BY Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
BVI athletes began facing the starter’s gun on Thursday night and will continue through Saturday night, in the first round of competition in their respective events of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Kyron McMaster was first to see action when he debuted in the 400m Hurdles on Thursday night. Elinah Phillip made her second Olympics splash early Friday morning in the 50m Free, while Chantel Malone will cut the sand at 10:50 p.m. on Saturday night in the Long Jump.
McMaster said the Olympics is another competition for him and his focus is on execution. “It’s a competition that holds more weight, but I can’t dwell on the weight and what the outcome is,” he said. “For me, this competition is solely about execution. Once I do it how I need to do it, I’m convinced that everything will work out in the end.”
After getting their first session on the track on Monday when the training facility opened, his Coach Lennox Graham, told Island Sun Sports that the main focusing was on McMaster’s mental readiness. Graham said that is so that McMaster knows coming in that they have put in the work they were able to put in and they’ve worked hard. Prior to the race, it was about getting rest, nutrition and getting ready for executing the first round of the 400m Hurdles.
“We’re not even focused on any other round—just getting through the first round,” he pointed out. “It’s all about survival and advance. Whatever the advancing requirements are—the rules of advancement—then that’s what we’re going to be focused on to try to get through to the next round automatically.”
Phillip, who was off from swimming for eight months, has made remarkable strides in the run up to becoming a 2-times Olympian—the seventh since the BVI debuted in 1984.
“When it comes to competing in the Olympics or at any level, I wouldn’t say it’s about the medals, that’s not really my sole aim,” Phillip, at 21, the youngest member of the team said. “I think if that was my only focus, that would have been an injustice, considering we don’t have any Olympic pools in the BVI. That just highlights how unpopular the sport is in the BVI at the moment. I think that if I was to just focus on myself only, with the aim of getting a medal for myself, it would be a little bit selfish.”
The Florida International student who’s taking a 6-weeks summer course in Dentistry with Columbia University which ends the day she hits the water, understands that while she’s the face of BVI Swimming, she’s creating a template for the future.
“One of the things I really want to do is make sure I inspire younger generations—especially black kids—because you don’t see a lot of black faces in swimming. I spent a lot of time in the UK growing up and it was definitely different when I realized that me and my sister (Amarah) were the only two black faces on the pool deck and it’s completely different to racing in the Caribbean,” noted Phillip, whose father Elsworth taught her and Amarah to swim on Long Bay Beach, Beef Island. “I think that’s definitely changing now, so if I could be a part of that—if maybe there are kids watching at home and see somebody that looks like them—maybe they think, I can do this too. Maybe I can keep going in the sport, that’s enough for me. For me, competing is a lot more than winning medals.”
After failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Malone described it as a “low moment for me” and she also viewed it as a turning point in her career.
“I think that’s where the shift began and I knew I needed to make a change within myself and put myself in a position to accomplish those goals,” she said, noting that with Covid affecting 2020, track and training were the only things she had control over and poured her everything into.
“I feel like I just messed around and got locked in,” said Malone, who has become a 7m jumper. “That’s why it was easy for me to come out swinging, once I opened my season.”
Her Coach Dwight Phillip—the 2004 Athens Olympic Games Long Jump champion and four times IAAF World Champion—guided Malone to the 2019 Pan Am gold. He said that he had to get her to see how great she could be and believe in herself, which has been a process. He described Monday’s training session as ‘phenomenal.’
“She’s running fast, very springy right now, this is as good as she’s looked all year, and her best approach session,” he said. “I think this is happening at the right time, at the right place.”