THREE-TIME Olympic silver medalist Richard Thompson spent roughly two hours in blazing sun on the running track at the Hasely Crawford Stadium yesterday, guiding a group of athletically talented kids through a series of exercises and drills used by track athletes in training. It was an effort in keeping with the character of one of the country’s most popular athletes; a man whose humility and commitment to country has always stood out.

“You can’t build a strong house if you don’t have a strong foundation,” he told reporters following the session. “This is the purpose of what we’re doing here today — we’re trying to target some of the younger ones because they will be the ones that we expect to win the gold medals by 2024; not Keston Bledman, not Richard Thompson, not Marc Burns- you know, we’ve been around for a while.” The event was the final stage of the track and field element of the Atlantic Sporting Ambassador Programme that seeks to develop talented TT youths who show potential in several sporting disciplines, including swimming, cricket and sailing. A fortnight ago, Thompson had started with a group of already developing athletes. This clinic targeted kids between the ages of eight and 12; but yesterday, he had more than just track in mind.

“We wanted to introduce them to track and create awareness for sport and exercising at that age,” he explained. “A lot of kids now in our generation are stuck in front of the television, playing X-Box, PS3 and PS4. I think it’s my duty to bring them out of the house, show them different exercises, show them what it takes to be a great athlete.” Thompson has been back home for several weeks, going through the first stages of preparation for what could well be his swansong in the most prestigious arena for his sport — the Olympic Games in Rio 2016. Determined to ensure that TT’s tradition of great sprinters continues, he was making his contribution with the 20- odd youngsters who came out yesterday.

“I remember being very young and looking at Hasely Crawford and Ato Boldon and saying, these people are Olympic medalists and Olympians, and maybe it’s just something ingrained in them, they were born with it. But I didn’t know the actual process of coming to training everyday, working hard for many hours, all the different exercises. Those were things I didn’t have any knowledge about, so from a very long age I want to instil that into them, make them aware that if they do these little things each day, day in, day out, if they believe in themselves, have focus and the dedication and the discipline...” The partnership with Atlantic, therefore, came naturally. Derek Daniel, Atlantic’s Brand and Communications manager explained that yesterday’s exercise was an extension of a programme that has been running for over a decade.

“We invest heavily in the youth development area in sports,” he told Newsday.

“Atlantic has been the sponsor of primary schools cricket for the last 12 years; this is our tenth anniversary with football this year and with track and field, four years. We believe that this is where the future lies, so our investment is primarily around the youth of TT.” Thompson confessed that having been through the mill himself, he had long wanted to impart the basics to those who are likely to replace his generation of athletes.

“A lot of the things that we focused on today were very basic,” he said, adding, “But I would say, for the age group that we are dealing with, I am almost certain that around TT they aren’t doing these little exercises, so as basic as it may seem to a lot of people, at this age it’s new to them and they would have gained a lot of knowledge today.” Yesterday’s target group would be approaching maturity in 2024, the year TT Olympic Committee president Brian Lewis has set in the drive he champions for TT to achieve ten Olympic medals.

Asked for comment, Thompson explained why he was in support of it.

“I think it’s a realistic goal, as long as we start putting that in their minds from now. Brian Lewis I think has a great campaign there, and even if it is that we don’t win ten gold medals in 2024. My dad always told me when I was younger, you aim for the stars and the clouds; worstcase scenario, you end up on the rooftop, so you’re still higher than ground level.

Even if we end up with five gold medals in 2024, it would be a step up from where we are right now.” Thompson plans to visit a couple of schools in the coming week, hoping to reach out and inspire other talented youngsters; one of them, he said, will be the former El Dorado Secondary which played a significant role in the development of the likes of Darrel Brown, Marc Burns and Dion Rodriguez, among others.