The 2012 track and field season was highly successful for Caribbean athletes, who not only excelled at the junior level but also dominated the European circuit, and marched into London with a purpose, even conquering unfamiliar territory.
Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica repeated victories at the Olympic Games, Jamaica’s sprint relay team with a new member put the world record further away, Grenada’s Kirani James became the Olympic 400m champion to add to his World title, and the Bahamas mile relay squad finally trounced the Americans after nipping at their heels for years. These are just four of the memorable achievements that grabbed global attention last year. So it stands to reason that only some names spring to mind as 2012 came to a close and the yearly significant awards were being dished out by several organizations.
With much kudos to Bolt, Fraser-Pryce and others of their ilk, and without mitigating their phenomenal achievements, we have chosen to highlight others who have stomped their mark on the sport during the year, in some cases signaling that they have become forces to be reckoned with.
Our picks for the three male athletes we believe deserve recognition for their outstanding performances in 2012 are:
Sanchez: Inspiration of The Year
That which first impressed us about this 400m hurdles specialist is his commitment to the Caribbean region. Born in New York City to Dominican parents, Sanchez was raised by his grandmother in San Diego, California, where he went to University City High School and San Diego Mesa College. He then went on to study psychology at the University of Southern California (USC) and competed for the Trojans there. He was a Pac-10 champion (400m hurdles) and All-American relay champion (1600m) in 1999.
Born in 1977, the full-blooded Dominican and proud Latino, who took up track in 1995, at an age rather late for most junior runners, always wanted to compete for the Dominican Republic (DR). However, as he noted, that country was not even on the map as far as track and field went. So there were no contact numbers or federation to call to help him realize his dream. Like a stroke of luck though, in 1999 a La Opinion reporter featured him when he broke a 23-yr-old record at a USC-UCLA track meet. It was that reporter who told his story to an influential Dominican sports personality, and the connection was made for him to compete for the DR at the Pan Am Games. That’s when his journey to success began.
Between 2001 and 2004, Sanchez won 43 races in a row before winning gold at the Athens Olympics. He remained at the top of his profession, until he sustained injuries and his form deteriorated. The defending Olympic champ then failed to make the 2008 Beijing Olympic final after hearing that his grandmother died. He was devastated by the loss.
Yet the highly determined and competitive Sanchez never gave up. As if with a vengeance, he came back at age 35 with renewed vigor, a plan and a promise to his grandmother – whose photo he carried behind his bib and name on his spikes – and stormed to victory in the 400m hurdles final in London.
While images of the crying gold medalist on the podium will long be remembered, his fortitude and Olympic victory should serve as major inspiration to those who may think they are not good enough to win or that their time has passed. His choice to run for the land of his roots, even though the financial gains may be nowhere near what he could have been raking in representing the US, is the epitome of national pride and patriotism.
Walcott: Surprise Performance of The Year
This young Trinidadian javelin thrower truly has climbed his way up the ranks. He was a three-time winner in the Under-20 javelin throw at the CARIFTA Games, a two-time North, Central American and Caribbean champion (2010, 2012), and the 2012 World Junior champion with records. In those competitions his rivals were no match for him; he would simply break his personal record and destroy his opponents.
His story is a true fairytale. At 15 years old, the tall lad realized his passion for sports, but he could not sprint nor jump, so had started hurling bamboo sticks on the beaches near his home before throwing a javelin for fun with his cousins on a school field. With no proper training facility in his small village of Toco, Walcott would travel to the capital Port of Spain where he could better hone his skills.
But even so, the odds were still against him; he was in a Caribbean island with no history in the event. Like his island neighbors, interests usually rest in other areas of track and field, cricket, football and netball. But with the conditioning by Cuban-born coach Ismael Mastrapa of the Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago, the young talent grew from strength to strength.
In 2012, Walcott flew to London with hardly a dream of winning. However, less than a month after winning the world junior title, Walcott defeated the champions from the European javelin strongholds to win Olympic gold with a throw of 84.58 meters, after taking the lead in the first round. His second round throw was enough to hold off Ukraine's Oleksandr Pyatnytsya’s third effort of 84.51 meters. The new Olympic champion became only the second non-European to take the crown in 100 years of the Games, the first being an American at the 1952 Helsinki Games. In addition, he became the nation’s first gold medalist since the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, when Hasely Crawford won the 100m title. It was a wow moment that makes him the biggest surprise of the Games.
Williams: Most Consistent Junior Sprinter of The Year
Born and raised on the island of Grand Turk, in the Turks and Caicos island chain, the young sprinter moved to Jamaica in 2008 to continue his secondary education, after Hurricane Ike destroyed his school. In Jamaica, he represented his high school, Munro College, and won the sprint double at the 2012 Jamaican high school track and field championships, becoming the first non-Jamaican to achieve this feat.
Running for the Turks and Caicos, he took the Carifta 200m gold medal in 2011 and 2012 and as a Munro representative won the event at several development meets in Jamaica. Until last season, Williams was a key member of his school’s sprint and mile relay squads, especially the latter in which he has anchored his team to impressive victories, notably the 2012 Penn Relays.
He subsequently represented Turks and Caicos at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Barcelona, Spain and won gold in the 200m.
Having achieved the Olympic ‘A’ qualifying standard for the event by clocking 20.53sec in Jamaica last February, and being unable to represent Turks and Caicos because they are not recognized by the International Olympic Committee, Williams began his push to compete for Great Britain at the London Olympics because Turks and Caicos are a British Overseas Territory. Having secured a British passport, he competed in the UK Olympic Trials and finished fifth. He was not selected for the team.
The young sprinting sensation who studied to the Sixth Form level at Munro is staying in Jamaica to train alongside Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake at the Racers Track Club in Kingston. His performance throughout last season makes him the most consistent junior male sprinter in 2012.
Next: The Female Athletes