January 10, 2012
I met Pauline Davis-Thompson in the parking lot at the rear of the Ministry of Education complex on Thompson Boulevard recently. We were both heading for the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture that is also housed in the building.
Davis-Thompson is now a consultant with youth, sports and culture. We chatted briefly. She went to the elevator and I took the steps up to the second floor. While going up, I thought about our 'Original Golden Girl'. I couldn't help feeling that we have not come close to properly situating this great patriot, following her retirement in 2000.
At the outset, let me emphasize that she and I have had no conversations at all about my view. It's all me, thinking of the wonderful career she had as a junior. I recall the tough schedule her early coach, Neville Wisdom, had Davis-Thompson and others in his charge on. She rose to the occasion in a big way, while others faltered. She became superb as a senior athlete.
Her emergence as a world-class sprinter coincided with the advent of the big time European track and field circuit and the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) World Championships. It was a time when the present lucrative nature of athletics could only have been a dream for her. At best, she just barely covered her expenses from meager earnings on the circuit. It was a lonely road she traveled, often the only Bahamian at the competition in some foreign land or the other.
She competed and brightened the image of her country by excelling against great odds. Davis-Thompson was one of the catalysts (along with Eldece Clarke-Lewis) in building one of the greatest sprint relay teams in world track history. Yes, they were the matriarchs of the 'Original Golden Girls'. Together, she along with Clarke-Lewis, Chandra Sturrup, Savetheda Fynes and Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie blazed a trail of brilliance for four years (1996-2000), winning Olympic gold and silver medals and a world championship.
On top of that, she won the 2000 Olympic 200 meters (m) gold medal. Athletes in other countries who accomplished much less than Davis-Thompson were given nice homes by their governments and were firmly entrenched in comfortable financial situations in some special capacity as a consultant or otherwise.
Haseley Crawford of Trinidad, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic and Cuban athletic standouts come quickly to mind. We have not planned at all for the continuance of the sports ambassadorial roles of our icons. Davis-Thompson for instance, has to make do with the kind of consultant financial package that just allows her to get by. Should she just be getting by? She drives her own vehicle and appears to get very little or no perks.
Is it okay for us to treat this spectacular icon this way? Complaining about her circumstances might not be on Davis-Thompson's list of priorities, but I believe the matter needs to be addressed.
What about Laverne Eve? Why should this grand lady of 46 summers still be in a situation whereby she sees competing with toddlers as an option? Eve will never come close again to her peak performances. Why is it that her country does not have a nice earning situation available that befits the contribution she has made?
What about Sturrup, who (even if she returns to competition for London 2012) is near the very end of a glorious career, comparable to that of Davis-Thompson? How about Leevan Sands? The multiple world championships medalist and Olympic bronze medal winner is getting long in the tooth as a competitor. He is 30.
How long does he have at the top? Then, there is Chris Brown. This mighty quarter-miler has been awesome in projecting Bahamian quality through sports. What's in store for them in the country that they have given so much to?
Actually, our elite track and field athletes don't get by as well financially as people think. They are mini companies, with constant expenses for doctors, trainers, therapists, supplements, living arrangements and some travel. Some of them have no substantive insurance programs. The subvention funds help but by no means cover the full cost for greatness.
They pay a huge price for being sports ambassadors. They give up their peak years for a national cause. What should they get in return? That's the question to be seriously pondered by those who claim they really care.
To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at email@example.com.
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