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Raffique Shah


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Magic of the Olympics

By Raffique Shah
August 10, 2008

How I look forward to the next three weeks as the magic of the Olympic Games impacts on most people across the world. There's something about the Games that holds human beings spellbound. It gives us some respite from wars, a lull in crime, relief from politicians, makes us forget our daily woes. What makes the Olympics more appealing than football World Cup is that every country, small and big, can participate in it, if only with one athlete-and six officials! In Beijing this year, a record 205 countries are participating.

Many athletes in whatever discipline they choose may never make it past the first round. But that does not matter. Just being on the biggest world stage, running in a heat with superstars, swimming with legends or merely looking at graceful gymnasts or divers perform, is the experience of a lifetime. Medals they may never win, such is the level of competition. But just being there inspires them to strive to improve their lives, whatever their backgrounds, however poor they and their countries may be.

In our case-and here I refer to Trinidad and Tobago and our Caribbean neighbours-we have much to look forward to. We have had a rich history in several sporting disciplines, way out of proportion to our sizes and populations. Indeed, if the Caribbean has stamped itself in the minds of people who would otherwise look at us as sand-and-sea tourist havens, it has been at the Olympics. I dare say that our successful athletes are better known globally than our writers, academics and other achievers-which may be unfair to the latter. But again, such is the magic of the Olympics.

This time around in track and field, always the arena in which we shine brightest, the debate over how many medals our athletes would win would rage until each event climaxes.

Trinidad and Tobago has a good team. It's the first time in many years we have gone to the Games with so many track and field athletes who have not just met the qualifying standards, but some of whom stand a good chance of mounting the medals' podium. We ought not, however, to get carried away, to hold expectations that simply cannot be realised.

Take the blue-riband 100-metres sprint, considered by many as the event of the Games. In the men's version, Trinis swear our Richard Thompson, Marc Burns and Darrel Brown would medal. That's not impossible: I have learned, as an ardent athletics fan and one who knows a thing or two about athletics, that the 100-metres is the most unpredictable race. Given it lasts all of ten seconds, if that long, any finalist can win (as Thompson said in an interview). A split-second bad start can turn a winner into an also-ran. Jamaica's Asafa Powell and the USA's Tyson Gay will have to overcome three rounds to reach the final, having recently suffered injuries.

Realistically, though, the favourites for the medals' podium are the phenomenal Usain Bolt, Powell and Gay. The USA's Travis Padgett and Darvis Patton, both of whom have clocked 9.89 seconds within the last month, must be factored in.

Thompson, who at 23 is one year older than Bolt, has performed best among our boys this season. He has two sub-10s under his belt, plus a 10-flat. And he has a very positive approach to competing on the biggest stage of them all. Burns, still a young competitor at 25, has raced successfully on the European circuit and is accustomed to the big stage.

With a best time of 9.97 a few weeks ago in London, Burns is capable of exploiting any opportunity that presents itself in the final. Brown, who has disappointed after blazing his way as a junior, also has the ability to deliver.

We should feel proud, though, that whatever happens in the punishing "rounds" these athletes must endure before reaching the final, and outside of the big names in the event, the Caribbean might well see the most finalists ever in the history of the Games. Besides Michael Frater who completes the Jamaican trio, watch for Churandy Martina of Curacao (10-flat), and on the outside, Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas. I should add here that barring anything unfortunate, the T&T 4 x 100-metres team should bag at least a bronze medal, or better.

In the women's equivalent, I was extremely disappointed when Veronica Campbell of Jamaica failed to make the Jamaican team. For me, she has been the most outstanding female sprinter since the now-disgraced Marion Jones. The toss-up to the front of the women's 100-metres, though, would be among Jamaicans Kerron Stewart, Shelly-Ann Fraser and Sherone Simpson, and the USA's Torri Edwards, Muna Lee and Lauryn Williams. For the first time in many years, though, our Kelly-Ann Baptiste has what it takes to put a Trini-woman in the final. She would have to stave off Belgium's Kim Gevaert, Britain's Montell Douglas, the Bahamas' evergreen Chandra Sturrup and Debbie Ferguson.

Yes, the Games are on and I'm in my glee.