Sports participation and competition is an important contributor to a nation’s culture, identity, and national pride. Athletes have been known to bring great recognition to the countries for which they compete. In the 2019 Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) Games, held in the Cayman Islands, Guyana won a record 10 medals, four gold, two silver, and four bronze. Now, we’re gearing up to host CARFITA right here in 2021.
In this edition of Government in Action, the athletes of the Guyana CARIFTA 2019 team share their inspiration, preparation, competition experience, and aspirations as Guyana races toward CARIFTA 2021.
Ms. Sheama Tyrell, 3000m: “I started running for school and my coach saw me. He liked how I run and said it’s great. He put me into athletics. I began training. I eased up a while due to injury and [started] again… It was very hard because I was on injury [during trials]. I fell out in the second trial. [In the] First trial I came very close. I didn’t even make it on the last trial until afterwards [when] they [decided] to put me on the team… [Placing fifth at CARIFTA] is a really great achievement, [this] being my first year. I expected better, but hopefully next year. It was a really, really great experience.”
Cordell Charles, 1500m, 3000m: “Simply watching, on TV, Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and these… top athletes, seeing them winning gold medals and being on top… My first [race] was at school sports… and [goes] up to CARIFTA… Going [into] the first year, I was a little nervous. I was a little scared seeing these big guys [but] it was a good experience going to CARIFTA.”
Princess Browne, Bronze medalist Triple Jump: “It started off with hard training. Obviously, my aim at first was to qualify before going. So, I trained extremely hard to qualify and when I got to CARIFTA my main focus was to get a gold medal… This was actually my second time at CARIFTA so, I already had the experience, but it was very challenging because the countries came… harder than last year, but everybody went out and did their best.”
Jahaziah Copeland, Shotput and discus: “[I’ve taken] part in sports ever since I was 11 and in 2015, I dropped all my other sports and I settled down the throwing after I was recognised by a coach at the Inter-school Championship… It was different. It has to be different because it’s a higher level of competition. I enjoyed every bit of it and I’m glad I got the experience and I know what it’s like when it comes the next time.”
Deshana Skeet, 400m: “It’s my second time… The training was really hard and it was really exciting. Things were really complicated, but I can say I enjoyed the trip… It’s terribly different. The atmosphere, everything is different, the food, everything. It’s just a whole new environment and a whole new beginning. You just had to go out there and do what you were told to do.”
Highlighting the importance of athletics in Guyana, the CARIFTA team members said that the sport is an excellent outlet for youth and an honest means through which young people can achieve their career goals.
Anisha Gibbons, Gold medalist, Javelin: “It was my first time at CARIFTA games and I trained very hard. The year before when they had the CARIFTA trials, I tried and I did not qualify. So, I came again and worked harder and I got it. Well, I was going for the record this year, but unfortunately, I did not [break it]. So, next year at the CARIFTA games, I would like to go for it.”
Princess Browne, Bronze medalist Triple Jump: “Guyana is getting better and better at sports so, I think [sport is] very important… In the future I would like to see more Guyanese making CARIFTA because for the past years, we’ve been carrying… larger [teams]… This year we carried 21 athletes. So, next year, I’m looking forward [to] at least 30 [team members] and [we’ll] keep increasing the number. I think that sports can carry someone very far because it’s lot of exposure… and you can get money too, so, that’s the nice part about it.”
Ms. Sheama Tyrell, 3000m: “Sports is very important. I see sports to young people as a way to get them off the streets. Instead of idling around, get them active. To me, it brings a lot… not only fame, but it brings recognition. They can further educational studies through sports. So, I see it as a great investment in Guyana.
Cordell Charles, 1500m, 3000m: “I feel very proud. Everyone [went] out and [did] their best. You know, it was a little tough… at the competition [but] everyone went out and did their best and [made] Guyana proud… We have [a] few gold, silver, and bronze [medals] and we’re proud of Guyana as ambassadors.”
Shaquka Tyrell, Bronze medalist, 1500m: “I feel proud of myself because… [a] couple years [ago] I didn’t know… where [I] would have been. Thanks to God and my coach and my family. Stay Focused. Remember it’s not only about the athletics. You must have education to help you go forward. I encourage [young people] to stay in school and pick up a sport. It is really good.”
The athletes, who are proud to represent Guyana internationally, said that the active support of their fellow citizens can help improve their athletic performance.
Adriel Austin, Bronze medalist, 800m: “I would like to… tell them to come out and support us because we could really use it to… boost our energy so we can run even faster and bring home more gold.”
Ms. Sheama Tyrell, 3000m: “I think if people came out and supported, more athletes would get that kind of encouragement… When I heard cheering at CARIFTA I felt that extra energy. So, if support is there, people will perform. I feel great because it’s a lot for me. It’s a push for me. If I can represent Guyana so well, I can do it again and do even better. So, I see it as a great investment.”
Anisha Gibbons, Gold medalist, Javelin: “Every single athlete that went to CARIFTA games has done well and we need more Guyanese to come and support us. Without support we can’t do well.”
