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True Olympic spirit
By Alan Harris
London – Barbados and Nauru. A curious combination to say the least.
And don’t blame yourself if you haven’t yet heard about the latter. It’s a tiny speck located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean formerly known as Pleasant Island.
But for two athletes, the dream of representing their “so-small-but-we-don’t-care” countries at an Olympiad is about to come true. And no, they aren’t running in the 100 metres.
They ply their trade in the “so-small-but-we-still-don’t-care” sport of judo, at the best of times far removed from the bright lights and boisterous crowds of the world’s most watched sporting events.
But only at the Olympic Games can a recipe such as this be found.
Kyle Maxwell, the Bajan, and Sled Dowabobo, the Nauruan, were, up to last week, sharing the dojo at the University of Bath as they prepare to meet their Olympic destiny on the mat at London’s ExCel Centre next week. The judo competition gets underway on Saturday, but Maxwell will be in action on Monday, July 30.
While both will be making their Olympic debut in the Men’s 73kg division, Maxwell is the third Barbadian – after Andrew Payne in 1996 and Barry Jackman in 2004 – to compete in the event. Dowabobo is his country’s first. And what an honour it is indeed.
“It will be awesome to be the first Olympic judoka from Nauru and I’m really excited about the Games,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
And how could he?
After all, Nauru is the world’s smallest republic, covering just 21 square kilometres of this rather large globe. It is also the second least-populated country in the world after the Vatican City. And just when you thought Barbados was small, only nine thousand souls populate what could be aptly described as a large island-village.
But here is where the story becomes a little heavy.
Joining the pair at Bath’s Sports Training Village was Emmanuel Nartey of Ghana. Nartey, a British soldier, will be the first Ghanaian judoka to compete at the Games. Two weeks ago, he warmed up for the biggest competition of his life by winning a bronze medal at the European Cup in Istanbul.
“It will be a proud moment and a big achievement for me to compete at the Olympics,” he said. “And it’s not just about me, it’s about opening doors for future generations.”
And Ghana needs it now more than ever.
With just days left before the start of the Games, the country may be forced to boycott Friday’s Opening Ceremony due to the absence of their ceremonial outfits. The same thing happened at the All-Africa Games last year.
And let’s not even bother to talk about the lack of facilities in Ghana, far less the threads. Picture this: Alongside Ghana’s main athletics stadium lies the broken fuselage of a Boeing 727 aircraft that crashed in early June, killing 10 people. It ground to a halt only metres from the track. To this very day, athletes force themselves to remain composed as aircraft descend overhead to land at Accra’s international airport which is located just across the road.
Poverty is also Ghana’s calling card – a country defined by bloodshed, sacrifice and a Luis Suárez handball. Look no further than the government’s inability to find the US$60 000 required to pay for their athletes’ training camp ahead of the Games. It was subsequently broken up two months early. That means it’s safe to say that competing in London could change a Ghanaian life.
But without a single medal being handed out, it already has.
The Games have brought together a Barbadian, a Nauruan and a Ghanian in the spirit of friendship and respect. They’ve also come to London to prove that with a little dedication and hard work, anything is possible – even winning a medal for a “so-small-but-we-don’t-care” country.
And when it comes down to it, that’s what this thing called the Olympic Games is all about.