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posted 14 Aug 2012, 10:19 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 14 Aug 2012, 10:21 ]
I am sitting at my laptop which a lady friend refuses to acknowledge as a laptop because she says only a lady wrestler's lap could be so large. She can be 'rude' that way. It is a day of mixed emotions for me. 

As Comrade 'Man Man' always says, a Trini finds a way to do something in a different manner. After waiting thirty six years Trinidad and Tobago sends a virtual schoolboy to restore Olympic glory in an event in which we have no international standing. 
In his first major international outing he shocks seasoned veterans from Europe, a region that has ruled the event in the way that USA and Jamaica have ruled sprinting. Try to imagine the Jamaican bobsled team of the 90's winning the downhill skiing championship with their first run. 

But that is not the story I want to tell. I am thinking of my good comrade, Ismael López Mastrapa, who came to Trinidad with the original coaching brigade around 2006. It is only tonight (August 12th) that the local media is acknowledging his contribution, facilitated by the wisdom and foresight of John 'Slim' Andalcio, coach, teacher and club president extraordinaire. 

I say mixed emotions because the political pimps, jackals and hyenas are circling to feast on Toco prey and offer poisoned chalices to those who have thirsted for recognition and dignity for so long. 

As Compañero López’s national leader, Fidel Castro Ruz, said of the Coard gang, "hyenas, invoking the purest principles of Marxism-Leninism, emerged from the ranks." I fled from in front the TV when members of the ruling party invoked the purest principles of nationalism, patriotism, love and concern for the youth and gratitude for God's gift to the nation on its 50th anniversary. I do a fair amount of sit ups, but nobody's stomach is that strong. 
I would not be surprised if these hustlers declare the javelin a national instrument and add it as a subject to the SEA even though one of their own has proscribed co-curricular activity. I imagine Mr. Tim would have us throw javelin in the classroom. 

I am going to congratulate Compañero Ismael on his contribution and ask him also to thank José Sánchez, Arnaldo, Armando and Jorge for their contribution to our track and field development.

I know that when they came to Trinidad/Tobago there was no plan for them. They explained to me that you do not go to a country and ask for three coaches, which is what the then Ministry did. You go with your programme and they would help you staff it accordingly. 
Thus it was our then administrators, hearing of the Cuban model, but not understanding the culture or context, end up with a sprints coach, a hurdles coach, a field coach, and A BASEBALL COACH, who suffered the most, on and off the field. 

One day I learnt that they had been in the country for three months, busy sitting in the Ministry on Abercromby Street doing nothing. At the time I was carrying a development programme in track and field for a state corporation. In shock and awe, in the positive sense, I took my 'farse' self and made myself known to them.

It was the beginning of my language course in Spanglish which goes like this: ¿cómo está usted this morning, senor?" My Spanish was so bad that they, who could barely speak a word, would ask me to speak English. I mention this in a context of a situation where a brigade of nine presently contracted coaches, have a translator assigned to them, before they are put in the field. 
Any language teacher will tell you that is not the way to go. I know the team of coaches with whom we worked communicated effectively with us in the field. Eventually my Spanglish morphed into more intelligible Spanish and I learned the universal words to help them function in Trinidad. Root words like "cerveza/beer"; "comida/food"; ''compañero/pardner"; ''jodido/Oh sh..” can take you a long way. 
They worked under terrible conditions on and off the field. They would be given "maxi fare" and sent to schools in the South. These coaches were now learning the language! Together with a group of dedicated junior and senior coaches, we took the responsibility to rectify that situation, without the help of the then administration in the Ministry or NAAA’s. We helped to arrange carried out training sessions in UWI and St. Stephen's College in Princes Town. 
The best organised programme they worked on was the NGC-owned Right on Track. I recall a training programme at UWI organised by the then administration which was attended by none of their officials but fully supported by clubs in the area. 
We raked the long jump pit with javelins. When it was over the athletes, parents, coaches all asked,"What next?” a question we could not answer because essentially we were a team who recognised the valuable contributions these Cubans could make, but we were without the power or resources at our disposal. We came to realise soon enough that the key officials wanted the Cubans to work for their clubs and not for Trinidad and Tobago. 
I attended more than one meeting where the Cubans were ready, the Ministry of Sport, humping along as it was, was ready, but the technical officials from the NAAA’s never showed. More than once the Cubans would come to me and indicate that officials from the then administration would ask them to enter into private arrangements. I advised them to decline since they were contracted to the Ministry. 

It got so bad that I used to beg them to go back to Cuba because off the field, they had also to deal with rapacious landlords, face our high cost of living and some uncaring, insensitive officials in an alien culture. Being who they are/were they continued and soon began to show results. There is a female discus thrower, who, with Ismael’s help, broke a 14 year old CAC. That came about during the 'javelin as a rake sessions". 
When they were placed in primary schools, as physical education teachers, (yes you read right) they lifted the Caroni Educational District to fourth in the National Primary School Games. Believe you me that is close to what Keshorn Walcott did. Ask any primary school teacher and he or she would tell you that was like a J’Ouvert band winning Band of the Year at that time. 

When I was asked to co-ordinate the 2009 "Sport for All" programme for youngsters in the holidays, I immediately contacted Ismael to conduct a training seminar and to write a programme for the team of coaches - which he did. At that point, if memory serves me correctly, it was the first seminar workshop he had done in the country, after having been here over three years. 
They would ask for simple things."Why do you not set up a sports school in your country? Why don't you set up a national programme? Could your government arrange for some of your students to visit Cuba? Why are you not developing all this talent we see here? Can't you talk to the national association about a full programme?” They once explained that in Cuba, because of the blockade, they could only afford to give out medals at higher end meets. They were surprised to see so many medals given out at small meets. 
Off the field they would lime, drink beer and do as the Trinis do. I remember being told by a local coach, that he once heard Arnaldo giving directions to someone on High Street in San Fernando. But the present team is "learning English" before they go out in the field. 
One of our brightest young hopes is Jehue Gordon, finalist in the 400m hurdles in London. Much of his development comes out of the work done by José Sánchez. I was privileged to see José at work with Jehue. I remember the BBC commentary on Jehue's first World Championships. It was after the race we found out 1st and 2nd because the announcer was caught up wondering if this junior was going to edge into 3rd place following a Nigerian. 

Slim Andalcio and Rae Samuel
Unfortunately the coach has had to return to his "país", where he is now with the national junior team. I remember at one time Jehue had to attend an important meet abroad and a local coach who could barely walk at the time was sent instead of José. 
My concern is that everything remains in place for a repeat of the history I have just described. Ismael has made Olympic history thanks to the wisdom and foresight of "Slim" Andalcio. There are nine Cuban coaches presently contracted to the Ministry: three are for track and field. There are two others who are married and living in Trinidad. Okay, okay, our local sisters "wuk" a Baptiste-Cornelis on them and they cannot leave. If you talk to them, in English, in Spanish, you realise serious, competent, committed coaches are sent here. 
They have excellent relationships with most of the local coaches. Those opposed to them have hidden agendas. Ismael has shown the way...what follows? 

 (Editors note: This series will continue with "Coaching Education and Development")