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Tobago in Tokyo 2020… Tiny island, big ambitions

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When the curtains are raised on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Friday (July 23), Team Trinidad and Tobago will be 33-strong—not counting officials—and looking to leave a big impression on the world.

Standing tall among those athletes are six Tobagonian competitors, hoping to carve their names in history for the red, white and black.

They include a balanced blend of experience and youthful zeal. In her fifth Olympics (a national record alongside Olympic bronze-holding swimmer George Bovell III), Kelly-Ann Baptiste will lead the line for the women sprinters in the 100m (individual and 4x100m relay). She’ll be ably supported by relay teammates, fellow veteran Semoy Hackett, and debutant Ayla Stanisclaus.

On the men’s side, also on track from Tobago are sprinter Akanni Hislop (men’s 4x100m relay) and quartermiler Dwight St. Hillaire (individual 400m and 4x400m), with regional standout, long jumper Andwuelle Wright, the only field star from Tobago testing his talents against the globe’s best.

Baptiste is no stranger to global competition and is among the country’s most decorated female sprinters. Since she opened her international account with World Youth Championships women’s 100m bronze in 2003, Baptiste has competed in several global finals, winning World Championships women’s 100m bronze in 2011 and World Championships women’s 4x100m with Team TTO in 2015.

Hackett, too, will bring her own share of experience to the women’s 100m relay team. She will line up for her fourth Olympics in Tokyo, having also been part of the bronze-medal winning 2015 World Championships 4×100 relay team. She’s also a former CAC sprint champion and 4x100m relay champion. Hackett will also come into the Olympic Games with confidence with a 11.32-seconds clocking that won the 100m women’s “B” final at the June 26-27 Bahamas National Junior and Senior Track and Field Championships.

Tobago could occupy three of the four spots on the national 4x100m relay team from a squad of five. Ayla Stanisclaus is the other Tobago sprinter in the bunch, with a personal best of 11.24s under her belt. In May, the New Mexico Junior College athlete grabbed double silver in the women’s 100m (11.46s) and 200m (23.30s) finals of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division 1 Outdoor Track and Field Championships in Texas.

The Men’s 4x100m relay team, meanwhile, features a confident Akanni Hislop. Hislop is a former Carifta champion and 2019 Pan Am Games 4x100m relay silver medallist and will boost the chances of a new-look sprint team. According to Hislop, the main goal is to ensure the team makes it to the relay final. From there, it’s anybody’s game.

“We have a strong home ground base,” he explained. “Everyone works together, we focus on the bigger picture although we are from a small country, and (we’re) determined to (place our) stamp on the world.”

Trinidad and Tobago will also set its sights firmly on the 4x400m relay podium. That’s where St Hillaire comes in. He has overcome a few injury setbacks in the just-concluded US collegiate season, and now he’s fit and ready for the Olympic challenge.

“Entering into the Olympics (there’s) no pressure, my job is to just go out there and run. Once I stick to my main plan and what I have been doing that led me to this point, I think I will do great and help the team tremendously.”

That leaves the ambitious Andwuelle Wright, the national long jump record holder. He’s a former Carifta Gold medallist and NACAC Under-23 champion and record holder in the event. Having cleared the Olympic standard (8.22m) two years ago with an 8.25m leap to win NACAC gold in Mexico, his sights are set on the sandpit of Tokyo, and a mark that won’t be erased.

At an Olympic Games impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, Team TTO will be looking to make this world event a memorable one for citizens. And an island of just 60,000-plus residents has six additional reasons to be proud as the games get set to begin. Konnichiwa, Tokyo!.