The Caribbean region knows that compared to the rest of the world size is not everything, and is well aware of the talents that exist within the small populations of the many nations and territories, whether they are islands or part of a bigger land mass. So, we should not be surprised that within the region size only matters a little and we get to see how little when athletes are competing. I was not in the Cayman Islands to watch the Carifta track and field, but instead headed to Jamaica to watch Carifta’s swimming championship.
I had travelled from Bridgetown to Kingston sat amidst the Barbadian team and knew from the energy that they displayed on the flight that they were keen to get in the water had let everything go.Once I got to the stadium for the first day’s events on April 3, I was again amongst the Bajan swimmers, though this time my allegience was with my wife’s family and friends, as they had competitors in the water for The Bahamas. My national pride for Jamaica had to be squeezed in too. I felt like a truly integrated regional man.
It’s hard to describe the atmosphere in the stands of Jamaica’s National Stadium. Better to say that it was raucous noise, bordering on controlled pandemonium and plenty of national colour: I say ‘pan…’ because several were in evidence including in the hands of one Bajan supporter who beat it with a spoon to urge on her team’s swimmers. The Bahamians came armed with their fasmous cow bells and drums, as used in the Junkanoo festivals. The Jamaicans came with drums and pots lids too. Other nations seemed much more subdued, and I was surprised by that more from the French Antilleans (Martinique, Guadeloupe) than by the Bermudans and Caymanians.
As I said before size only mattered a little. Trinidad shows its bigness by winning heats aplenty and then moving on to start hauling in medals in the finals. Jamaica too. But the small islands such as Barbados, The Bahamas, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and even little Aruba, were looming large on the winners’ podium, and we were hearing many different anthems.
But winning is only for a few. The drama is in trying to make it to a final and then trying to get a place. The real drama comes, though, after the races, when the results seem set, but then we hear about ‘disqualification reports‘. Heartbreak hit the Bajan girls when they anihilated the opposition in Girls 13-14 400 Meter Medley Relay to take first place only to have the dreaded DQ. The Bahamians too, got a similar fate in that same race, when they lost their 3rd place due to an apparent false start: that one hurt badly as it was my wife’s niece who was the culprit. All of that made for a long night as people exchanged words and glances, and children tried to find composure to just come to say a few words to their parents. They find it hard to get disqualified in individual events, but when it affects their team it’s often devastating.
Yet, the resilience of children that is being built in their adolescence comes through. Within hours, they are back in the swim of things and getting on with the job they came to do: heads held high, fresh challenges to overcome.
We parents and supporters do all we can—and my lack of voice tells me that I did a fair share of supporting. When we look around and see and hear about how youths are wayward and problems and good for nothing, we know that it’s not this group of children that is being discussed. Would it be simple to get all children to be good citizens if they were committed athletes? For sure, it leave little time for mischief. For sure, it builds many good habits that can help thwart many of life’s worse temptations.
I am not getting into the medal count for the games, but know that Trinidad was romping away with them as of midway through day 3. If you want those details, then you can check the Carifta website. I am also not going to flag individuals, but just note that the swimmer who may win the most points is as likely to be a Bajan, or Bahamian, as it is a Trini or Jamaican. That’s what’s fascinating: each of the lands can produce someone of outstanding talent and that is a joy to behold.