Ato Boldon has a long list of accolades next to his name. Among the Trinidad and Tobago sprinter’s achievements during a sparkling track career were four Olympic medals, a 200 metres world title, and Commonwealth 100m gold in a Games record time of 9.88 seconds.
In Boldon’s eyes, however, none of the above can compare to 4x100m silver at the 2001 IAAF World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. Twenty-seven at the time, Boldon teamed up with 16-year-old Darrel Brown, Marc Burns, 18, and Jacey Harper, 21 for T&T’s first-ever global sprint relay medal.
Anchorman Brown crossed the line third. The United States, however, were disqualified in 2005 after Tim Montgomery admitted to drug use, and T&T were promoted to silver.
Boldon describes the Edmonton podium finish as “the greatest moment” of his career.
“Back then, Trinidad and Tobago had never been a threat in a 4x1, Worlds or Olympics. In Edmonton, I go to my people and say I’m pulling out of the 200 to run the 4x1. They’re like, ‘you mad or what… the 4x1 with Trinidad?’ I said yes, we can be on the podium in the 4x1. My mother (Hope) was in Edmonton, and said ‘son, I believe in you, but I going home.”
Boldon was speaking during the latest episode of the online series, Athlete Talks. Retired national athlete Jamaal James and reigning Commonwealth Games men’s 200m champion Jereem “The Dream” Richards co-hosted the show.
“All credit to Gunness Persad,” said Boldon. “A different coach might have said ‘Boldon, I is de coach here.’ But Gunness said ‘Ato, I will step back. Go and do your thing.’ We practised and practised and practised. And I said ‘Fellas, every one of those teams you think is going to beat us is going to drop the stick’.
“They were like: ‘If Ato says it, it’s got to count for something’. Those fellas believed. And that is why I say that’s the greatest moment of my career. I said to them handle your business, we are going to be on that podium. Then they say ‘Ato, you’re going to anchor?’. I said ‘No, anchor for what? I am going to put myself on that second leg, and I’m going to kill people’.”
Burns ran the leadoff leg, handing the baton to Boldon. Harper performed third leg duties, setting the stage for Brown, who became the youngest-ever male medallist at the World Championships.
“Jacey ran third, and that’s why I had to be hard on him,” said Boldon. “Because I know Jacey was the link between us having the lead or a share of the lead when I was done, and getting that baton to Darrel. I tend to be rough on people I know can help us. As a coach now, the athletes I don’t cuss out, they’re in trouble, because I already realise you’re not going to make it, and I cyah help you.
“When I stay on you, it’s because I know you can help us. And I stayed on Jacey Harper. He was probably like, ‘Why does this man hate me?’ I didn’t hate him, but I knew he was critical to us being involved. In 2001, Jacey is a critical part of that endeavour. Personally, it’s something I am very proud of because those young men handled their business.”
There were also men’s 4x1 silver medals for T&T at the 2005 and 2009 World Championship meets. And at the Olympic Games, T&T earned 2008 gold and 2012 silver.
“The team went from ‘who?’ to consistent. We get the silver in ’01, but we also make the final in ’04, my last race. That’s the first Olympic final ever for the men’s 4x1. We get seventh. In ’05 they get a medal. In ’08 they get a medal. In ’09 they get a medal. You see where I’m going with this? I was almost like Moses. I ain’t get into the promised land, but I show allyuh it.
“So, I enjoyed watching that relay perform. And it’s why I got so frustrated when they started to rely on horse power and not do training camps. I watched the relay go up, and I watched the relay go right back out. Like everything else in Trinidad and Tobago sport, we are content when things are going well to never think five years ahead.”
The T&T sprint relay success story actually started at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. Nicconnor Alexander, Julieon Raeburn, Harper and Burns ran in the opening round. Boldon came in for Harper in the semis. While T&T did not progress to the championship race, a foundation was being laid.
Eight years later, Keston Bledman, Burns, Aaron Armstrong and Richard “Torpedo” Thompson earned T&T a lane in the 2008 Olympic final. In the championship race, Bledman, Burns, Emmanuel Callender and Thompson combined for second spot, but were later upgraded to gold following Jamaican Nesta Carter’s retrospective positive drug test.
“I realised my legacy could be that 4x1,” said Boldon. “So, when Nicconnor talks about 2000 being the genesis of that relay… I look around, and now there’s Marc, there’s Darrel, there’s Nicconnor, and there’re others. I say it’s time to get this 4x1 in order. And that’s how 2000 ends.”
One year later, Burns, Boldon, Harper and Brown climbed the Edmonton podium.
“I watched that team with great pride. They did what I could never have thought. Now, they are Olympic gold medallists,” Boldon ended. “That to me is the greatest thing I could have ever wished for for them.”
The next episode of Athlete Talks is scheduled for Wednesday, from 8 p.m., at www.zoom.us (ID: 899 2333 9070). It will feature Bahamian Norbert Elliott, head coach at Purdue University in Indiana, USA, and Arlon Morrison, who coaches Tobago club, Kaizen Panthers. James and another retired national athlete, Zwede Hewitt will co-host the show.