Trinidad and To­ba­go Cy­cling Fed­er­a­tion tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Erin Hartwell is stand­ing by his team in the face of a cur­rent dop­ing con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing their par­tic­i­pa­tion in last year’s Pan Amer­i­can Game in Li­ma, Pe­ru.

Team T&T, who in­clud­ed Njisane Philip, Nicholas Paul and Ker­ron Bram­ble, was last week stripped of two medals won in the team and in­di­vid­ual sprint events by Pan Am Sports, the gov­ern­ing body for the event, fol­low­ing an al­leged dop­ing vi­o­la­tion dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion in Au­gust. The mat­ter is cur­rent­ly un­der ar­bi­tra­tion af­ter the team lodged an of­fi­cial protest.

But speak­ing at the Trinidad and To­ba­go Olympic Com­mit­tee’s an­nu­al sports awards cer­e­mo­ny at the Hy­att Re­gency, Port-of-Spain, on Sun­day, where Nicholas Paul and he him­self col­lect­ed awards for their 2019 per­for­mances, Hartwell dis­tanced his team from any per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs.

“Well if it is one thing we all know, it is that there is no per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs in­volved in any of this,” Hartwell told Guardian Me­dia when pressed on the is­sue.

“So if it is one thing I am con­fi­dent of with this team, it is a clean hon­est team and that is go­ing to come out in the near fu­ture to cor­rob­o­rate that, so I am not wor­ried about that. Yes, it is a bump in the road but I think all the guys un­der­stand we have a lot of work ahead of us and we have put a lot of work be­hind us and the Olympics are the ul­ti­mate goal, so we are just stay­ing fo­cused on the task at hand and re­al­ly gear­ing up for that World Cup in less than a month’s time.”

He al­so said he did not think the is­sue, head­ing in­to an Olympic year, would put any more stress on his charges, not­ing they had put in the work.

“There is def­i­nite­ly no pres­sure on cy­cling. We are where we are be­cause of the hard work we have put in over the last two and a half years, so while I am sur­prised and im­pressed with the lev­el of ac­com­plish­ments re­ceived tonight from the TTOC for cy­cling …it is not a sur­prise in the fact that these guys have worked that hard to get to this point. They are just great all-around peo­ple, great ath­letes and it is a priv­i­lege to be here work­ing with them and to re­ceive these awards tonight.”

As to the train­ing ahead for the team, Hartwell re­vealed, “We took Christ­mas Day off, we came back from the World Cup se­ries and we plan to train right through be­cause we have the World Cup in Cana­da at the end of Jan­u­ary then the World Cham­pi­onships af­ter that so there is no rest in this case and we have to keep on.”

In terms of the team sprint qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the Tokyo Olympics, Hartwell it would be a chal­lenge.

“Math­e­mat­i­cal­ly, we’re still there so we are go­ing to keep go­ing,” Hartwell said.

“It is hard on every­body, we saw a lot of des­per­ate ath­letes and teams at these last World Cups, so at least on the in­di­vid­ual side we are rock sol­id, math­e­mat­i­cal­ly it is im­pos­si­ble for Nicholas not to get in the sprint and in the Keirin we are in a very sim­i­lar po­si­tion, we are pret­ty much guar­an­teed at least two rid­ers, but ob­vi­ous­ly we are work­ing on team sprint, it is our pri­or­i­ty and pre­mier event, and so it re­al­ly is go­ing to take the next two events, so if we can get to medal rounds at next world cup and top five, top six at the World Cham­pi­onships and hope the way with oth­er teams work in our favour.”

A philo­soph­i­cal Hartwell said he con­tin­ues to be­lieve in his cy­clists and the peo­ple of Trinidad and To­ba­go.

“This is a beau­ti­ful coun­try and a lot of it comes from the way that life is just lived here. So you have your ups and you have your downs, but at the end of the day, Trinidad and To­ba­go will sur­vive and thrive and I am a big be­liev­er in that.

“I mar­ried in­to this place a long time ago and love it to this day and it has been good to this stage and yes we have bumps in the road and some of them hit pret­ty hard but I have got a lot of faith in what we are do­ing and the sup­port we are get­ting from the TTOC, Sports Com­pa­ny and the Min­istry of Sport to keep us on the right path, so I am go­ing to keep my head up.”

Mean­while, Paul, who was named the TTOC’s Sports­man of the Year and Peo­ple’s Choice on Sun­day, told Guardian Me­dia his faith and fam­i­ly were im­por­tant to him.

“First­ly I like to thank god for all the ac­com­plish­ments I have been get­ting and it is just awe­some…I nev­er re­al­ly put pres­sure on my­self, I just go out there and do my best, what­ev­er I come home with, hope­ful­ly it is a medal, I am grate­ful.”

The 21-year-old Paul, the on­ly cy­clist to keep his Pan Am medal and the world record hold­er in the match sprint event, had a strong mes­sage for all ath­letes.

“I tell any­one out there, just work hard for any­thing you do and it will come through … Just work hard and be­lieve in your­self and your dreams will come through,” Paul, who kept his in­di­vid­ual Pan Am gold medal from Li­ma, said.