DIANE PHILLIPS: The road to Olympics relays runs through The Bahamas

IN the days and weeks leading up to May 4-5, hundreds of athletes will descend upon The Bahamas for the World Athletics Relays Bahamas. As of this week, athletes from 54 countries had registered. One estimate projected the final number of competitors would exceed 1600. And that does not include coaches, trainers, medical staff, therapists, event support staff, family, friends and camp followers.

As an Olympic qualifier, the World Athletics Relays Bahamas is an event that will change young athletes’ lives forever. Some will go on. Some will go home. Everyone on the track will leave everything they’ve got there, everything they worked and trained and sacrificed for. Leave it right there before our eyes in The Bahamas, at the track, glued to the TV or our phones, before the eyes of the world, however, they are watching.

Whatever the outcome for sprinters and hopefuls, the mere reality that the road to the Olympics runs through The Bahamas, specifically through the Thomas A Robinson National Stadium, is incredible.

With strong promo lines and monikers like Chase the Sun and From Paradise to Paris, the event in just a little over a month’s time will draw more than the athletes packing their hopes and dreams. It will capture international attention. Cameras, video, social media posts will snap, shoot and record The Bahamas. Commentators will eye and report what they see in New Providence.

Their images and those impressions, unedited, will flash and zip around the real and virtual worlds in seconds. Global Relations Consultant at the Ministry of Tourism, Investments and Aviation Senator Randy Rolle, in a press conference announcing the World Relays some time back, said “We can maximize our opportunities and capitalize on the benefits this event will bring. Hosting the World Relays undergirds our efforts and we aim to become the sports mecca of the Caribbean.” We have everything we need, as the good senator said, to become the sports mecca of the Caribbean, the training ground for all sorts of sports, the summer camp during winter months elsewhere.

Or we could blow it with a single round from an AK47. But I don’t think we will. I think we have an opportunity and we know it, a chance to show that The Bahamas is a safe place bathed in sunshine and hospitality where we just happen to raise athletes who punch above their weight and a country that welcomes others who try to do the same.


Olympic gold medalist and world champion Pauline Davis.



hile everything about the upcoming track event keeps getting bigger and better, including the announcement this week that the incomparable Carl Lewis, 9-time Olympic champion and 8-time World’s Gold Medalist, would headline as World Athletics Ambassador for the Olympic qualifier, I wanted to understand why relays are so special to Bahamians.

So I reached out to two people who would know, both Olympic gold medalists and world champions Pauline Davis and Chris Brown. Tell me, I asked, why do we get so involved, so emotional about relays? Why do they do something to us inside that no other track event does?

“The reason relays are so important to Bahamians is it’s us against the world, we are so proud, bursting with that pride, those are my girls, taking on the world, it’s not just one of us, it’s the whole group thing, not just one. Look at Pauline, look at Debbie, look at Chandra, look at Eldece,” says Pauline, named Dame of more recent events by World Athletics and the first Bahamian elected to serve on its board. “It takes a lot of precision, a lot of focus, and it helps to showcase our country, telling the world, though we are small, we are mighty, though we are small, we are strong, and this is the place where God lives. He created us to be the most beautiful country in the world and when our athletes shine, they shine the light on this beautiful country.”

Davis, who holds so many records and titles it would take a page to list them, was part of that magic moment in October 2000 when Bahamians woke up at 4 am with hope and watched and screamed and jumped and shouted until our voices were raw as the Golden Girls ran away with the Gold and the world’s attention at the Sydney Olympics.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, you can still hear the passion and national pride in her voice.

“Bahamians have always loved relays but the fact that we went up against the world and shocked them and beat them, the fact that we are gold champions in the Olympics -- men in the 1x100 and the 4x100 in women -- when we line up now, people pay attention. That’s how much the world respects The Bahamas.”

Davis is helping to organize the upcoming relays, a full-time job with the Ministry of Sports where she has worked since moving from Tourism and along the way telling her story in the double award-winning autobiography Running Sideways.


Olympic gold medalist and world champion Chris Brown.

Chris ‘Fireman’ Brown, one of the Golden Knights who earned the spotlight winning Gold in the London Olympics in 2012, looks at the love affair with relays from a different perspective.

A coach at Clayton State University in Georgia where he lives with his wife and family, the ever-humble Brown, now an ambassador at large for The Bahamas in sports, says it’s the suspense that triggers such a visceral attachment to relays, unlike any other event.

“People love the excitement of a relay,” he explains. “The suspense keeps you on the edge of your seat. You’re running, running, turning, passing, running, running.

“For the person watching, it’s like you’re on that track with them, I’m at home but I’m running, jumping, jumping in my seat.”

Brown refuses to say one leg is more intense than the other. “If you’re in front, you gotta look back at three people behind you. If you’re the last leg, you gotta look at three people in front of you. You just have to get out there and do your job.”

Brown and Davis agree on the importance of what others not so closely connected with track and field might just simply pass off as another event in a field filled with disciplines.

“There’s something special about the relay and Bahamians get it. Relays unite us,” they both say. “They make us proud, proud to be Bahamian and be the best in the world.”


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