It was in 1960 that the first Barbadian, James Wedderburn, competed in the modern Summer Olympics. He was part of the West Indies Federation team that competed in the 4×400 meters relay in Rome and won bronze. It would be another two installments of the Olympic Games before another Barbadian would grace that world stage.
With the collapse of the Federation in 1962 and the country attaining Independence in 1966, it opened the door for Barbados to compete as an independent nation. The year was 1968 that Barbados made its debut, and in the 50 years and 13 Olympic Games since, bar one, Barbadian athletes have proudly displayed the National Flag and worn their country’s colours of ultramarine and gold at the Summer Olympic Games.
The 1968 Games held in Mexico City, Mexico while a historic one for Barbados, proved to be historic for others as well, being the first Olympic Games to be staged in Latin America and the first to be staged in a Spanish-speaking country. It was also the first time a woman lit the Olympic flame, the first Games to be televised live in colour and the first and the only Games to date, to be held at high altitude. Staged October 12 to 27, 1968, it saw 5516 athletes participate from 112 countries in 172 events in 18 sports. Of those athletes, nine were from Barbados.
The nine-member team, all men, ranging in age from 19 to 47 years were Ezra Burnham, Angus Edghill, Colin Forde, Hadley Andrew Hinds, Anthony Philips, Alva Kensley Reece, Richard Roett, Michael Stoute and Milton Tucker. Today, four of them are no longer with us – Burnham, Philips, Roett and Tucker – but their efforts then and overall contribution to their respective sporting fields, will forever be in our memory. The team competed in 10 events in five sports – Athletics, Cycling, Swimming, Shooting and Weightlifting and though they failed to secure any medals, they nonetheless did this nation proud. In fact, two of the four cyclists, Forde and Reece, established two national records at the Mexico Games.
Accompanying the team on that journey were President of the Barbados Olympic Association (BOA), Louis Lynch; Chef de Mission and BOA Secretary General, Michael Simmons; Team General Manager, Kenneth Ince; Assistant Team General Manager, Randolph Field; Team Doctor Harold Forde; Track & Field Manager/Coach, James Wedderburn; Cycling Manager, Hilary Roett; Cycling Coach, Steve Stoute and Shooting Manager/Coach, Cavour Morris.
From then until now, Barbados has shown consistent determination in its participation in the games, gaining its first and only medal thus far, in the 2000 Olympic Games held in Sydney, Australia. It was won by Obadele Thompson, who secured the bronze medal in the men’s 100 meters and placed fourth in the men’s 200 meters.
Barbados has had a reasonable performance at the Games over the years. That same year Thompson won bronze, fellow track hopeful Andrea Blackett made it to the semifinals of the women’s 400 meters hurdles, and four years earlier in 1996, swimmer Leah Martindale placed fifth in the women’s 50-meter freestyle. Then in 2008 at the Games in Beijing, celebrated hurdler Ryan Brathwaite competed in the men’s 110 meters hurdles. He advanced to the semifinals and ranked 12th out of the 16 semifinalists.
Though medaling only once in the past five decades, this has not daunted our athletes resolve to represent their country, as they strive to be one of the three, in their chosen sport, to mount the podium for the medal ceremony. But throughout the years the athletes have set new national and personal records which have been celebrated by all across the 166 square miles that is Barbados.
As noted, Barbados has competed in every Olympic Games since 1968 except one. The 1980 Games in Moscow saw Barbados stand in solidarity with a number of other countries, boycotting the Summer Games in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. The following year in Los Angeles, California, Barbados returned to the Olympics with a team of 13 men and three women who competed in 16 events in six sports – Athletics, Boxing, Cycling, Sailing, Swimming and Synchronized Swimming.
Over the years Barbadian athletes have sought to compete in a wide array of sports including Judo, Gymnastics, Tennis and Triathlon. The country made its debut in the latter sport in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, entering Jason Wilson; while Darian King, who has played at the US Open and Wimbledon, represented the country in Tennis. Also of note is the 2004 Games in Athens, Greece, where the world saw cyclist Barry Forde follow in his father’s footsteps 36 years later to represent Barbados at the Olympic Games. The younger Forde is the son of Colin Forde who was the youngest team member of the inaugural 1968 team.
As the world prepares for the upcoming Olympics set to be held in Tokyo, Japan from July 23 to August 8, 2021, Barbados no doubt intends to be one of 207 countries expected to compete in the multi-sport event. The forthcoming games will see five new sports added to the lineup, including skateboarding, karate and surfing. Barbados has done well in the two latter sports, winning several medals at various levels regionally and internationally, and with a state-of-the-art skatepark under construction at the Garfield Sobers Sports Complex, the country has a chance to ready a team to compete in that sport as well.
It is said, the key to success is hard work and determination, Barbados has indeed put in both over the last 50 years and is destined to reap great success at the Olympic Games in the future.