Commonwealth Games list questionable Orin Davidson's Eye on Sport
Stabroek News
April 21, 2002

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The Commonwealth Games and the other sports activities under the banner of the former British Empire body have brought pleasant memories for Guyana over the years.

Boxing has been in the forefront in our success at global level and it is no different at Commonwealth competition.

Our first gold medal at the Games was won by Winfield Braithwaite in 1978 while Lennox Blackmore, Patrick Forde, Kenny Bristol and Andrew Murray all made Guyana proud by winning Commonwealth titles at the professional level.

Those feats were achieved after Cliff Anderson made himself unofficial British Empire featherweight champion in the eyes of many who saw him fight Englishman Al Phillips for the title, but who was denied on two occasions by horrendous refereeing, a common practice perpetrated on small country fighters in those times.

Athletics has also put Guyana on the Commonwealth map through James Wren Gilkes who won medals for his sprinting ability at the said ‘78 Games while weightlifters including Martin Dias have also won silverware for this country.

Our prowess at the Games during the 1970s and `80s reached a level which guaranteed Guyana medals whenever teams left this country for the quadrennial competition.

The story though, is different these days.

Guyanese competitors have not finished within the top three for a trip to the medals rostrum for the last three Games.

And another attempt will be made to end the barren sequence this year in Manchester, England based on the shortlist of eight competitors identified in order of priority, by the Guyana Olympic Association.

The list comprises two athletes, three squash players, two boxers and one weightlifter.

Unlike other countries, even in the Caribbean, Guyana’s economic situation is so unique, it is not automatic that a tiny team of eight will travel after selection, which often requires the priority list.

Depending on the availability of funding, all or only some of the eight will make it to Manchester.

A recent example was the disappointment for two young athletes after they were left out of the Junior Carifta Games team at Easter because the requested funding was not had and they were last on the priority list.

That experience and others before, has made the prioritising of team members for individual sports competitions, a contentious issue in recent years.

And for Commonwealth Games 2002, it is no different.

Olympic and World Championships athlete Aliann Pompey was surprisingly made number one on the list ahead of squashers Nicolette Fernandes and Luke Fraser and in-form 800 metres runner Marian Burnette.

The GOA’s rationale used to arrive at its list is not usually made public, but for such an important endeavour one would expect that factors like current success rate and the type of opposition encountered, and the level of competition expected at the Games, should be taken into account.

If those guidelines were followed , Burnette listed at number four should be atop the list as her performances this year makes her our best bet for a medal in Manchester.

For the records she has raced unbeaten in the United States National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) first division indoor season and capped it by becoming the first Louisiana State University woman to win the women’s 800 metres indoor title.

She went on to defeat a strong field of seasoned non college competitors including Europeans at the Stanford invitational meet to open her outdoor season campaign.

And from all appearances Burnette is improving with every race since falling into the hands of the most successful women’s college coach in the United States, Pat Henry, at LSU.

Her times are not close to those of the Maria Mutolas and Stephanie Grafs who significantly, are from countries ineligible for the Commonwealth Games as are the East Europeans who comprise the best 800m women in the world.

Thus Pompey’s 2001 semi-final World Championship and grade two Grand Prix performances should not have been a greater influence, as she has not competed so far this year.

Likewise Caribbean squash stalwarts Fraser and Fernandes have done exceedingly well at regional level but Commonwealth competition is a different kettle of fish as most of the world’s best teams are from Pakistan, Malaysia, England, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, all members of the Commonwealth.

The two boxers are both Caribbean champions, but of one year ago and have not had any international competition since last year April. Thus they have been correctly placed at the bottom of the list.

Nevertheless, team selection for national sports teams have become complex assignments as the West Indies cricket selectors are now discovering.

It is more than just a one-day meeting but requires intensive research.

In retrospect, the GOA has not done a bad job in identifying its Commonwealth Games lineup, but its order of priority is questionable.