By Dean Greenaway
When 50m Free Swimmer Elinah Phillip and 400m Hurdler Kyron McMaster walk into the Tokyo Olympic Games stadium as flag bearers on Friday, they will make history as the territory’s first Youth Olympic Games participants making it to the Olympic Games.
Seven years ago, McMaster participated in the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China. Phillip was there to see her sister Amarah swim. She went on to compete in the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in 2018, after debuting in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
Now, both will simultaneously walk into the Tokyo Olympic Games Stadium on Friday—Phillip as a 2-times Olympian at the tender age of 21—McMaster as an Olympic Games debutant.
“I think it’s incredible to reflect on, really,” Philip told Island Sun Sports before departing for Tokyo. “I don’t think very often you get an opportunity to reflect on something like that so I think it’s incredible, because it might seem like the paths have been similar but they haven’t and both of us definitely overcame a lot between 2014-2018 and then now. We’ve both done a lot and to get to this point, it is something that we should definitely be proud of.”
Phillip added: “It takes a lot of growth and determination and recognition for how difficult it is to be an athlete and the mental and physical strength it takes to persevere,”
McMaster did not respond to a July 11 request to provide reflections for this article as he promised he would.
Already with an Olympic Games experience under her belt, Phillip who at 16 became the territory’s youngest Olympian since the territory debuted in Los Angeles in 1984, said competing in Rio 2016 has definitely prepared her for Tokyo.
“One thing I’m grateful for is my background going to different international competitions, so I’m used to the caliber of athletes that are going to be there,” she pointed out. “But, it definitely doesn’t take away the nerves, because it’s going to be the Olympics at the end of the day.”
The idea of an Olympic dream began at 12, while watching the 2012 London Olympic Games when she saw the swimming. Phillip, whose father Elsworth taught her to swim at Long Bay Beach, Beef Island, remembers turning to her uncle Ozzie Bradsha: “I’m going to be there in 2016 and I’m going to swim.”
“He said okay and I remember seeing him just before I left for the Olympics and he told me how proud he was, that I actually made it happen for myself,” she fondly reflected.
When asked about her 2016 Olympic Games debut and being in surroundings where it’s not just her sport but a multiple of sports in the same place and seeing people she saw on television and read about, Phillip said being in such an environment with athletes you idolize, is definitely a surreal feeling.
“I remember seeing Venus and Serena (Williams) in the dining hall in 2016 in Rio and I just thought to myself, they’re really here like that—that’s them,” she noted. “It feels great because you know everybody there, including you, have worked very, very hard for their spot to be there.”
The two times Olympian said she’s looking forward to having fun in Tokyo—something she forgot to do in past competitions when she gets nervous. She said she’s looking forward to that and really enjoying herself, especially when she swims.
“That’s something I’ve noticed over the past few months, I swim my fastest when I’m having fun and I’m happy,” she noted. “I’m most relaxed and when you look back, you realize it wasn’t too bad actually.”
While she’s preparing to face the starters gun in the 50m Free on July 30, the Florida International Student who did a six weeks course at her school, is also taking a six weeks summer course in dentistry at Columbia University, that ends the same day she competes.
“I’m making everything work. Luckily my coaches and everyone at the summer program are working with me, to make things easier to manage,” she said. “There’s a lot happening in the background, but I’m in a position where my coaches have been working with me—whether it means I swim at slightly different times and the people at FIU academics and also at Columbia are working with me, especially in traveling when it comes to the time difference (Japan is 13 hrs ahead of Eastern time), they’re very, very supportive which makes me happy.”
Phillip said it makes things easier to manage and with their support. “They do things like recording lectures so I can watch it at a reasonable time while I’m in Tokyo, and instead of staying late or waking up early to watch it at the same time it’s happening, it makes it easier for me to manage and helps with my competition overall.”