Ato Boldon encourages hometown development
André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter
Four-time Olympic medallist, Trinidad and Tobago's Ato Boldon, has lauded local student athletes who opt to study and train in Jamaica as opposed to taking up sports scholarships overseas, and believes this trend will certainly aid to the island's continued excellence in world athletics.
Boldon, himself a product of the United States (US) Collegiate system and one of several high-profile speakers at the recently-concluded Business of Sport conference at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, believes the normally high work rate student athletes endure abroad, more often than not, damages their chances of success on the professional stage.
"I don't want to sound like I am biting the hand that fed me, but my experience was unique where I could basically pick six races to compete and that was my collegiate season," said the 2000 Sydney Olympics 100m silver medallist, during a chat with The Gleaner.
"The average young person leaving here on a scholarship, they get told what to do, and if that means three to five events per week for six months, then that's what they have to do," he pointed out.
"In the vast majority of cases, by the time the athlete leaves school they are so drained, or develop so many injuries, that they simply get lost," added Boldon, who represented University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and twice won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships - the 200m in 1995 and the 100m a year later in a record time of 9.92 - a record that still stands.
It should be noted that while others still respond favourably to overseas scholarships, the recent trend is for most top-flight high school athletes to continue their development with local tertiary institutions that are associated with leading camps, such as MVP, Racers and G.C. Foster, which have some of the island's top stars.
Also, there are some who have excelled while carrying a heavy work load in US colleges, such as current stars Veronica Campbell-Brown, Kerron Stewart, Melaine Walker and Brigitte Foster-Hylton.
"What has to happen, there needs to be a deeper analysis. There may be a person that leaves here that is good, but not necessarily at Olympic standards, they can maximise their collegiate time and, if they rise to that level of world recognition, then it's icing on cake," Boldon reasoned.
advice to athletes
"Look past where you're going, it's only a stepping stone, what I advise a lot of my students is for them to look at the school that is recruiting them and there are some schools with fantastic NCAA results, but there is no one with any strong professional career.
"That probably means that those schools are getting every last drop out of them during those college years and, most likely than not, overworking their athletes," he added. "Some may say well, 'it's a free education', but it's not, if you want to pay with your career then go ahead."
Boldon, who also has four medals at the world championship level, including a 200m gold (1997 Athens) and two 100m bronze (1995 Gothenburg, 2001 Edmonton), as well as a Commonwealth Games gold (1998 Kuala Lumpur), is now making a name for himself training and advising National Football League (NFL) professionals and college athletes who are getting ready for the NFL.
Nine of his charges where recently drafted by NFL teams.
He has also worked as a commentator/analyst for North American television networks including CBS, NBC and ESPN.