Cordell Charles, 1500m, 3000m: “We need to encourage these athletes. I’m only 16 and [I’ve already been flown out] two times to CARFITA… It’s a good experience to encourage the youth to come out and run. You have football. You have cricket. Come out and go into a sport. Sports, it frees your mind. It makes you feel happy. It takes you out of violence and everything.”
Looking to the future, the team expressed their career aspirations, some with Olympic games in mind.
Keliza Smith 400m, long jump: “For the future, I just want to make sure I have my education first. Books first and then sports… It’s very important because you [can] go far with it. You could [get] a scholarship to different colleges and that’s what I want.”
Jahaziah Copeland, Shotput and discus: “More training. All I have in mind is with God on my side, all I wish is to better, [to] further my distance in both my throws. And everybody is saying I look like an Olympian. Well, hopefully I get there someday.”
The road to CARIFTA 2021
During this year’s CARIFTA games, Guyana gained recognition for being one of the fastest rising track and field teams in the Caribbean. Head Coach of this year’s CARIFTA team, Mr. Julian Edmonds said that Guyanese athletes are ranking among the top 20 in the world.
“Over the years and for the last six to seven years, if you check, we’ve been more recognised on the international seas. I’m a coach that checks the International [Sports] Federation rankings and… at a period of time, Guyanese are ranking the top 20 in the world. This is from local athletes… to some athletes that we’ve got in college. They’re, at some time or the other… ranked in the top 20 in the world and it’s not one or two. [There are] multiple. So, athletics is definitely on the [rise] in Guyana,” he said.
Coach Edmonds added that despite the competitive environment of the CARIFTA games, he is not surprised by his team’s excellent performance.
“CARIFTA is always tough. Every one of the countries brought their ‘A-game’. It was fatiguing but… at the end of it all, we did the best that we could’ve done and, fortunately for us it was the best performance in the history of the games that we’ve been competing in since the 70’s…[I’m] overjoyed... Most of these kids I’ve known for a number of years… We start planning for CARIFTA 2019 in 2018. So, there [are] really no surprises in this team,” he said.
Assistant coach Mr. Raymond Daw said that Guyana’s improving athletic performance will help the team make a mark at CARIFTA 2021.
“Sports [are] important to Guyana because it helps… bring us together…. It helps the young athletes to develop… It can help them to get scholarships. Once they have the balance, they have a far way to go… We are growing as an athletic nation. It was mentioned at CARIFTA that Guyana is showing great signs of improvements at track and field. In 2021, Guyana will be hosting CARIFTA games for the first time and… if all goes well, our athletes will be performing well at CARIFTA in 2021,” he said.
Head of the Athletics Association of Guyana (AAG), Mr. Aubrey Hutson, said that the organisation is continuously looking for ways to promote Guyana’s sports culture.
“Sport is culture. Culturally, you’ll see people doing things as a result of things going on internationally… Once West Indies cricket is playing, you’ll see kids set up in the street and playing cricket and football, the same thing. So, unless we can develop the culture of athletics and track and field in Guyana, we will always be playing second and third best to the rest of the world. So, the athletics association of Guyana has embarked on a developmental plan of bringing awareness to the sport and creating that cultural change through exposing our athletes to international competition and also, whenever they go out there and do well, or even if they don’t do well, we let the public know of track and field,” he said.
CARIFTA 2021, he said, provides the perfect opportunity to bring awareness to Guyanese athletics and has already gotten the attention of former athletes in the diaspora.
“That is going to be big. This is basically the Olympics of the Caribbean and if you ever have a chance to look at footage of CARIFTA games, you can understand, not just the level of performance, but the [number] of fans. We’ve gotten calls from people, old athletes, in the diaspora saying, “hey, I’m booking my tickets early. I’ve got to be there because this is a dream true,” he said.
Mr. Hutson praised the Department of Social Cohesion and the National Sports Commission for seeing the potential for athletics in Guyana and investing in the nation’s teams. Director of Sports, Mr. Christopher Jones says that the increasing success of Guyana’s athletes is a welcome return on the Commission’s investment.
“Essentially, I would say that we are in a very good place [compared to] where we started… in terms of providing funding and support for the various associations, federations, and clubs/ individual athletes. It was lacking. We were able to open, so to speak, and be more accommodating to many of the associations… If you look back in 2017 and 2018 you would recognise, almost on a monthly or fortnightly basis you open the newspaper and you see “Guyana won,” “Guyana athlete,” or “Guyana team” bringing home gold, bringing home silver, regionally and internationally… We credit ourselves that this is as a direct result of the support that has been made available to the association or federation… in cash and kind afforded us to… [achieve] what we have been… Looking forward in the future, as a result of the investment that was made, we look…to see Guyana medaling at the Olympics… Of course, [we will be] preparing our athletes and lending the support so that we ensure that they put their best foot forward. The Sports Commission and the Government as a whole will continue to lend support to them,” he said.
Guyana is racing toward CARIFTA 2021 and the recognition of our true athletic ability throughout the Caribbean. The National Sports Comission and the Athletics Association of Guyana is eager to make all Guyanese proud through this avenue.