Dunked by lack of support
Disillusioned Hamilton turned back on Olympics
SWIMMING is an ultra-expensive sport that brings little by way of financial reward for the average Jamaican.
Additionally, the lack of support from corporate Jamaica sees many parents bearing the burden of an expensive price tag that comes with trying to make it to the highest level of the sport — the Olympic Games.
Three Jamaican swimmers have made it to finals of the Olympics — Andrew Phillips in 1984, Janelle Atkinson, in 2000 and 2004, and Alia Atkinson (no relation) in 2012.
Janelle and Alia came closest to medalling, finishing fourth in the Women's 400m freestyle in 2000 and the 100m breaststroke in London respectively.
In March, one of Jamaica's most successful and promising swimmers, Brad Hamilton, decided to hang up his goggles despite qualifying for the 100m butterfly at the London Olympics.
His parents, Ransford and Terry Hamilton, told the Jamaica Observer their son's sport of choice was one which brought more intrinsic than extrinsic reward.
"It's just the joy of doing it and representing your country. Honestly, that's all it is," said Terry, adding that financial success requires being among the best in the world in the vein of the USA's Michael Phelps, who has 22 Olympic medals to his name.
"For us as parents to be footing all of that bill and then in the long run it can't be really a career choice cause your not a Phelps... you'd have to really be a phenomenal swimmer like Phelps to get contracts. You do get appearance money, but it's not anything compared to track and field," she explained.
In a recent interview with the Observer, Tornados Swim Club and Hillel Academy coach Wendy Lee said Jamaican swimmers may need to take a leap of faith and relinquish study opportunities at colleges overseas and train at home to achieve the level of success the current crop of local track and field athletes have seen.
The collegiate system in the United States comes with its advantages and disadvantages. It often drains swimmers during their four-year tenure, with many suffering burnouts and not making it at the senior level upon graduation.
"When they go away on scholarships they are at the mercy of the coaches' desire for the benefit of the team. Collegiate swimming coaches are not looking for the long-term benefits of the students; they are looking for the immediate benefit to the team that they are coaching," Lee said. "They're better nurtured at home."
The choice to go overseas was one Hamilton made, having travelled to the University of North Carolina. Ransford said his son may have suffered from the wear and tear of competition.
"That was a part of it... him getting lost in the system, but also he had a couple of injuries that set him back. One of the challenges is the competition that you have locally.
"Part of what encouraged us to send him away was that he was better than everybody else here, so he was racing just enough to beat everybody. He wasn't really being challenged and we had to be sending him up to get competition from meets and it was getting very expensive," he explained.
Terry proposes getting funding to help local swimmers travel to international meets to get the requisite level of competition for improvement.
"In swimming... we have to foot all the bills, so it's very hard on us, which is one of the reasons we sent him away," she added.
Lee, in the meantime, explained that Alia is a special case of a swimmer who despite living overseas, had a lot of parental support, in addition to a personal coach.
She also swam with a club for the past year after taking time off from studies at Texas A&M University.
The bill to take Atkinson to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is estimated at around J$19 million, which, Lee admits, is not necessarily forthcoming.
"It's a great theory that they should stay home, but unless the funding is there, it's not going to go anywhere either. Everything that swimming does in Jamaica right now is helped by the people within swimming. We have very little corporate support."
The Hamiltons concurred with the need for a personal coach, nutrition, physiotherapy and massage therapist for the day-to-day business, in addition to airfare, hotel and food at competition time.
"The big challenge is really the competition and for them to excel they have to be with champions. They have to train with people better than them to develop. Until we get that cadre of swimmers locally that will challenge and bring the best out of each other (it will be hard)," said the elder Hamilton.
He added: "Now is a good time to really start looking on if there is some development to really lift up and to help people staying here."
Terry, in the meantime, said her 21-year-old has the support of his parents, no matter his decision.
"We are there for him. He knows that whatever he wants to do we are with him. We are going to encourage him," she said.