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Roberts calls on youths to emulate Bailey, Wilkes

Friday, April 11, 2014
President of the T&T Olympic Federation Brian Lewis, centre, looks on as Olympic and World swimming champion George Bovell III, right, greets inspirational speaker Don La Foucade on the closing of the 15th Leadership Symposium hosted by the Sports Desk at the Cascadia Hotel and Conference Centre yesterday. Photo: Andre Alexander

Sports Minister Anil Roberts is telling the nation’s youth not to allow the legacies of the late sprinter Emanuel Mc Donald Bailey and weight-lifter Rodney Wilkes to fade into the abyss.


Speaking at yesterday’s close of the 15th annual Sport Desk Leadership Symposium held at the Cascadia Hotel and Conference Centre in St Ann’s Port-of-Spain, Roberts said both Olympic medallists epitomised why giving up was never an option.


Bailey passed away last December. The sports fraternity bid Wilkes farewell back in March.


Roberts said during their lifetime both men had the honour to represent T&T, but it was not under the best circumstances. Yet, they persevered!


From that, the minister said, were lessons the nation could learn.


“Rodney Wilkes won the first ever Olympic medal for T&T in 1948; a silver medal to the Egyptians. Now if Rodney Wilkes was to tell me, ‘boy, that seems impossible,’ I could believe Rodney Wilkes, because Rodney Wilkes had to go on a boat to the Olympics. It took about 13 days. Right now our athletes go by the minister for first class and business class tickets, jump on a plane, stretch out, lie down (and) sleep, wake-up, show their passport and they reach in the (Olympic) village. Rodney Wilkes had to go on a boat with no real coach. Alex Chapman (Alexander B Chapman) who was now learning a little bit about weight lifting, he is the coach. He (Wilkes) had to go and find things on the boat to lift to keep his anaerobic capacity up. When he reached there he didn’t have a psychologist, doctor, massage therapist, psychio-therapist, no yoga instructor, but he had to compete against the world,” Roberts said.


He added, “Mc Donald Bailey wanted to run for T&T, but the T&T Olympic Committee back then was not as efficient as it is now under the leadership of Brian Lewis. Mc Donald Bailey was waiting in England. He didn’t even know if T&T was sending a team. He didn’t pick up his cell phone and call the TTOC president. He had to wait for a big boy to make a call to find out if we were sending a team; all of this on his mind while he’s training. Right now athletes don’t have to worry about that. They know if they are going,” he said.


“At the last minute when he (Bailey) realised T&T not going and he had to make a choice to run for Great Britain. Now he had to run for the empire which was not treating him like an emperor because back in those days everybody was not considered equal. Some people were considered less than others, so they weren’t given the same opportunities. 


“Yet Mc Donald Bailey went into that system and won a medal (Helsinki Olympics 1952) and still feels proud that he is from T&T and basically gave us that title.” Roberts told an estimated 400 teenagers that in T&T today, nothing was impossible. And that the word had no meaning citing the enormous opportunities to do anything they wanted.


Roberts applauded the genuine interest of the children and educators in the Sport Desk four-day mentorship programme which this year featured presentations from former West Indies and international cricket ambassador Courtney Walsh, Olympic medallist George Bovell III and Ato Boldon, Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam, UCI World Cup medallist Njisane Phillip, former T&T cricket captain ambassador Daren Ganga, World Youth swimming champion Shanntol Ince.


Athletes have no reasons to fail citing that they not only have the support of the Ministry of Sport and the Sport Company, but energy company Atlantic too, facilitating the growth and talent of the nation’s sporting fraternity,” Robert said.


He continued, “Last year, we educated 300 coaches in different sports. We have Chinese coaches coming here for synchronised swimming and diving, with badminton, with gymnastics. We have coaches for hurdles, for boxing and track and field (and) for weight lifting. So you’ll have no excuse. Anything and everything is there. I got an opportunity to interview Rodney Wilkes for two hours. He used to train in the cane field. He used to lift up sacks of rice, sacks of wheat. 


“He didn’t really have different gyms. George Bovell III needs about five different gyms. Now he (Bovell III) is doing gymnastics. Rodney Wilkes didn’t have all that. If he told me it was impossible, I would have said yes Rodney,” he said.


“If you tell me the same thing, I’ll tell you no way. The only thing blocking us here now, with the opportunities that we have right here is our mind.”


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