Celebrating Barbados’ Olympic History – Countdown to the Olympic Games

The Barbados Olympic Association Inc. (BOA) joins the rest of the world in the count down to the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. For Barbados, the year 1968 would go down in history as being an important one for its sporting fraternity. It was the year that the country would make its debut at the Summer Olympics and coming just short of two years after attaining independence, it was an especially proud occasion for the island nation.

Prior to that, James Wedderburn had been the only Barbadian who had competed at the Olympics. A young Wedderburn was part of the West Indies Federation team that competed in the 4×400 meters relay in Rome and secured bronze. Eight years later Barbados, in its own right, carried nine athletes, all men, who represented the island with pride in the five sports for which they qualified – athletics, cycling, shooting, swimming, and weightlifting. The athletes, who ranged in age from 19 to 47 were Colin Forde, Hadley Hinds, Anthony Philips, Ezra Burnham, Angus Edghill, Kensley Reece, Michael Stoute, Richard Roett and Milton Tucker. The distinction with which they represented the country set the tone for the athletes who would attend future competitions. 

James Wedderburn.

Since that appearance on the sporting world stage, Barbados has been represented at every Summer Olympic Games, except the 1980 Games, and is set to send a contingent to the upcoming Games. The Games were postponed this year due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and are now slated to run from July 23 to August 8, 2021, in Tokyo.

The 1968 Games held from October 12 to 27 that year, were also notable for the world – boasting many firsts. It was the first time that the games were staged in Latin America – Mexico City, Mexico, to be exact; it was also the first time that the Olympics used electronic timekeeping equipment entirely, and the first time the Games were televised in colour. For these Games also, a woman was given the honour of lighting the Olympic cauldron for the first time. 

The next instalment of the Games in 1972, held in Munich, would see five women – Marcia Trotman, Barbara Bishop, Lorna Force, Heather Gooding and Freida Nicholls, who is now the president of Olympians Barbados, among the Barbados team to proudly sport the nation’s colours of ultramarine and gold on the world stage. The country had a total of 13 athletes that year, five women and eight men, who competed in 13 events in four sports – athletics, cycling, shooting and weightlifting.  

Obadele Thompson won the first Olympic medal for Barbados.

While the resolve of Barbadian athletes at the Games has been of the highest level, it would take some time to reap Olympic success in the form of a medal. The determination to make the podium finally paid off in Sydney, Australia during the 2000 Olympic Games. On September 23, 2000 Obadele Thompson would make history, winning the first medal for the country – a bronze. 

He was the only one of Barbados’ 18-member team to advance to the final of not one, but two events. Oba would win the bronze medal in the men’s 100 meters and place fourth in the men’s 200 meters, being edged out by Trinidad and Tobago’s, Ato Boldon for the third spot. This year marks the 20th anniversary of that win. For his efforts, he was conferred with the title of Ambassador and Special Envoy for Youth but the late Prime Minister, Owen Arthur. The BOA salutes Ambassador Thompson on his achievements. President of the BOA Sandra Osborne said that this achievement by Oba will be celebrated for years to come and will always be held up as a standard-bearer for athletes. She is however confidence that the BOA’s new strategic plan for athletes and coaches and increase corporate support for sport would help the country reap more success at this level.

In 1996, Swimmer Leah Martindale placed fifth in the women’s 50m freestyle.

While Barbadian athletes have since then not been among the top three in their chosen sport, at the Olympics their determination to be counted among the best in the world has seen many continue to train hard, as they strive to make it to the Games. Along the way, they may not have medaled, but many have set new national records, of which they can be justly proud. Among them have been cyclists Colin Forde and Kensley Reece who established new national records in the 1968 Games; swimmer Leah Martindale who placed fifth in the women’s 50m freestyle finals in 1996, with a new national record; hurdler Stephen Jones who set a new national record in the 110 m hurdles in the 2004 Olympics; which would be eclipsed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing,  China by Ryan Brathwaite. There have also been notable showings at the Games from the likes of Andrea Blackett, Akela Jones and Barry Forde, son of Colin Forde, who was a member of the 1968 team. 

Although Barbados has seen its greatest success at the Summer Games on the track, its athletes have competed in a number of sports. Apart from the previously mentioned cycling, weightlifting, swimming, and shooting, athletes have competed in other areas like gymnastics, sailing, boxing, judo, tennis, heptathlon and the triathlon. In respect of the latter, the country competed for the first time in 2016. Wearing the ultramarine and gold colours of this nation, was Jason Wilson. 

Barbados intends to be among the countries going for the gold in the upcoming Games. Even though the 2020 Summer Olympics had to be delayed, the aspiring Olympians have no doubt been using the extra time to train even harder, to ensure they give of their best when the time comes. We have seen what diligence, strength of character and determination achieved 20 years ago and are certain that success is again within our grasp.