After a colorful track career that spanned some 20 years and which included winning one Carifta championship, five NAIA championships, five NCAA championships, two World Athletic Championships medals (gold and bronze), the ultimate dream of every track athlete: two Olympic Games medals (silver and gold) and multiple injuries, Bahamian Golden Girl Savatheda Fynes has decided to quit running.
Born in Abaco, one of 700 islands that make up the Bahamas, Savatheda was considered the island girl (country girl in Bahamian culture) of the renowned Golden Girls team that streaked to victory in the sprint relay at the Olympics in Sydney, Australia eight years ago.
Her early beginning saw her running on sports day and in inter-island sports and inter-high school competition. She has represented the Bahamas at the junior level where she competed at the Carifta Games, the Junior Pan-Am Games and at all senior games and championships.
And even though on her way to the top of the podium she hadn’t experienced the problem stories told by many athletes who have come to the US on scholarship, she has had her share of injuries that have stood as a major stumbling block to even greater success.
In 1996, a hamstring injury kept her out of the 100m at the Olympics in Atlanta. Then, in 1999, a year before the Olympics, she didn’t progress beyond the semi-finals at the World Championships due to an injured hip flexor.
Prior to the 2000 Olympic trials, she was involved in a minor car accident that limited her training. She pointed out, though, that she was always well conditioned, so it was not hard for her to get back into full preparation mode.
“I did a lot of treatment,” said the lead-off runner for her sprint relay team. “At first I had to go to a chiropractor every day for about two weeks. Then I went to Europe to compete on the circuit. I had to have a muscle stimulator on my back at nights in order to help it along. I did that for about three weeks, then gradually my back healed.”
Approximately a year later, Fynes missed the 2001 World Championships due to injury. Two years later, she began competing at the 2003 World Championships but could not finish because hamstring problems developed. “I was upset. I could not believe that a chance to medal had passed me by again.”
And there was more injury to come; a chronic hamstring problem struck again and ruled her out of the 2006 and 2007 seasons. That injury is the main reason behind her retirement from the sport. “I tried laser and occupational treatment over the last few months and they still did not heal the injury,” she told
To get a clear picture of the prowess of Savatheda Fynes, a force in sprinting at one point, let’s backtrack to her early beginnings and trace her strides to the top.
As a young girl, she showed tremendous sprinting talent before moving to Nassau.
She began running track as a junior in high school. Prior to that, in primary school, she would race against older girls and at one stage was even beating the times boys did. Like several Caribbean track stars before and after her, Fynes represented her country at the Carifta Games where she excelled, winning silver in the 100m three years in a row: from 1991-93, in 11.64, 11.52, 11.71 secs., respectively. In 1992, she also won the 200m in 23.49 secs. and in 1993 took bronze in 23.81secs.
In 1991 she made a breakthrough onto the international scene, winning a bronze medal at the Junior Pan Am Games. She returned to the 1993 Games to capture silver medals for the 100m and 200m.
Coming out of high school, Savatheda was not a highly recruited athlete to any US college. However, in 1994, she earned an athletic scholarship to Southern University
at New Orleans, Louisiana or SUNO, as a result of the relentless effort of her high school coach, Natasha Huyler. In the US, she transferred colleges twice because she moved with her coach who had changed jobs. Fortunately for her, Savatheda was on scholarship wherever she went.
“I was on a full scholarship: books, tuition and room-and-board were paid for,” she pointed out. “I did not have to pay for anything; I only had to train and study. I had to go to practice and classes, and keep up my grades.”
At SUNO it did not take her long to begin her dominance of the NAIA division. In 1994, she won the indoor 55m and 200m and the outdoor 100m and 200m, all in record times. In 1995, she transferred to Eastern Michigan University where she won NCAA 55m and the 200m outdoor events.
In 1996, Savatheda transferred again, this time to the Michigan State University, a move that required her to sit out that year due the transfer rule. She took full advantage of the year off by preparing for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics Games. Her training progressed well until she was struck with a hamstring injury at the defunct Mutual Life Games in Jamaica.
For Savatheda Fynes, high school is a big
She wants to help young people get into college.
In identifying the highlight of her running career in college, Fynes, who majored in kinesiology (the study of muscles and their movement, especially for physical conditioning), pointed to her second place in the 100m at the 1995 NCAA Championships where she clocked 11.10 secs. That, she said, motivated her a lot.
