Jamaican swimmers may need to stay home
— Wendy Lee
FOR Jamaican swimmers to achieve the kind of success the current crop of local track and field athletes have seen, they may need to take a similar leap of faith and give up the study opportunities in colleges overseas and stay home and prepare.
So says Tornadoes Swim Club and Hillel Academy swim coach Wendy Lee.
In the last decade and a half, Jamaican track and field athletics has leap-frogged its predecessors after a select group of athletes decided to either return home after attending college in the United States or chose to stay home and go on to tertiary studies in Jamaica while training with home-grown coaches.
The success of members of the MVP Track and Field Club and Racers Track Club which have spawned the likes of Asafa Powell, Brigitte Foster-Hylton, Usain Bolt, and Yohan Blake has led Lee to draw a contrast and said a similar approach may be needed by the swimmers.
The collegiate system in the United States is designed to drain students during their four years of attendance with many of them suffering burn-out and not making it at the senior level once they graduate.
“When they go away on scholarships they are at the mercy of the coach’s 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 told the Jamaica Observer on Sunday.
The Hunter College Sociology graduate added: “They’re better nurtured when they’re home.”
To date three Jamaican swimmers have made it to Olympic Games finals — Andrew Phillips in 1984, Janelle Atkinson (no relation) in 2000 and 2004, and Alia Atkinson in 2012.
Janelle and Alia have come closest to medalling, finishing fourth in the women’s 400m freestyle in 2000, and yesterday in London.
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, Christopher Anderson, who is now with her at the 2012 London Olympics.
The swimmer also swam with a club for the last year after taking time off from school at Texas A&M University.
Atkinson finished fourth in the women’s 100m breaststroke final yesterday in a time of 1min 06.93 seconds.
Lee argued that while it is the coach’s job to earn the best results for their schools, it is not necessarily beneficial to a Jamaican.
“The opportunity to go away and study I don’t see how that is an easy thing to turn down,” she conceded, adding that most local coaches lose their swimmers at 16.
Lee was quick to admit, however, that despite hypothesis, the funding and support necessary to undertake such a venture is not 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. We’ve never been offered the support. Everything that swimming does in Jamaica right now is helped by the people within swimming. We have very little corporate support.
“The finances that we need to get it done are not necessarily here, but unless we take that leap of faith and say we’re going to do it our way we will never know,” she concluded.