A MERE ten days before the Trinidad and Tobago contingent was due to leave for the 28th Olympiad in Athens, Greece, Chef De Mission, Larry Romany, withdrew from the position because of business commitments. The job was immediately given to Brian Lewis, assistant secretary of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee, and chairman of the TTOC Culture and Education Committee. Lewis, a former rugby player, had been assistant chef at the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia in 1998. “Athens was a life-changing experience for me,” says the 44-year-old father of two teenagers. “There were disappointments, such as the day in the men’s 100 metres sprint, but I was confident that Trinidad and Tobago would bounce back in the men’s 100 metre sprint relay, which was not to be either. Failure is not a sin. The Olympic Games throughout its history has always been a test of character. It is important that we refocus and put yesterday behind us.”

Even more philosophically, Lewis continues, “Excellence is not an act but a habit. Success at this level is about habit and attitude. No guts, no glory. Master the details and you master the big picture. Our self-belief, fighting spirit and confidence, even if shaken, will not be broken. I am confident that the talent and ability is there and we will rebound.” Hence the local Olympic body’s policy of including a sport psychologist on the team is invaluable as it helps the athlete to deal with disappointment and that maintains a positive team environment. Lewis speaks of “a number of persons who have expressed views and opinions from as varied as the team did “BAD” to “I am an idiot for talking nonsense about the team did very well.” “I respect a person’s right to their opinion, even to consider me an idiot. There is informed opinion and judgments. It is important to listen to informed opinions and constructive criticism as they offer many times a different perspective and point of view. I am proud of these young men and women.

They did their best. Some things went right and some went wrong. We learn and move on.” The chef sees Ato Boldon as one of our greatest ever Olympians: “Having him in Athens proved an invaluable asset.” Trinidad and Tobago participated in four sports, had finalists in two swimming and track and field events, who all either equalled or set new National records. “When you look at the facts, it can paint any picture,” says Lewis, “especially as winning an Olympic medal of any colour is not easy and comes as a result of many things, including infrastructure planning and technology. It is systemic, requires funding, conviction, resoluteness, patience, development and talent identification. It is quantitative and requires a holistic approach, and could take between ten and 15 years to bear fruit.” TTOC has not been idle as many people think but has been in ongoing dialogue with Australia, England, Canada, Cuba USA and the IOC, and has looked at best practices throughout the Olympic Movement. “We created a plan and implemented it in 1997,” explains Lewis.” This plan targetted 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.

There have been significant obstacles but the TTOC remains undaunted. This approach has borne fruit evidenced by Ato Boldon, George Bovell, Candace Scott, Cleopatra Borel, Darrel Brown, Marc Burns and Marsha Mark. In answer to many questions about Brown’s non-participation in the 100 metre sprint, he pointed out, “Darrel did not come out of a “final” workout as anyone would like, and it was felt in the best interest of his future to leave him out of the 100 metre. The relay is two rounds and not four as is the individual. As for Bovell, who had hurt his shoulder, his was a courageous swim.” He has repeatedly remarked since his return that “Trinidad and Tobago lives the Olympic dream every four years!! We have to live the Olympic Dream every day for four, eight and 12 years. We have to begin preparing for Beijing now! It is three weeks after Athens 2004 and Michael Phelps has started his programme for Beijing 2008.” How does the TTOC plan to get Government to sit up and take notice?

He is aware that many international Olympic bodies are not necessarily funded by their Governments, some are done from things like Lotto, others by a combination of state and otherwise, and yet others like Cuba and China have total state funding. Trinidad and Tobago could go the way of government assistance and other revenue streams, such as, Lotto and maybe taxes on alcohol and cigarettes. However, since sport still seems to be viewed in terms of a recreational culture and not as a critical component in the civic and social development of the country, this discipline is always battling for justification for more money because it is seen as an expense and not as an investment in the human resource of our country. To develop an Olympic team could take up to 15 years. We are a people who want instant results and cannot go through that grind or process for that length of time. Lewis believes that, “If we suggest ten million for the next ten years, people add up and say how many schools, how many hospitals we can build. We tend to put talented young boys and girls in an academic box, yet it is in places like the Youth Training Centre you will find some of the talent.

We put sports on the back-burner and are intolerant with regard to sport. We are sitting on a goldmine of real talented people and so much benefit could come from sport. Instead, our talent is falling between the cracks. Sports must fit into our culture. What I would like is for the Government and TTOC to address the need for our preparation for Beijing to start right now, not one year before.” As chairperson of the TTOC’s Culture and Education Committee, Lewis is committed to the Olympic Academy which has had a structured committee since 2001, and has resulted in the hosting of the second annual Youth Camp last July 3 - 10, with 30 campers from 27 affiliates. Two campers from the first camp in 2003, gymnast Ananda Fraser and cyclist Rehan Haspooden, were selected from that camp to represent the country at this year’s International Olympic Youth Camp in Athens, Greece. The aim of the IOYC is to provide an opportunity for world youth to gather during an Olympic period, to promote international goodwill and to better understand the traditional culture of the host country, thereby contributing to the creation of a peaceful world.