Counting the blessings at AIPS America Games

To God be the glory.
On the bus ride to the table tennis venue at the 2nd AIPS America Games here in Manaus, Brazil, I said to myself I would honour God if I got the gold medal. But I quickly checked myself. Who am I to attach conditions when it comes to how my maker blesses me?
As it turned out, I got silver, and the glory goes to God. Had I bowed out of the tournament in the semifinal round, the quarters or even at the group stage, I would still owe God a debt of gratitude. It is He who opened up doors, presenting me with the opportunity to represent One Caribbean Media (OCM) and Trinidad and Tobago.
For the second time, I played Colombian Hernando Suarez in the AIPS America Games table tennis final. In Medellin, Colombia, two years ago, Suarez beat me in three straight games. This time it was a lot closer. I won the first two games, but Suarez battled back to win the next three, successfully defending his title, 9-11, 9-11, 11-8, 11-5, 11-6.
I’m proud of my silver medal, and I left the venue knowing I had given my all. No one from OCM or T&T was there to witness the championship match, but I can say without fear of reproach that you were both well represented.
So, it’s silver again, and I’m grateful for putting T&T on the medal table for a second time. But that doesn’t take away from the pain. The worst placing in sport is fourth for it means just missing out on a medal. But second hurts as well, especially when gold was just a game away.
In Medellin, the table tennis tournament was staged at the end of the Games. On that occasion I was probably guilty of over-training. Twice a day was a bit much for my ageing body.
Here in Manaus, time and logistics allowed me just one training session. It worked out well. The anticipation ahead of competition is a bit much, especially since I have the tendency to over-analyse. So, jumping into early action is ample protection against the paralysis of analysis.
There was no Games transport available for training sessions, so I had to take a taxi and hope for the best. Fortunately, one of Brazil’s top para players was at the venue, and I was able to get in a few practice games close to midday on Tuesday. This guy plays at a very high standard. In fact, there are few able-bodied players in T&T who can beat him, so the preparation was more than adequate.
I went into the tournament a few hours later confident in all areas of my game.
However, during the first match in my round robin group I felt a muscle strain in my back. I refused to panic. I spoke to God, and I reflected on the excellence of Michael Jordan even when he was not physically at 100 percent.
I was guarded in my play at the group stage, and succeeded in getting past my opponents from Ecuador and Paraguay in straight games. Perhaps, you could look at the Ecuador win as revenge for T&T’s female footballers, who were stopped by the South Americans in their bid to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. I did make mention of that painful defeat in an interview with an Ecuador radio station at the end of the table tennis tournament.
In the quarter-final round, I played a Colombian with a “funny” rubber on his backhand. I knew I had to go hard at Mauricio Diaz, and not allow him to gain confidence in the “pimple” rubber. Back injury or not, he needed to feel my power. I blew past him in the opening game, and though he proved more difficult thereafter, I won in straight games, 11-1, 11-8, 11-8.
I also triumphed 3-0 in the semis, making light work of my opponent from Chile.
Then, it was time to take on the best player in the tournament. But as T&T’s best-ever player, Dexter St Louis told me in an encouraging email message, it is not the best player that wins but the best prepared. Thanks Dex.
At home, I played practice matches against Anthony “Sandfly” Brown and Terry Corbin, and had trained regularly with Richard, Wallen, Nkosi and Rodney. The camaraderie at the Community Centre in Diamond Vale, home venue of my club Solo Crusaders, keeps me training, even when I don’t want to. The support of Peter and “coach” Kevin would have come in handy here in Manaus.
And I do believe I would have won had Collin Cudjoe made the trip as manager/coach. He has a track record of success with touring T&T teams. Ask Dexter.
I was well prepared for this tournament, and it showed in the first two games. But Hernando was also prepared, and came storming back to keep his crown. My roommate/coach, Bolivian Jimmy Terrazas tried his best to help me over the line, but while I appreciated his motivational words, I needed some technical help.
Thanks Jimmy. You did your best. And so did I. My back injury did not act up in the final, the adrenaline keeping me going throughout the five games.
It was only at the end of the final that I realised how badly I wanted the win. For the first time in many years, I had to fight back tears at the end of a table tennis match.
Yes, I wanted gold. But I’m grateful to God that he blessed me with silver.