Jamaica Olympic Association (JOA) Chief Executive Officer Ryan Foster says this year’s Pan American (Pan Am) Games will be taken very seriously by the nation’s athletes because it serves as an automatic qualifier for many to the Olympic Games next summer.
The Pan Am Games, being staged in Santiago, Chile, from October 20 to November 5, is expected to have over 6,900 athletes competing from nations across the Americas in various sporting disciplines.
Team Jamaica comprises 90 athletes in 16 sporting disciplines. These are cycling, gymnastics, taekwondo, weightlifting, wrestling, boxing, canoeing, diving, swimming, e-sports, tennis, badminton, basketball, rugby, football, and athletics.
Foster says that the JOA has positioned each of the nation’s sporting disciplines in such a way that all will be treated with equal value regardless of whether they are traditional or untraditional sports.
“Thirteen sporting disciplines can now qualify from the Pan Am Games to the Olympic Games and we are seeing now that athletes are taking this very seriously,” Foster told the Jamaica Observer.
“Without trying to sound cocky, the JOA has made the Games far more attractive than before, where persons thought we were just about the Olympic Games.”
Jamaica Gymnastics Association President Nicole Grant has been named as the team’s chef de mission. Her role is to ensure all logistics for athletes are taken care of ahead of and at the Games, as well as ensuring they are settled and comfortable to compete. Grant is Jamaica’s first female in this role at the Pan Am Games.
“I must thank the JOA for showing that interest and confidence in me to do so,” she said. “For most of my life, I’ve been in sport. So, I do have experience in sports as a former athlete [field hockey], and as a sports governor.
“Some of the ways I manage and administer has a lot to do with the way in which the JOA helps us as untraditional sports to really work the system and understand how to really develop athletes.”
Foster says her appointment was down to her years of experience as a sport governor in gymnastics.
“What better selection than a president that has had two athletes that have qualified for back-to-back Olympic Games,” he said. “I think the performance is there. When we look at all the applicants, we thought that Nicole’s experience in carrying whether grassroots or international athletes to the ‘big games’, whether world championships or the Olympic Games, of course, spoke for itself.”
Grant is proud of her selection and shares Foster’s view that all sporting disciplines in Jamaica should be seen and treated equally and has commended the JOA for the work it has done towards that objective.
“For years, it’s always been spoken about the ‘major sports’ in Jamaica,” she said. “So, the opportunities that the Jamaica Olympic Association has given to non-traditional sports have allowed them to really showcase their talent and motivate their athletes. The administrators have been given that task through the various programmes that the Jamaica Olympic Association has invested in. It helps us to build our brand and our knowledge of how to administer sports to make the athletes and the associations more marketable.”
Badminton athlete Samuel Ricketts and gymnast Tyesha Mattis were chosen as this year’s flag bearers for the opening ceremony.
While this may surprise the public, who would probably expect more popular athletes, especially those from track and field, to be chosen, Foster says that their selection was not only because of their availability, but also the work that they have done in their sporting disciplines, and because it gives them an opportunity to build their own personal brands.
“Track and field commences later down in the Games,” he said. “The opening ceremony is on the 21st. So, most of those athletes would not want to come so early before their competition. So, someone like Jaheel Hyde or Fedrick Dacres would not be there for the opening ceremony. That’s one consideration.
“At the Olympic Games, Shelly-Ann [Fraser-Pryce] was there as the flag bearer along with Ricardo Brown. So, we still had an icon in Shelly, and Ricardo carrying the flag. Ricardo is an icon in himself. Twenty-six years prior to that was the last time that we had a boxer qualify for the Olympic Games.
“For this edition now, we want to give as many persons, whether icons or stalwarts in the space, a feel of that pride in carrying the Jamaican flag.
“In that regard, gymnastics is an icon in itself with two Olympic Games. Tyesha is the bronze medallist from the Central American and Caribbean Games just a couple of months ago, and Samuel was also a bronze and silver medallist, a couple of months prior, and he is also on the cusp of qualifying for the Olympic Games. So, we felt that these two persons epitomised what we are looking for within the existing contingent that will be there at the opening ceremony. What better way to showcase Jamaica, that we are about multiple sports, and sport for all?”
The top three athletes in each of these 13 disciplines mentioned by Foster will qualify for the Paris Games, but if those finishing in the top three have already earned an Olympic spot, the qualifying place will go to the next best-placed athlete.
Cyclist Dahlia Palmer, diver Yona Knight-Wisdom, tennis players Blaise Bicknell, John Chin, and Rowland “Randy” Phillips, and badminton player Katherine Wynter are some of Jamaica’s key athletes competing at the Games.
Hurdler Jaheel Hyde; middle-distance runners Navasky Anderson and Aisha Praught-Leer; throwers Rajindra Campbell, O’dayne Richards, Lloydrica Cameron, Fedrick Dacres and Kai Chang are among notable names making up Jamaica’s athletics contingent.
They will also be joined by Jamaica’s women’s 3-on-3 basketball team, its men’s and women’s rugby union teams, the Crocs, and the Lady Crocs, as well as a rotated line-up of Jamaica’s women’s football team, the Reggae Girlz.