Named after her grandmother, Cleopatra Borel was born on the east coast of Trinidad in the fishing community Plaisance Village, Mayaro. Mayaro, the Arawak name for the area, is often translated as “the place where the cassava grows.” Cleopatra and her siblingselder sister Natasha, little brother Ojai, and the youngest girl, Thandigrew up with their parents, Betty and Raymond. Raymond, a high school athlete, was one of the people who encouraged Cleopatra’s early interest in athletics, teaching her and Natasha as much as he knew about the throwing events.
Living some distance from the capital, Port of Spain, the girls had limited exposure to training expertise. "They tried to start something in my area," she recalls, "but it was more of a running club. My teachers encouraged me to compete, but the focus was really on running." Although Cleopatra started out as a runner, and children her age were generally discouraged from doing field events, she knew she was a big girl, and she felt a sense of frustration as she watched the older girls, her sister included, go through field-event routines.
"I always felt that I was really strong, and I kind of had the feeling that [shot put] was the event for me,” she says. Cleopatra tells the story of a high school championship meet, for which she was very excited. One of the teachers decided to stage a protest that led to the school withdrawing from the meet. But knowing her love for the sport, her mother took the youngster to watch the second day of the championships. Cleopatra loved it.
It wasn't until she moved to the United States in 1998 that Cleopatra began to realise what she was capable of as an athlete. "When I went to [Coppin State] University in Maryland, I saw the opportunity to get seriously involved in track and field," she says. She enjoyed the calm, nurturing environment at Coppin, but her coach was retiring so she transferred to University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). There the Trinidadian met unaccustomed rigor. She had a technique coach and weights coach, and head coach Brian King was expecting to see her win conference and NCAA titles. In March of 2002 she obliged, throwing 17.50m to win the NCAA Indoor Championship. Later that year she just missed a medal at her first major international championship, finishing 4th in the Manchester Commonwealth Games (16.27, after 16.90 in qualifying).
When she graduated from UMBC, her coach urged her to focus on athletics for two to three years, and she saw that if she worked at it, she could make the next level. As she says, Coach King pointed out to her that she could "work for the rest of your life, but you can only make the Olympics once or twice." That settled it for the girl who had nurtured Olympic dreams even when she was not being allowed to throw with older girls back in Mayaro. That summer (2003) year she collected her first major medal, a silver in the CAC in St. Georges, Grenada, where she threw a big PB 17.79. The next month she settled for 6th at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo (17.23).
In 2004, focusing on the Olympics, she popped a huge indoor PB in February (19.48) but couldn’t duplicate the feat a month later at the World Indoor Championships in Budapest, where she failed to qualify for the final (18.19). Through a busy outdoor season she was consistently well over 18 meters, and frequently on the podium.
In Athens, surrounded by a Who's Who of Shot Put, Cleopatra admits to feeling somewhat intimidated. At the Olympic Games’ historic shot put venue in Olympia, she threw 18.90 in the qualifying round and looked good for a medal,. Once again, however, she couldn’t duplicate the feat in the final (18.35 for 10th).
A low-key 2005 was highlighted by another CAC silver medal (18.05), but a badly sub-par performance at the Helsinki World Championships (17.31), where she failed to reach the final, left her very discouraged. She credits her husband, Balvin Brown Jr., with rekindling her interest in her event. She met the former thrower, the Washington DC-born son of Jamaican parents, at UMBC. They were married in 2005.
Now an assistant coach at Virginia Tech, working closely with throws coach Greg Jack, she is excited about the coming season. She has already thrown 18.79 and is looking forward to Moscow. "I am enjoying track more," she says, before stating that her long-term goal is to make the top eight at the next Olympics, Beijing 2008. "I have really grown as an athlete and I understand my event a lot better."
Eventually, Cleopatra is thinking about becoming a college coach. She tries to serve as a role model for young Caribbean throwers, and plans to study for a master's degree, having completed her bachelor's in health psychology at UMBC. Easily one of the most famous people from Mayaro, Cleopatra is also enjoying her status as one of the greatest field events competitors ever from the English-speaking Caribbean.
Balvin Brown asked for Cleopatra's hand in 2004, but he didn't ask her first. Joining her on a trip to Trinidad & Tobago for the twin island republic's National Championships, he took the old-fashioned route. He first sat with Cleopatra's parents and obtained their permission to marry his college sweetheart, former teammate and sometime training partner. Then he spoke to her siblings and ensured that everyone was on board. Everyone, that is, except for Cleopatra. He finally popped the question after her disappointing performance in the Olympic final. Her 10th place was quite forgotten when Balvin delivered the gold, topped by a two-carat diamond.
Prepared by Terry Finisterre for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. © 2006 IAAF
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