GEORGE BOVELL III was TT’s lone Olympic medallist at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Bovell III, then 21 years of age, copped bronze in the men’s 200-metre individual medley, becoming the first, and only, TT swimmer, to medal at the Games.
Recently, Bovell III and his coach Anil Roberts spoke about the journey they both shared – leading up to the 2004 Games, as well as the event itself.
Here is the third and final part of the journey…
Anil Roberts: In 2004, that turned out to be the only medal (for TT). It was really a great moment and it will live on. Young people should go and watch that race, read the interviews and know that George Bovell III was a national hero.
George Bovell III: I always felt like the underdog. These big countries have everything, they have massage therapists, they have the best sports science they’ve got everything and me, coming from Trinidad, we have none of those resources. I felt a sense of pride that we can reach that level despite where we’re coming from because, now, we have the National Aquatic Centre, back then we have very terrible facilities, very Third World. I don’t think at the time I really understood the significance of what it meant to (get) a medal for Trinidad and Tobago.
Only now, as I’m out of the sport, that I can look back and say ‘wow, maybe I blazed a trail and inspired many people’. I was hoping at the time that I inspired a lot of people because I see people in Trinidad, the youths especially, and it’s not that we lack opportunities, a lot of times we just lack motivation. They can never imagine that they too could be great. It’s like a mental block.
People tend to just accept mediocrity and say ‘I’m okay with just going to the Olympics’. It’s something I hope would just change the way we think and start to hold ourselves to a higher standard. The irony is that was my last 200 IM. A few months after that, I had a terrible knee injury and it ended my ability to swim the breaststroke properly. I had to face that reality and say either I change and go for something else or retire and say I had a good run.
I bounced back to (get) a World Championship medal (bronze in the 50-metre freestyle in Barcelona, Spain in 2013) and be in an Olympic final, in the 50m freestyle, which is a completely different race. Of course, there are injuries along the way.
I think that the bronze (at Athens), in a way, was a blessing. If I had won the gold medal, I think I would have become too proud. Personally, my belief, along with many other people, I doubt the legitimacy of Michael Phelps. I see the Olympic size of reality tv show and, from my own belief, that number two drop to number three, on that day, I think that with clean, fair and honourable competition, I was the best.
It does not matter of you’re fighting cancer, taking chemotherapy, you’re struggling to feed your family or competing in sport, life gives you a challenge. And if you have the perfect excuse, as long as you have the mental willpower to resist that excuse and keep pushing, you are a champion.