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Slow start, slower finish
GOLDEN KEERAN: Trinidad and Tobago middle distance runner Keeran Sriskandarajah celebrates Boys Under-17 1,500 metres gold on day one of the 2022 Carifta Games at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica, on Saturday. Sriskandarajah returned a time of four minutes, 10.58 seconds.

Slow start, slower finish

Go Back : Express : Garth Wattley : 19.04.2022

It was Jamaica's Carifta Games without a doubt.

The first regional junior track and field meet since the pandemic began was staged in Reggae Land; the coverage on cable TV was Jamaica-centric and more to the point, the competition was absolutely dominated by the boys and girls in green, gold and black.

The Jamaican dominance of athletics in the English-speaking Caribbean is nothing new. But that fact was emphasised over the weekend.

The Jamaicans won every single relay on the way to an unprecedented 97 medals, including 45 gold. Covid-19 did not seem to slow down the factory that keeps producing quality athletes in a variety of disciplines.

It was not just that the athletes from the host country were better than the rest, with the exception of Austin Sealy Award-winner Adaejah Hodge of the British Virgin Islands, but the Jamaican youths produced quality performances to win.

Their 4x100 metres Under-20 Girls smashed the world record, while the 4x100 Under-20 boys broke the championship record.

The Trinidad and Tobago effort hardly bears comparison as T&T ended the Carifta Games with 23 medals - but just two gold - to finish fourth on the medal table.

But every other island would have suffered in comparison with the Jamaicans.

T&T manager Durly Lucas also made the point to colleague Kwame Laurence that, "there was a high percentage of personal bests done by the athletes, and that's very significant. This is definitely a performance on which a national programme can be built."

Certainly, their handlers would be focussed on trying to help the two T&T gold medallists, distance runner Keeran Sriskandarajah and high jumper Aaron Antoine to build on their efforts at Carifta this year.

But in assessing what needs to happen next, great attention must be paid to the state of the "national programme" manager Lucas referred to.

It cannot be denied that the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on youth sport.

In swimming, T&T only managed to send a 20-year low of nine athletes to the Carifta Championships in Barbados.

That they were holding on to fifth place on the medal table heading into last evening's final night of action in the pool was commendable.

In 2019 when the competition was last held, T&T sent a contingent of 35 swimmers and 11 open water competitors and placed third in both the medal count and points standings.

This year, T&T were especially deficient when it came to female competitors, with only one representative in Girls 11-12 category. No one qualified in the 13-14 and 15-17 age groups. In the 2019 edition, T&T's female representation outnumbered the male side 19 to 16.

However, as was the case in track and field, all other competing countries had to prepare for competition under the cloud of Covid. The challenges would have been similar for the youths in Kingston, Nassau and Curacao as they would have been for the youngsters here.

So in assessing the performances both in the pool and on the track, the question has to be asked: Was enough done to properly motivate and prepare the youngsters?

Comparisons with other countries can be tricky because public health measures in dealing with Covid varied from territory to territory.

But it is clear from the case of Jamaica that the difficulties of the pandemic did not cause a deterioration in standards for their track programme.

As time goes by, the full extent of the damage done to youth sport here will become clearer. But it seems as if the return to play in T&T is off to a slow start.

The Carifta meets aside, some sports have not yet resumed competition in any meaningful way.

The cricket fraternity seems to be the one best prepared for a return to action, with competitions taking place on a regular basis since February. But outside of the Ascension tournament and the Tiger Tanks Under-20 series that has just got underway in football, nothing has been said about the future of the Pro League and Super League.

There is a worrying inertia there as there seems to be also in netball.

Truth is, the longer local sporting organisations take to organise themselves, the greater the ground they will have to make up.

As the action and Kingston reminded everyone, slow starters will get left behind very quickly.