Deon Lendore died tragically, short weeks after he had represented our country in the quarter at the Olympics in Tokyo.
This is not a eulogy. There are others who knew him well, in this country and in the United States, who would have reflected publicly on his life and contribution. This is more an attempt to try to situate him in a tradition, one committed to the pursuit of excellence.
You listen to Dwight Stones, Olympian, high jump gold medallist, talk about Lendore as he lines up for the quarter at any track meet in the US, especially at Eugene in Oregon, and you hear that this is a legendary collegiate runner, who leaves nothing in the tank when he runs that race.
Lendore’s life’s work, his quest to master this race, has to be understood as an important link in a chain of nationals, who have viewed the quarter as emblematic of our national brand of excellence. This really has to be understood as the Mottley effect.
Since 1964, that race has become personal to local runners. They want Trinidad and Tobago colours—the red, white and black, to be in view; they want our name to be mentioned on the TV. They want the world to hear our anthem play. Lendore took this race personally. He grasped the local tradition with gusto. He was an exemplary keeper of it.
As we look back on the record, we see that our quarter-milers have been the embodiment of our striving.
In the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, we reprised Tokyo by making it to the finals in the 4 x 400, with a team comprising Edwin Roberts, George Simon, Benedict Cayenne, and Euric Bobb.
I saw Mottley himself, the standard, run that quarter at southern games, Guaracara Park, the mecca, after Tokyo. I remember it vividly. He made it look so effortless. I am not sure if he ever touched the ground.
They brought Milkha Singh, the great quarter-miler from India, who had just won the quarter at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, to see what he could do at Guaracara Park. I saw that race from my perch inside of the Club House at the Park. Edwin Roberts ran him down and beat him.
This quarter is a race our runners take personally.
In 1972, Charlie Joseph was the pick of our quarter-milers in Munich. In the 1976 Olympics in Montreal when Crawfie won gold in the hundred, Mike Solomon was in the semi final of the 400. He and Joseph Coombs were finalists in the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
Michael Paul was in the semi-finals of the 400 in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Ian Morris was a finalist in Barcelona in 1992. Neil De Siva a semi-finalist in Atlanta, 1996.
Lendore was in this tradition. He represented us in the Olympics for the first time, in London, 2012, along with Lalonde Gordon, who came third in the event. The two of them ran legs in the 4 x 400 in which we got the bronze medal.
Big-name Yankee runners they leave in the dust.
In the Rio Olympics (2016), a memorable race in which the existing world record for the event was set by Wade Van Nekirk, our boy Machel Cedenio was fourth.
In the recently concluded Olympics in Tokyo, Lendore, our boy, ran 44.93 in the semi-finals, but that time could not get him into the finals. Cruelly, Christopher Taylor of Jamaica got in with 44.92.
Such were the margins.
There is a photo of Lendore looking up at the results on the big screen, his demeanour forlorn. “So close” must have been his thought. He would have loved to have made it to the finals.
But say what. He was there in Tokyo, running the quarter, for country, for the red, white and black.
A Trini to de bone.
But he had one more race to run, the relay, a team race. The 400 x 4 relay men, is by tradition always the last race of the Olympics. And there we were, our little country in the relay finals again, and running the second leg for us, was Lendore.
We ran out. We were not among the medals. But we were in the race. Lendore was wearing his jersey that said Trinidad and Tobago. The whole country. This was a team race. He was not running for personal glory, but for every creed and race.
Lendore ran his final quarter for the rest of us. I just wanted to thank him and his family for that.
THE AUTHOR is Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota. He is mostly retired.