IN 1964, we were two years old as a country. I was a 17-year-old boy, in Form Five at Southern Polytechnic, downstairs of a house on Roy Joseph Street, San Fernando, scratching my way, Winston Dookeran, young version, being one of my teachers.
That humble schooling worked for me because when my daughter turned 17, she was done with A-Levels and I was on an American campus with her, shepherding, as she took her first bold steps of university.
But my point here is 1964 was Olympics year, Tokyo, and we had sent a team, the first time we had done that by ourselves with our own flag. Just two years as an independent country. Prior to that, we used to have people on the West Indies Olympics team. All our athletic and cycling tracks were grass.
The Olympics 1964 came in the wake of a surge of nationalistic fervour across the Caribbean and Africa. Many new independent countries that had teams there were trying out their wings for the first time, like us, and Jamaica. You had Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria there. You see the final of the mile in Tokyo, with only white men. That would change by the 1968 Olympics.
It is athletics who help you to understand what colonialism suffocates. Our little country had two men in the finals of the 400 metres in Tokyo. If you are a track aficionado, you will know that the 400 is the most difficult race there is. It is positioned between sprinting and distance running. It is a special race. And in 1964, two out of the eight finalists in that race were from this country, with the whole world as competition. Wendell Mottley and Edwin Skinner. That is all we need to know about the potential and power of this country. Mottley got silver.
Edwin Roberts got the bronze medal in the 200 in Tokyo.
Reginald Dumas, the elder, said he wept when Mottley did not win. I know what he means.
We got the bronze medal in the 4 x 400 metres men in Tokyo, with the United States and Great Britain the countries above us. That is the calibre of country it took to beat us, with our grass tracks down here. Edwin Skinner, Edwin Roberts, Kent Bernard and Wendell Mottley. And the company in that race? Jamaica fourth, then Germany, Poland, Soviet Union, and France. This is 1964, and we did not have highways yet. Pit latrine all over the place. No national stadium. No velodrome.
But what happened? Where I band? Whatever happened to southern games, northern games, Hampton games, BP games and inter-school sports?
Tokyo 2021, and we can’t even field a proper side. Keshorn, Michelle-Lee Ahye, Jereem Richards are our best hopes.
Michelle is our greatest female athlete ever. A real talent. Finalist in maybe four Olympics. Big her up.
Machel Cedenio remains world class, but he has never run under 44 seconds in the quarter, and that is what it would take to medal. He is good enough to be in the finals, and very, very dangerous if he is close at the end.
Keshorn is world-class, but the world record for javelin is 96.29. His best throw this year is 82.84. That is 14 metres, Keshorn. The length of three cars. The javelin technique has passed him by. Jan Zelezny and Johannes Vetter are flat on their stomachs when the javelin is launched. This is the new technique. Keshorn is still on his feet. That is like if you go to the high jump at the Olympics these days using scissors technique still, or western roll, while others are using the Fosbury flop—jumping head first. Keshorn will do us proud: he does his best in Olympics heat. He is our boy. An incomparable talent in a surprising sport. Let us cheer him on.
Now I ask the question again—where I band?
How come in Tokyo 1964 we are one of the best countries for athletics in the world, and now here in Tokyo 2021 we are ordinary, with not a new talent to put forward? Where are the women? Jamaica does not have Bolt this time, but they have two, maybe three women in races from one to four. Tajay Gayle won the men’s long jump at the Worlds in Doha and will be competitive. Shanieka Ricketts will vie for a medal in the triple jump.
Way I band, dread? Whey the Trinbago band? Retrogression. Petrotrin the model. We are in dismantling mode. Things falling apart, but nothing building. Where Stuart Young? Maybe on a yacht in the Bocas, somewhere between here, and there. I did not know as a boy, going to southern games every year, storming, as every boy from Marabella had to do to have street cred, that I was living the golden days of this country—that in my senior years things would be worse. There is this paradox, with electricity in every house now, every yard with cars, everybody talking for me to hear on cellphones, but I don’t know where people working.
This country running on magic or what? The best thing we have is that youth are kind to us elders. Pappy, you OK? Young black men and women being kind to me. Don’t write them off. It is the best sign of hope I see. We elders can still reach them. Anyway, it is the Olympics I am talking about, and from Tokyo 1964 to Tokyo 2021, I see retrogression. I have spent most of the last year trying to say that children need quality schools. Here in 2021, that is a revolutionary thing. How absurd. In my youth, we all used to be vaccinated. No problem, BCG. Now people following the white man and saying they are anti-vaxxers. A fella tell me it have something in de vaccines. He see it on Facebook.
In 1964, we did not even have electricity. Or phones. But we had world-class runners. And common sense. If you travelled, your vaccination card had to be affixed to your passport. Sense make before Facebook. You could not travel without it, to Grenada or Tokyo.