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EXCITING NEW ONLINE SERIES: “Athlete Talks” facilitator Jamaal James

I could not have imagined how excited I would get watching on my computer screen three pole vaulters repeatedly clear the same height.

I was absolutely beside myself as Sweden’s world record holder Mondo Duplantis, two-time world champion Sam Kendricks of the United States and France’s 2012 Olympic gold medallist Renaud Lavillenie battled—each in his own back garden—for supremacy.

The goal was to vault 5.00 metres as many times as possible in 30 minutes. I was among the quarter million track and field lovers around the world who tuned in for the unique competition, watching on the split screen as the three vaulting warriors pushed themselves to the limit.

As it turned out, Duplantis and Lavillenie shared the gold with 36 clearances each, forcing Kendricks to settle for bronze at 26. What a climax it was to a first-of-its-kind event, staged by World Athletics in a bid to meet the need for live sport in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Starved for live sport, as is also the case with many of you, I quickly transitioned that Sunday from a Port of Spain Church of Christ worship service on the now hugely popular Zoom platform to the “Ultimate Garden Clash”.

I have witnessed many exciting pole vault competitions during close to a quarter century of athletics coverage for the Trinidad Express. The reality, though, is that while pole vault is a very interesting discipline, it has not been the focal point of my coverage. And the reason is obvious, Trinidad and Tobago not having yet produced a world class vaulter.

On Sunday May 3, 2020, T&T’s standing in the pole vault world did not matter. I needed live sport, I needed to watch some athletics, I needed to get excited about a competition in which I did not know the outcome.

My behaviour may have seemed strange as I watched Duplantis, Lavillenie and Kendricks go up and down their respective garden runways. My wife and children might have been concerned at first, but quickly realised that shouting and gesticulating at a laptop screen was symptomatic of the sports-starved species.

Hats off to World Athletics for treating us to the “Ultimate Garden Clash”. Locally, too, the response to the novel coronavirus outbreak has been commendable, the use of technology keeping athletes and fans engaged.

The NGC/National Association of Athletics Administrations (NAAA TT) Youth Elite Programme videos featuring some of T&T’s best young athletes—including reigning Carifta Games sprint champions Devin Augustine and Shaniqua Bascombe—training at their homes and in their communities has been inspirational.

Dennis Allen is also using social media for his “Tell Me Everything” video biography series. Everton Sorzano has been keeping the table tennis fraternity engaged with compilation videos featuring top local players like Aaron Wilson, Brittany Joseph, Curtis Humphreys, Yuvraaj Dookram, Reeza Burke and Anthony “Sandfly” Brown.

The Elite Development and Performance Unit (EDPU) at the Sports Company (SporTT), under the leadership of executive manager Tobias Ottley, has been providing its athletes with training programmes. Strength and conditioning specialist Antonia Burton has been ensuring proper execution of the programmes, while the sports psychologists on staff, including Amanda Johnson and Jelani Robertson, have been engaging the athletes as well.

Arima Wheelers Cycling Club head coach Fitzroy Daniel is among the club coaches who have designed stay-at-home training programmes for their charges. “The Weekly Challenge” has been designed by SporTT as a means of keeping athletes competitively sharp as they strive to outdo each other with push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises.

Burton’s Instagram Live interview series, “Talks With Toni” is another refreshing addition to the local sporting landscape. Halfmiler Alena Brooks and karateka Chennise Charles are among the sporting personalities who have been featured.

In March, Olympic Committee (TTOC) president Brian Lewis reported that high performance coordinator Anthony Marcano and project officer, athlete services and programmes Rheeza Grant were working with the Texas-based Michael Johnson Performance (MJP) on formulating a support plan for athletes. The MJP alliance has also worked well for the NAAATT.

On Wednesday evening, T&T time, Lewis was featured as leading keynote speaker in a live online event, hosted in Australia by “The Brand Builders” on the Zoom platform. The Every Crisis Creates Opportunity (ECCO) Think Tank was designed as a tool to facilitate successful navigation of the global Covid-19 crisis.

Also on Wednesday, four young visionaries launched “Athlete Talks”, again using Zoom to reach the target audience. Jamaal James served as facilitator of the discussion, the retired 800 metres runner doing an excellent job in leading the discussion that also featured 2013 400m hurdles world champion Jehue Gordon, 2017 World Championship 200m bronze medallist Jereem “The Dream” Richards and retired quartermiler Zwede Hewitt.

James is now coaching at University of the West Indies (UWI), while Hewitt has transitioned to technology and is working on an exciting network sharing app called LUHU, the acronym for Let Us Help U. Both Richards and Gordon are preparing for next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.

For close to two hours, these four young men shared pearls of wisdom, allowing the viewers a deeper understanding of what it takes to succeed at the elite level. They engaged in frank discussion about the challenges of training in the current Covid-19 climate. They spoke about sacrifices made—missed parties, graduation, weddings, etc.—in order to achieve their goals.

The topics addressed also included coping mechanisms ahead of competition. The quartet shared words of wisdom passed on to them by athletics coaches Nestor “Tom” Brown (deceased), Trevor James and Clyde Hart, as well as HSI’s Emanuel Hudson.

“Athlete Talks” also featured solid recommendations for a school speaking tour utilising past national athletes and a docuseries highlighting the achievements of T&T’s greatest sportsmen and women.

I’m eagerly anticipating the next instalment of this exciting new series, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

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