WE CONGRATULATE Nicholas Paul on making history by winning a silver medal at the World Cycling Championship on Friday, becoming the first Trinidadian to step onto a podium in decades.
Not only did the rider win a medal in the men’s 1km time trial, he also reached the keirin final – where he narrowly missed bronze – as well as the sprint quarter-finals.
Mr. Paul, 23, has consistently performed exceptionally during his fledgling career and is the world sprint record holder. These recent competitive placements underscore his status among the best talents in world cycling.
While last week’s medal was a proud moment for the nation, Mr. Paul’s performance is also a reminder of the vast potential of this country and, by implication, the relatively poor job that has been done to nurture and sustain talent. .
Mr. Paul’s medal ended two droughts.
The first was about our disappointing performance at the Olympics earlier this year; the second concerns our cycling performance over the years.
It is already well known that the last world championship medal this country won was in 1991, when Gene Samuel won bronze in the same time trial in Stuttgart, Germany. It was 30 years ago. Why did it take so long? It is worth considering Mr. Samuel’s point of view.
“We are fortunate in the Caribbean to have natural talent,” he said. “We just don’t have the support of the government. Such an assessment is likely to elicit the usual reactions.
Government officials will issue a flurry of press releases highlighting the state’s support for athletes in general, in the form of grants and occasional programs.
It will also be observed that important infrastructures have been built, at great expense, for cyclists, including the National Velodrome.
But others will question the rigor of the State’s commitment to the cause.
For example, Mr. Paul is currently based at the World Cycling Center of the International Cycling Union in Switzerland. He was guided by a foreign coach who wasn’t even included in TT’s Olympic delegation earlier this year (numbers were limited due to covid19 restrictions, officials said, but the coach nonetheless turned away. went to Tokyo to support his charge).
One could also argue that neglect is not new. After all, before Mr. Samuel got his medal in 1991, there was also a long drought. The previous medal was won in 1967.
What is clear is that the greatest athletes make what they do look effortless, when it is anything but.
At a time when so many people rush to take credit for themselves, it begs the question how the state and the private sector can better help cyclists like Mr. Paul achieve their goals.