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Hearts and Medals of Gold

Published: 
Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Double IAAF World Championship medalist Jereem Richards at the Piarco International Airport, yesterday.

Attorney Sophia Chote refuses to see herself as a hero. But in the eyes of Jareem Richards, she will forever be the lady who gave up her business class seat on a British Airways flight from London to accommodate his tired body.

Richards and Mrs Chote shared the flight home from London, where the young man had just won two medals, bronze in the men’s 200 metres and gold in the 4x400 metres relay along with teammates Jarrin Solomon, Machel Cedenio and Lalonde Gordon at the IAAF World Championships.

Of the quartet, only Richards returned home on Monday, anxious as he was to present his medals to his mother who raised him as a single parent, making many sacrifices for him along the way.

Mrs Chote met Olympic gold medallist Hasely Crawford on her way to London for vacation. She took an interest in the games, followed it closely and was thrilled when Richards won bronze and gold with the relay team.

The solid gold performance of Richards and his teammates was not reflected in their travel arrangements given budgetary constraints, so when Mrs Chote heard an English passenger talking excitedly about the fact that Richards was going to be on the flight, she asked Crawford (who was also on the return flight) and he showed her where the young athlete was supposed to be seated.

Richards was in the last row of the economy cabin, which surprised her. Recognising Richards would be tired, Mrs Chote asked a stewardess to take her to him and asked him if he wanted to switch seats. Richards was only too happy to do so. At over six feet tall, mentally and physically exhausted, the young man was caught off guard at this unexpected act of kindness, so much so that Richards brought it to the attention of the public at a news conference upon his return.

Mrs Chote insisted it was a simple act of kindness. What she is hoping is that those who are charged with the responsibility, ensure that national athletes are “treated in the way they ought to be when they win medals and even when they don’t.” To her, simply “going out there and giving their all” is something to be commended.

This is perhaps the message we ought to take note of. Athletes who represent the country at foreign meets become natural ambassadors of Trinidad and Tobago.

Perhaps if their efforts were taken more seriously, they would be treated with respect and dignity, enough to inspire more young people to look at options in athletics.

Schools across the country may well have future gold medal winners in their halls, but there is no way to know unless there are leaders and policy makers ambitious enough to pursue plans which can support the dreams of young men like Keshorn Walcott. From throwing coconuts as practice, he caught the world off guard when he won gold with his javelin throw at the 2012 Olympics.

While better travel arrangements would be nice to have, more important to our upcoming athletes are proper training facilities. The sad fact is that in this country, every time we win a medal, governments past, present (and we dare say future) promise better facilities for training. Yet this country is sadly lacking basic facilities which can be accessible to all.

We have the potential and we know we can achieve great things. Crawford, Boldon, Walcott, Mottley, Richards, Solomon, Cedenio, Gordon and many more have shown us what we are capable of.

It is our sincere hope that this latest achievement would spur the authorities to come up with a plan to improve training facilities so that we can groom more medal winners.

The truth is, if athletics can bring the international spotlight to this country, we should be spending more money on developing our athletes.

We are not advocating dependency on the state for everything, but as a country we must realise that training for the Olympics and World Championships can’t happen weeks before. World class athletes must have the opportunity to train for years and in this case Richards is at university in Alabama and trains abroad.

Manager of the T&T team Dexter Voisin has indicated his own frustrations with the lack of state support for young athletes. This is understandable. A facility for track and field where athletes can train and compete uninterrupted is needed.

While sports Minister Darryl Smith boasts that his ministry has pumped more money into track and field, he remains relatively silent on whether there are plans for improved or specialised training facilities. We hope, in paying tribute to the success of the relay team, Government will do more than give monetary rewards and do something tangible to help young and aspiring athletes reach their goal of bringing home gold.