By RENALDO DORSETT
Accolades continue to pour in for the Bahamas' record-setting Carifta track and field team which captured the country's attention with its best performance in more than 25 years.
"You are among the rising stars of the Bahamas," said Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham during yesterday's luncheon in Virgil's Restaurant at the Atlantis resort. He praised the athletes who represented the Bahamas in this year's Carifta Games in Bermuda.
Improving on last year's performance of 31 medals, the team brought home 40 medals - 14 gold, 14 silver and 12 bronze - for second place and the bid to host the 42nd Carifta Games March 28 to April 1, 2013.
"I also recognise and thank the coaches and other officials for their contributions to the success of Team Bahamas. Your commitment to developing our athletes is the kind of mentoring and guidance which makes all the difference in the success of young Bahamians in every field of endeavour from athletics to academics to the arts.
"The nation's youth are both our hope for today, and the promise of tomorrow. Therefore, coaches and mentors, you are truly engaged in a noble cause."
Jamaica, which hosted the top regional junior meet last year, finished with 78 medals, including 34 gold.
"All of you distinguished yourselves at the 2012 CARIFTA Games. You made your country very proud. Your 40 medals, including 14 gold medals, placed the Bahamas in second position overall in the medal count. I believe this is the largest number of medals we've received in almost 30 years.
"What we achieved in Bermuda was not a matter of chance...They are the result of many years of hard work and dedication by our athletes. These young men and women serve as inspiration for us all, and as importantly, as peer role models for other young Bahamians," Ingraham said. "But their success is also the result of the dedication of coaches, athletic officials, teachers, and of course parents and guardians.
"It takes team effort to raise an athlete. I hasten to thank the Honourable Charles Maynard, the Minister of Youth, Sports & Culture and the various ministry officials who continue to help build Team Bahamas day in and day out. I thank also the officials of the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations and those corporate citizens who contributed to the success of our athletes."
"We are yet again celebrating the pride and joy that is bestowed upon the Bahamas when our athletes carry our flag to international competitions. It continues to be the privilege of my government to have increased funding to support our athletes in such competitions.
"In 2013, the Bahamas will host the Carifta Games in our new national stadium. Tomorrow, the Carifta swimming competition begins at the Betty Kelly-Kenning Aquatic Centre. I know that Bahamians everywhere will be cheering on our swimmers whether at the Sports Centre or around their televisions," Ingraham said. "We have truly arrived at a new day in athletics in the Bahamas. But like our athletes, let us not rest on past success. There is much work to be done. For all of our athletic and sporting success, the world ain't seen nothing yet from Team Bahamas. On behalf of my colleagues and a grateful nation, we thank all of you who made this day possible. Now it's on to London 2012!"
Anthonique Strachan captured her second consecutive Austin Sealy award as the most outstanding athlete of the games for her repeat sprint double championship performance.
It was the Bahamas' best finish since it won the 1984 edition of the meet (hosted in New Providence) with a total of 57 medals which included 19 gold, 22 silver and 16 bronze.
At that meet, Pauline Davis-Thompson captured the Austin Sealy award for the same 100m/200m sprint double as Strachan for the record in 2011 and 2012.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Charles Maynard said the team's performance was indicative of the government's commitment to the development of sports despite a disparaging economic period.
"Personal bests, finalists, medallists, world record holders, all in one trip, the best performance since 1984," he said. "That commitment stood more true through these five years where there has been a global economic downturn and priorities had to be shifted. The Government of the Bahamas ensured that the commitment toward sports and in particular track and field was at a level that we could make sure that we could have the kind of results that we have seen over the last few years."