With the recently concluded Summer Olympics Games in Rio, several countries including Saint Lucia are now gauging athletes performances and have started discussing ways in which they can improve in coming years.
While Saint Lucia did not manage to win any medal at the games, the island’s well-known high jumper Levern Spencer reached the furthest among the five Olympians that represented ‘Helen of the West.’
Spencer made history in becoming the first Saint Lucian ever to qualify into a final at the Olympic Games and finished sixth after soaring over the bar at 1.88 m and then at 1.93 m.
While acknowledging that Saint Lucia has produced a few good athletes like Spencer who competes on an international level, Minister within the Ministry of Sport Fortuna Belrose said more attention needs to be placed on improving Saint Lucia’s sport infrastructure.
“There are a number of changes that we have to make and I think we are on our way to making some of them,” Belrose, the current head of the Saint Lucia Olympic Committee and vice president of the regional body said.
The minister used track and field as an example where she believes more focus needs to be given.
“When you look particularly at track and field you have the main centre being utilized as a hospital in Vieux Fort away from the population centre. When you look at Saint Kitts and Grenada, their facilities are in the hub where the population is, so young people can go and run, train and do what they have to do.”
However, extra effort is needed here to get athletes to the the George Odlum Stadium which not only has a 400m all-weather Mondo track, but also houses two high jump areas, four triple jump and long jump runways, two pole vault runways, one discus throw circle, two shot put circles and two javelin throw runways.
The stadium is located 45 minutes away from Castries.
Belrose said, “It takes money and transportation to get the kids down to the stadium and to have that properly managed. I think the location of the stadium has always been an issue, because if we were a rich country, we would have been able to do the programmes and take people into the stadium to train.”
However, despite this, the former sport ministry permanent secretary said the base work has started.
“We have put in additional lighting, so people can have extended hours for recreation but we need to look at the possible relocation of the stadium and see if in fact we can do better.”
Another important aspect is helping to raise the profile of sport on Saint Lucia, creating enthusiasm among young people to pursue careers in every sport discipline.
Belrose said, “What we need to do is to find a way to bring it to a level so everybody can see and feel what it does for a nation. In terms of their health, well-being, popularity. Look at what music and sport has done for Jamaica.”
The minister said it will take sometime to get to the level where Jamaica and other Caribbean islands are at this point, explaining that it took many years to get sport on Saint Lucia to where it is today.
“I think the performance of persons like Levern Spencer and Darren Sammy sends the message that if you do what is right at the base, you get to realize the harvest that we are looking for,” she added.
Saint Lucia has participated in every Summer Olympic Games since 1996, but to date no athlete has ever won an Olympic medal.