Today marks the official start of the XV Pan American Games in the beautiful Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. St Vincent and the Grenadines will once more join the Olympic family of the Americas at what continues to be a most challenging event in the South American heartland.
The Pan American Games are the continental version of the Olympic Games. The Games include the sports that are included on the Summer Olympic Programme and others that are not part of the Olympics.
Sport historians tell us that: The origin of the Pan American Games dates back to 1932, in the Los Angeles Olympic Games. Inspired by the holding of the first Central American Games six years earlier, the Latin American representatives of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) proposed the creation of a competition that would include all the countries in the Americas, for the purpose of strengthening sport activities in the region. The idea resulted in the first Pan American Sports Congress, held in Buenos Aires in 1940. In principle the Congress determined that the inaugural games would be held in 1942 in the Argentine capital - plans that were postponed due to World War II. At the end of the conflict, a second Pan American Sports Congress in London during the 1948 Olympic Games, confirmed Buenos Aires as the host for the first Pan American Games, finally scheduled for 1951.Competitions started on February 25th and included 2,513 athletes from 21 countries, with 18 sports.
The Pan American Games are held every four years, always one year before the Olympic Games.
The Games have grown in stature and participation has consistently increased with more countries bidding to host them. A brief chronology reads:
This year´s edition of the Games, 13th to 29th July, expects some 5,500 athletes from all 42 NOCs of the Americas participating in 33 sports
SVG at the Games
St Vincent and the Grenadines participated in the Pan American Games for the first time in Chicago in 1959.
World ranked, home-based weightlifter, Maurice King, was selected on the then West Indies Olympic team to the Games. This was during the period of the West Indies Federation and the International Olympic Committee, IOC, had recognised a West Indies Olympic Committee just as the political world had recognised the West Indies Federation.
King performed well and returned to his homeland the proud winner of a bronze medal at the Games. Thus he remains the first Vincentian athlete ever to have participated in the Pan American Games and the first to win a medal at these Games.
St Vincent and the Grenadines as an independent nation gained affiliate status with the IOC in early 1987. This recognition came too close to the registration process for participation at the Pan American Games of that year in Indianapolis, USA.
The St Vincent and the Grenadines National Olympic Committee first participated in the Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba, in 1991. The Games took place during the period, 2nd to 18th August 1991. The team comprised: Michael Ollivierre, athletics
coach, Terrence Marksman, table tennis coach, Eswort Coombs, Dexter Browne, Eversley Linley, Kent Dennie, Bigna Samuel and Yvette Haynes (track athletes), Sharon Bailey, Sean Stanley, Joseph Carrington and Truman Quashie (table tennis).
The team performed rather disappointingly. No one got by the first round of any event. No table tennis athlete got past ten points in any game.
Happily though, the records will show that the 4 x 100m relay team placed a credible fourth, if only because the USA and Jamaica collided at the final changeover and dropped their respective batons. The team was unfortunate not to have defeated the USVI for the third place and the bronze medal.
When the national team participated in the 12th Pan Am Games in Mar del Plata, March, 1995, it was a different matter.
The first piece of history was the fact that the team was larger, comprising participants from cycling, track and field, taekwondo, karate, boxing and table tennis. Indeed to date that team remains the largest contingent ever sent to the Pan American Games
The most significant historical achievement for St Vincent and the Grenadines at these Games came through the outstanding performance of a young Vincentian athlete from Chateaubelair who had only recently commenced studies at Essex Community College, New Jersey, USA.
Coombs had served notice one a few months earlier when participating at the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, British Colombia, Canada, in 1994, he achieved personal bests and made it to the final of the 400m.
In Mar del Plata, fresh from competing at the World Indoor Championships in Athletics in Barcelona, Spain, where he became the first Vincentian athlete to get beyond the first round of competition at that level, Coombs shocked the Vincentian athletics world by finishing third in the 400m.
After a lapse of 36-years, a Vincentian athlete mounted the podium at the Pan Am Games, the official multisport Championships of the Americas.
Coombs’ time was 45.64, impressive enough to place him ahead of Trinidad and Tobago’s Ian Morris, almost as if replacing the latter as the English-speaking Caribbean´s star 400m runner.
Of course St Vincent and the Grenadines participated in every edition of the Pan American Games since then, albeit with no real success.
This year the Games are in Rio de Janeiro and the Vincentian team is seriously depleted by the absence of all other sporting disciplines besides track and field athletics.
The Pan American Sports Organisation, PASO, stipulated that athletes had to meet established qualifying standards in order to make it to the Games. Unfortunately for St Vincent and the Grenadines, only athletics met the requirements and therefore the team is made up of representatives from Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The official team comprises: Kineke Alexander, Pamenos Ballantyne, Charmant Ollivierre, Raffique Providence, Adonson Shallow and Courtny Bascombe. Natasha Mayers and Casnel Bushay were originally selected but had to withdraw as a result of injuries sustained in recent competition.
Alexander, fresh from her bronze medal performance at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena, Colombia in 2006, may want to show that she continues to improve and is the best medal hope on the team.
Ballantyne believes that he continues to return to good form and therefore remains one of the best prospects on the team.
One can only hope that the team would give good account of itself at the Games and that the performances would serve as a major source of encouragement for all athletes in St Vincent and the Grenadines for the future, especially with Beijing just around the corner.