August 20, 2004
A great burden of expectation was lifted off the broad shoulders of T&T's George Bovell III, when he ended his participation at the 28th Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, with a bronze medal yesterday. The bronze medal for the 21-year-old Auburn University junior came in the final of his pet event-the 200-metres individual medley (IM) swimming event, after he entered the final as the fifth-fastest qualifier with a time of 2:00.31.
In the final, Bovell stepped up a gear and snatched the bronze medal in a new personal best and Commonwealth record time of one minute, 58.80 seconds. His new mark erased his previous best time of 1:59.49, which he had set at the Pan American Games in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, last year.
Back then he lifted the people of T&T's hopes for an Olympic medal from him, as he made a record haul of two silver and two bronze medals at those games. Since then, the pressure to win a medal at Athens had been on the modest Bovell, and he delivered with the backing of the nation's 1.5 million people-the first medal for a competitor from the English-speaking Caribbean at the games.
First to the wall was American phenomenon Michael Phelps, who won his fourth gold medal in a games record time of 1:57.14. Fellow US swimmer Ryan Lochte came in behind for the silver medal in 1:58.78. Phelps' winning mark lowered his previous Olympic record of 1:58.52, set in the semi-finals on Wednesday night.
Lining up in lane two, Bovell-an Athens semi-finalist in both of his previous events, the 200m and 100m freestyle-stuck to the plan of his coach Anil Roberts. Bovell clocked a good 26.20 seconds over the first 50 metres, the butterfly leg, at the end of which he was sixth; then he moved up to third position at the end of the backstroke leg.
With 100 metres to go, Phelps was still clear of the field. By the end of the third leg, the 50-metres breaststroke, Bovell had again gained valuable distance with a split of 33 seconds, moving into second spot, closely followed by Lochte, Laszlo Cseh of Hungary and Brazilian Thiago Pereira. In that last splash to the wall, Bovell slipped to third place, although he clocked a sizzling 28.8 seconds for his best-ever time.
Commenting on the performance of his young swimmer, Roberts, who together with Bovell was flanked by well-wishers on their way out of the competition arena, said: "I could not have asked for a more perfect race from him." Bovell's father George Bovell II, who is the swimming team's manager, said now that the competition was over his son would use the rest of his stay in Greece to do some sightseeing before returning home to Trinidad later in August.