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The Toco Connection

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Keshorn Walcott’s golden moment, the throw that secured him an Olympic gold medal for javelin, sticks in the mind of everyone who’s seen it (take a look on YouTube if you’ve somehow missed it). The lolloping run-up, a huge burst of strength as he throws the javelin and then the young man leans back on his heels, almost as if he can’t believe what he’s done.


Some of the coverage of Keshorn’s javelin victory suggested that he’d only just stopped pelting mangoes off a tree with a bamboo stick a couple of weeks earlier. Of course the truth is very different: Keshorn may have been a surprise Olympic gold medallist but he was already world junior champion in the javelin throw. He had already experienced the big stage— he secured his world junior title earlier this year at Barcelona’s beautiful Olympic stadium, home of the 1992 games.



You don’t get to be Olympic champion with one lucky throw—it needs years of training and dedication, for which Keshorn and all the people of Toco can be very proud. It’s not an accident that a great athlete has come out of Toco, a relatively remote town on Trinidad’s northeastern tip. Keshorn was not the only young man from Toco to have an impact on London 2012.



Six weeks before Keshorn’s golden throw, Shaquille Roberts, who went to school with Keshorn at Toco Secondary, became one of 20 young people from around the world chosen to carry the Olympic torch as part of the International Inspiration Programme. Shaquille, who hopes to represent his country in the 2016 Olympics, is a living example of how sport can change lives.



International Inspiration set out to make the legacy of London 2012 go further than just the new stadiums and sporting facilities that now grace the Olympic park in East London. The British government recognised that the Olympic ideal is a global ideal and set out to leave a global legacy. The programme gave sport and leadership skills to over 12 million children in 20 countries, of which one was Trinidad and Tobago.



International Inspiration has brought the transformative power of sport to young people all over the world; it has also resulted in many of those countries changing their policies and curriculum for sport and young people, ensuring a lasting legacy. One of those young people was Shaquille who has blossomed from a shy boy to a confident young leader and mentor of other children in his school.



Whether or not he makes the 2016 games, he has already had an impact on the lives of those in his community: it was this exemplary conduct which led to him being selected to take part in the Olympic torch relay. The programme does not only train young people, it has also trained around 113,000 teachers, coaches and young leaders from all over the world, ensuring higher standards are embedded in the countries where it is rolled out.



One of those coaches was Ismael Lopez. If that name sounds familiar, it should: he is Keshorn Walcott’s coach and has been viewed a crucial factor in that young man’s path to glory. So, International Inspiration in Trinidad and Tobago, a project which cost $2.5 million in total, has helped deliver a gold medallist, as well as an inspirational torch-bearer who may one day represent this country at the 2016 Olympics.



It has also helped hundreds of young people in this country find a new sense of purpose and commitment. As one young participant said: ‘When my teacher first told me about International Inspiration he said it might change my life, and I feel like it has. I feel more confident, comfortable with myself and more committed. It makes me want to come to school. I feel like I’ve made lots of new friends and like I have a reason to want to get involved.’



There is much debate about what is going to be the real legacy of the Olympics—is it new buildings in London or economic opportunity in southern England? Perhaps better than all of this would be that a group of young people in Trinidad and Tobago and across the world have seen how sport could change their lives, whether or not they are Olympic athletes themselves.


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