Lamont Marshall yearns to line up with Chris Estwanik in Dream Team
Lamont Marshall, recently dethroned Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby champion, sits down with freelance journalist PATRICK BEAN in a wide-ranging interview that covers his ups and downs, successes and failures, in and away from athletics, warts and all. Today, Lamont Marshall the athlete
While much was made of the recent battle for Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby supremacy between Lamont Marshall and Chris Estwanik, which this year was comfortably won by the latter after an early tussle, the former is more hopeful of being able to compete with his nemesis as a team-mate.
Such was the notion presented by Marshall during a recent interview where he encouraged the governing body for athletics to consider the prospect of formulating and sending a team to the World Half-Marathon Championships scheduled for 2022 in China, with the local derby as an incentivised qualifying event.
“My father and I were just having a conversation regarding the future and what we came to realise is that we’ve competed against each other over the years, but when will we compete with each other for Bermuda,” Marshall said. “So if there’s any suggestion I would make to the marathon derby committee it would be to get together with the [Bermuda National] Athletics Association in that the winner of May 24 automatically qualify to represent Bermuda at the World Half-Marathon Championship, which is held every even year — meaning that the next one would be in 2022 in China, I believe, at the end of March.
“Let’s say we implement that as soon as possible, then you have time [to prepare a team] — and I believe a team is three members minimum, but you can send up to five athletes.”
Indeed, while road running is often largely viewed as being individually orientated contests, the importance of teamwork and having teams of runners to aid success has been demonstrated to significant effect and success by African nations such as Kenya and Ethiopia, who have used the team concept to dominate the world’s pre-eminent distance events, including major marathons such as Boston, New York and London.
Marshall noted how all too often heard was talk of Kavin Smith and Jay Donawa competing against each other but rarely as team-mates. He added how great the feeling he had when able to team with Aaron Evans, Shaquille Dill and Trey Simons in the 4 x 800 held in Nassau, Bahamas, in 2014.
“So, my father and I were having this conversation and we were saying how in the past 20 years the Half-Marathon Derby, May 24, who’s been the head-to-head guys? Kavin Smith and Jay Donawa,” he continued. “But when did they represent Bermuda together? They were clashing for all these years in the 1990s into the millennium, but is that really what you want for your career? Is that really your defining moment?
“I understand the politics of getting the money together to represent Bermuda, to fund these things, the ups and downs that go with it, but I’ve just always wanted to go a step farther. I’ve won May 24 several times, he [Estwanik] has and several others have ... Tyler Butterfield won it a couple times. That sounds like a team to me.
“Now I don’t know the specifics of Chris’s eligibility because he was not Bermuda-born; however, there are athletes that represent other countries that were not born in the country. What’s his [Estwanik’s] paperwork and is he interested in that?
“We should at least just have those sorts of conversations to go beyond; it’s easy to answer your question and say, ‘Yes, I have years of competing in the biggest, most cultural event — between that and Cup Match — on the island.’ But what’s beyond that? What’s further? I don’t want to limit myself or my career to a local event.”
Nevertheless, such endeavours require dedication, training, wilfulness and perhaps most importantly funding, an area with debilitating shortcomings that Marshall well understands via his experience — or, rather, lack of experience —in being on the receiving end of benefit, particularly from the government-administered Elite Athletes Fund.
For despite holding national records in the 5,000 metres (14min 16.37sec indoors), 15K (47:55) and 3,000 metres steeplechase, he has yet to be offered a dime from the multi-tiered endowment that few athletes seem to understand or be eligible for. Instead Marshall told of how he continues to have to rely upon his own finances and those supplied by family, friends and privately procured sponsorships throughout the course of his career, with the Government offering only hoops contained within a burdensome bureaucracy to jump through for no tangible reward.
“I didn’t qualify for it,” said Marshall in what might appear to many as stunning considering that he holds the island’s best marks in the three aforementioned categories. “In 2017 I qualified for the Commonwealth Games and I know I was dealing with Nandi Outerbridge as the Minister of Youth and Sport, and then she was liaising with Donna Raynor, Judy Simons, of the BOA, and I was learning and getting an understanding [of the mechanism], but after all that dialogue I didn’t get any funding.
“So regardless of what was said and the dialogue, I didn’t get any funding even as I had qualified for the Commonwealth Games. So I was withheld, even as a locally based Bermudian athlete and couldn’t go and represent Bermuda in Australia for reasons I really don’t know because I never really received the full disclosure as to why I was denied the funding.
“For some reason as an individual athlete, I couldn’t approach the BOA, it had to go through the national sport governing body. So I had to go the athletics association, they had to speak for me and there was a lot of back and forth, but at the end of the day I didn’t get anything.
“As the athlete, I don’t care about all that stuff. I’m from the neck down just wanting to run and compete, but that was a real obstacle for me and ever since then — in 2017 and 2018 — I was still breaking records, in good shape and then in 2020, the last race I did was Boston indoors in the 5K and the Commonwealth qualification was 14:20 and I ran 14:19, so I was still at the Commonwealth standard.”
In 2018 he opted out of participating in the 3,000 metres steeplechase at the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, Australia, after having an application for funding rejected by the BOA — this after spending at least $8,000 of his own money on a successful qualifying bid, prompting his father to lambast the funding system.
“It's a sad day in Bermuda when a young man can set seven Bermuda records in a calendar year at three different distances, qualify for the Commonwealth Games, and still be told that he is not eligible for any funding whatsoever,” Larry Marshall Sr, said at the time.
Marshall also voiced concern over the apparent lack of interest and support shown by young Bermudians in the area of middle-distance running, with only a handful at best participating, yet Marshall yet saw the dearth of competition as an opportunity to make a name for himself and chase longstanding records.
“I started taking track and field seriously when I saw that a lot of the national records were more or less unattended. I can’t tell you or name five guys who have run 10,000 metres outdoors. So I considered these distances as low-hanging fruit and the easiest records to get. The 5K, the 3K steeplechase, there’s not a whole lot of guys chasing those. The 3K [record] was from 1996, the 10K was from 1998, so these were all outdated records and you had the 15K on the road, which I think has stood since the 1980s.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of interest from guys my age and I was born in 1984 and go 37 next month. So there was no one in my age bracket going for these distances, perhaps outside of Tyler [Butterfield], and he would just dabble here and there.”
“If you take May 24 out of the equation, what do we have athletically? What’s the biggest track meet on the island? We don’t have one, so there’s definitely a lack of interest, if anything.”
Nevertheless, the younger Marshall pledged to continue striding in the sport he loves, and while 2021 was a wash, if indeed finishing second in the country’s biggest race can be considered failure, he retains hope for next year and beyond.
Tomorrow: Lamont Marshall the man