She went on to win silver in the 4x100m relay at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, and the following year won bronze in the 100m at the 1997 World Championships. She is the first Bahamian to win a medal in that event. That same year she won the indoor 55m and was third in 200m for Michigan State University. She was also
the NCAA Division I Women's Outdoor Championfor the 100m and 200m
clocking11.04 and 22.61 secs., respectively.
In 1999, Savatheda made history again by becoming the first Bahamian to win the IAAF Grand Prix 200m final, which she did in 22.55secs.
The following year, she placed 7th in the 100m at the 2000 Olympics but later helped Bahamas to gold in the 4x100m relay. One commentator called Savatheda the silent assassin as she blasted out of the blocks and gave her team a commanding lead that no-one caught. She, as well as her teammates, returned home to a heroes welcome.
As a coach at this juncture, Savatheda sees beyond the conditioning of her young charges. Having done volunteer work at Columbia High School in New Jersey, high school is a big prospect for her because she wants to help young people get into college. She therefore does not coach professionals.
To athletes thinking of going pro, she would say: “going pro is always good, but don’t forget your education; it comes first. After track is over, you still need education to get a job…I finished college and I’ve had much success as a professional athlete.”
In advising young athletes who’ve been injured, the former Olympian would educate them toward making the right choice. “I would tell the person to seek treatment and that there are many different options.”
In the not-too-distant future, Savatheda, 34, could be coaching and advising her own son, Paston Jr., should he decide to run track like both his parents. Would his mother like to see him take up the sport? “It will be up to him to decide what he wants to do,” she said. Whether he decides to follow in his father’s or my footsteps, “I will support him no matter what he decides.”
Also a member of the Bahamas 4x100m relay team that won gold at the 1999 World Championships, Savatheda says that being able to compete at the highest level in the world, whether in an individual event or as part of a relay team, is a huge success for her.
However, until she struck gold she did not realize that so many people supported the athletes or were even interested in what they did on the track. The welcome-home reception was big. The team returned to a six-day fanfare of festivities in their honor, from receptions and parades to promises of monetary awards and land grants. “It’s good to be home," Savatheda told a reporter when she returned to the Bahamas as one of the fastest women in the world.
Even though fans who keep abreast of the Olympics and World Championships may remember her more as a relay runner, Savatheda, whose bullet start ranks her as one of the world’s quickest out of the blocks, has been successful in the individual sprints, both in the US and on the European circuit. In college she ran the 100m and 200m in addition to a few 4x4s. “I think beside Marion [Jones] I was the only person at the time who ran sub-11s consistently.”
“I got out of track what I was supposed to get."
In 1999, she ran personal records of 10.91 secs. for the 100m and 22.32 for the 200m. Indoors, her best times stand at 6.05 secs. for the 50m dash and 7.01secs. for 60m.
Positioned as the fourth fastest woman indoors with 6.07 secs. over 50m and one of the fifth fastest over 60m with 7.01 secs. in 1999, Savatheda improved her ranking in 2000, when she topped the list of indoor senior women with 6.05secs. for 50m and 7.01 secs. for 60m.
And when her mention of Jones eventually turned the focus briefly to the hot topic of drugs in the sport, Savatheda literally played down the issue in response to whether she felt robbed by the success of athletes who took performance enhancement drugs. “I don’t look at it that way,” she answered. “I got out of track what I was supposed to get. My destiny is my destiny.”
The woman of quiet demeanor will be remembered as the greatest starter in Bahamian female sprinting history. Despite the several injuries that she has experienced, she still wanted to continue racing, especially to help the sprint relay team win another medal. However, her physical ailments never allowed her to return fully to the form she wanted.
Earlier this year, Savatheda Fynes finally decided to hang up her spikes, close the curtain on a colorful and fulfilling sprinting career and focus on family. On Sept. 20, 2008, she walked down the aisle to Paston Coke, a Jamaican who ran the 400m and mile relay for the College of Art Science & Technology (CAST) now UTech (University of Technology) in Kingston, represented his country in both events, and ran the 400m for New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) in Long Island.
Even though Savatheda has tasted sweet success at the two highest levels of track competition and has experienced all the bells & whistles that go with such glory, she was firm in stating that winning has not changed her. “I’m still the same person…still following my life’s path.”