South America Under 20 Championships

Last weekend, 3rd/4th June, the South American Under 20 Track and Field Champion-ships were hosted by Guyana at the National Track and Field Centre at Leonora, West Coast Demerara. In so doing, Guyana became the tenth nation on the continent to host the games, with only Bolivia, Cayenne and Suriname remaining to do the honours.

It was the 42nd edition of the Games which were first held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1959, and have since been dominated by eight time hosts Brazil (as many as Argentina) who have won more than 35 per cent of the medals awarded, and hold twenty records in the forty-five events contested. Over 350 athletes representing Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Guyana graced the occasion.

Guyana had previously only won eight medals at these championships: three gold, one silver and four bronze. This time around the hosts were represented by their largest ever contingent, a forty-nine strong unit, determined to carry the nation’s colours with pride. The athletes were buoyed by recent good performances and exposure at the South American Youth Champion-ships last November in Argentina, the Junior Carifta Games over the Easter weekend in Curaçao and the famous Penn Relays in April in the USA.

Several weekends leading up to the event, many of them journeyed to and from Linden and Berbice, at their own expense, for the twice per day training sessions at Leonora, whilst encamping at not the best of conditions at the National Gymnasium in Georgetown, courtesy of the National Sports Council. Not to be deterred the local youth rose to the occasion and delivered.

Guyana finished second to the perennial powerhouse Brazil which led the medal table with 32 ‒18 gold, 11 silver and three bronze- whilst amassing 287 points. The hosts mounted the podium on 25 occasions to receive three gold, ten silver and twelve bronze medals, whilst accumulating 198 points, to finish ahead of Columbia, Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Suriname, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia.

Compton Caesar, Carifta Games gold medallist again delivered in the 100 metres and Chantoba Bright leapt 6.30 metres in the women’s long jump to give the hosts the perfect start on Saturday in front of the small audience. On Sunday, the much larger crowd for the second session were treated to a highly entertaining afternoon of competition and left with a bunch of indelible memories: Caesar futilely trying to stave off the fast finishing Brazilian Derick De Souza in the 200 metres race in a thrilling finish; the diminutive quartet of young women representing Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and Peru slugging it out in the 3000 metres steeplechase, with the Peruvian leading the charge, refusing to relinquish the lead and eventually sprinting home for the gold.

Whilst the women competed in the javelin throw on the eastern end of the stadium, and the men flopped in the high jump on the opposite end, the 10,000 metres progressed. Brazilian Daniel Se Do Nascimento, a world and Olympic champion in the making, delivered in the old ‘six mile’ race. His competition over the scheduled 25 laps were two pairs of runners from Peru and Guyana. The Brazilian signalled his intentions from the gun, as the two home boys quickly fell behind, with the Peruvians pressing the pacesetter. Nascimento, tall, slimly built with a beautiful upright economical style maintained a wonderful cadence throughout the race.  The Peruvians threatened on occasion, with Yuri Ladra taking the lead once for about 200 metres before Nascimento regained it and opened the throttle. Thereafter, he was on his own lapping the others (except Ladra) at least twice, before sprinting down the homestretch and leaping across the finish line, and casually striding away. His time of 31:01:64 was outside his personal best of 30:03:76 and his fellow countryman, Franck de Almeida’s games record of 29:39:25 set at home in 2002. With more formidable competition, Nascimento might well have graced the occasion with a new record.

The event culminated with the running of the relays and the local representatives will long remember the deafening roars of the proud audience screaming their support as Kenisha Phillips crossed the line in the women’s 4 x 400 metres to deliver the third gold medal. The Ecuador women demonstrated textbook baton passing to stride away with the 4 x 100 metres relay, whilst the hosts were disqualified in the men’s 4 x 400 metres for a lane infraction, thus losing out on a possible fourth gold medal.

With the recent sports tourism seminar turning our attention to a new area of possibilities, a quick glance at the host organisation’s report card is warranted. The Athletics Association of Guyana (AAG) must be given kudos for taking on the responsibility of this major event. The athletes were all housed at the same hotel, allowing them to mix and develop camaraderie.  Adequate transportation was available to get the teams to and from the venue, a complaint often heard at such events.

At the venue, there was a more than adequate police presence and support, as well as ambulance and medical personnel.  The track marshalls, sharply attired in yellow hats, golf shirts and black slacks were easily identifiable and omnipresent. Kudos to them for impartially disqualifying Guyana in one of the relay events. The very competent bilingual announcer could be clearly heard in both Spanish and English, and provided adequate information when he did speak.

On the other hand, the local body fell down in several areas. On Thursday, two days before the start of the games, with teams already arriving, the AAG announced that they were still nine million dollars short in their budget. Two days before the event? Something is drastically wrong here. On Friday afternoon, our sports desk was still trying to get the schedule of events. Attendees at Leonora were shocked to discover that there were no programmes available for purchase, and thus they had to sit and wonder what the next event was going to be. This shortcoming could easily have been rectified with more information forthcoming from the stadium announcer.

The AAG was complaining about lack of funds yet there was no souvenir booth to sell tee shirts, caps, bumper sticker, badges, etc, which could have garnered much needed revenue over the two days. And better arrangements have to be put in place for athletes to get to and from their homes, and better accommodation facilities when training for their country.

The AAG should have been able to have gotten much more mileage out of these Games. It’s a start from which we can only improve. Kudos to the coaches of the athletes who gave of their time to develop them and to the crowd for their support and excellent behaviour at the venue.

Congratulations to the athletes on their performances and for giving their all for the nation. Let’s develop this talent pool. It is time for our long awaited Olympic gold medal.