are today, as an athlete yourself you should be asking yourself whether you’ve improved, regressed, or stayed the same. And reassess based on that, and that’s where we are.

“Our goal is that we have great quality athletes get to the Pan Am Games, improve on their performances, and get as close as they can to a podium.”