Steven Gardiner in the 400m at the IAAF World Championships (AFP / Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature

Full-strength Bahamian team look to be ray of hope for storm-ravished nation

If there were any lingering questions as to whether the Bahamian team would be represented in full force at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019, according to the team’s delegates, the answer is a clear yes.

Following the relocation of the IAAF World Relays which the country was scheduled to host in the spring, and with hurricane Dorian ravishing parts of the nation in early September, the prospects for the team making it to Doha were reportedly uncertain. Despite obstacles, according to president of the Bahamas Association of Athletics Associations (BAAA) Drumeco Archer, not sending the team – which boasts 400m medal contenders Shaunae Miller-Uibo, the Olympic champion, and Steven Gardiner, the world silver medallist – was never an option.

“With all the stench of ruin and despair, the story of our 2019 team is one that will ever be told in the history of our sport and our country,” said Archer. “In the midst of all of this, the Bahamas is resilient enough to come back and always show their presence on the world stage.”

Notwithstanding reports that they would only be able to send a partial team, with funding from the Bahamian Government combined with raised monies, sponsorship and a small loan, the 10-member team will hit the track in Doha in hopes of bringing home some hardware. 

Led by head coach Fritz Grant, the team consists of both experienced stars and young emerging talent, including 17-year-old 200m runner Terrance Jones, who earlier this year set a national U20 record of 20.43, and 2007 world high jump champion Donald Thomas, now 35. The team did not qualify a relay squad this year.

Much of the team, according to Grant, were directly impacted by the areas hardest hit by hurricane Dorian, including sprinter Tynia Gaither and Jones who are from Freeport, and Thomas who is from Grand Bahama. Gardiner, who hails from Abaco, dedicated his 44.14 season’s best performance on 14 September to the people of his hometown.

“Dedicating that performance to the Abaconians was a great gesture and just awesome,” Grant said. “Our athletes definitely feel the impact of [Dorian] and I think are going to represent The Bahamas with excellence to really let the people know, in spite of what took place, we are going to showcase the resilience, team spirit and unity among our people.”

The tiny nation with a population of fewer than 400,000 people was off to a positive start before the championships began. At the IAAF Congress earlier this week, 53-year-old Bahamian sprint legend Pauline Davis-Thompson, the 2000 Olympic 200m champion, was made Honorary Life Member of the IAAF which coincided with the end of her tenure as an IAAF Council member.

“It’s an award we’ve never had as a nation and with her being one of the youngest recipients of it makes it all the more special,” Archer said. “We have a lot to celebrate and we’re looking to put some more medals on our charts.”

While Archer and Grant are unapologetic about their expectations of performance excellence, they are careful not to put any undue pressure on their team. With Miller-Uibo undefeated this year and Gardiner in fine form as well, prospects are high for a podium finish in both events, which Archer says would be a “wonderful inspiration” in such “desperate times”.

“That’s really what it is, it’s a symbol of hope and a reminder to the world that The Bahamas is strong and will get through this,” said Archer.  “It is a message not just to the world but also to our people who need it so badly.”

Wendy-Ann Clarke for the IAAF