Coach Cleare: The buck stops with me
Despite the success of Team Bahamas at the Games of the 31st Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a number of questionable calls were made on the field of play, and Head Coach George Cleare made it quite clear that the buck stops with him.
At the top of the list was the non-submission of Shaunae Miller in the line-up of the women’s 200 meters (m) after she would have declared her availability to run. Another was the decision to save Miller for the final of the women’s 4x400m instead of running the heats, but it is understood that Miller’s camp made the call on that one. Then, what about Demetrius Pinder? The former three-time national champion in the men’s 400m went into isolation after being excluded from the heats and final of the men’s 4x400m relay in Rio.
Cleare takes direct responsibility for the former and the latter, and said that if the same situations arose down the line, he would do it all over again.
As for Pinder, not many are questioning that move seeing that he was fifth at the BAAA nationals, hadn’t proved fitness post nationals, and false started in the men’s 200m in Rio. As for Miller not running in the women’s 4x400m heats, according to reports, that call was made by her camp. The main issue is her not running in the women’s 200m.
“Looking at the gold medal run in the 400 meters, it took 100-plus percent of everything that athlete had,” said Coach Cleare. “It’s very important that, that athlete had every ounce of energy and every ounce of reserve for that one moment. Also, you cannot move individuals who would have followed the rules because someone might be a bit faster in that event. We have to be able to follow rules. It might not have been a popular decision, but it was the most practical and the most scientific based on everything that was in front of us. History will show that the right decision was made. This is about celebrating winning a gold medal at the Olympics and the success of Team Bahamas. That should be our focus,” added Cleare.
Miller went into the Olympics as the number three athlete in the world in the women’s 200m. She is the national record holder, having ran 22.05 seconds at the JN Racers Grand Prix in May – a time that would have gotten her the bronze medal in the Olympic final in Rio de Janeiro. There are a lot of variables surrounding her absence in the event though. Miller didn’t run the event at the BAAA nationals, there were five Bahamian ladies who qualified in the women’s 200m, the heats of the women’s 200m and the final of the women’s 400m was on the same day, a third runner was already entered in the event for The Bahamas and would have had to be displaced out of the Athletes Village had she not run, and also there were logistical concerns concerning the distance of the Olympic Athletics Stadium from the village. These were all concerns raised by Cleare and members of the Bahamian management team in Rio.
At the end of the day, Cleare made the decision to exclude Miller – a move that was supported by Chef de Mission Roy Colebrook and Team Manager Ralph McKinney.
“The rules are that if you are listed for an event, and you’re not going to run, you need to leave the village,” said McKinney on the Sports Guys with Marcellus Hall and Nahaja Black yesterday. “Sheniqua Ferguson said that if we wasn’t going to run her, let her know, and she would pack up her things and leave the village. Her mother, father and other supporters had flown to Rio to see her run the 200m. We had a deadline to submit the team, and we were ahead of time. Sheniqua’s name was submitted, and like I said, the rules are that if you are listed for an event, and you’re not going to run, you need to leave the village. Shaunae didn’t want to displace any athlete, so that was the end of it right there.”
Shaunae’s father Shaun Miller had a different take. The top three from the Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations’ (BAAA) Senior National Championships were Tynia Gaither, Anthonique Strachan and Sheniqua Ferguson, in that order. Another Olympic qualifier in the event, Carmiesha Cox, was fourth. Miller didn’t run at the nationals, but is the fastest of the quintet. Despite declaring her availability late, there is no question that Miller wanted to run and go after a double medal victory for herself and The Bahamas in Rio. Her father, and understandably her coach as well, American Lance Brauman, supported her in that move. It was just up to team coaches and officials in Rio to sign off on it.
“There were a lot of information coming back that Shaunae didn’t want to run the 200m, and that is false,” said father Shaun Miller on the Sports Guys show yesterday. “I too was in contact with Coach Brauman before this all took place, and to have his athlete bombarded before running a major event is not fair to that athlete.
“As for the trials, the scheduling for the trials came out days before the scratch meeting. In that scratch meeting, I brought it up that my daughter was interested in doubling (running both the 200 and 400m). How the schedule was set up, I told them that it was impossible for Shaunae to run three major races in an hour and a half. Frank ‘Pancho’ Rahming, who is the technical director for the BAAA, made it possible for those races to be on different days, and Ralph McKinney was one of the persons who opposed it. They switched it back to the original format where she couldn’t compete.
“The truth of the matter is that my daughter wanted to run the 200 meters. I was told by Ralph McKinney that if she wants to run, she will run. In a meeting with the BOC (Bahamas Olympic Committee), it was again brought up, and again it was promised that if she wanted to run, she will run. I am very disappointed with the BAAA, from the top to the bottom. I think that more could have been done. It is because of decisions that were made that she did not run. I put the fault directly in the front of Ralph McKinney.”
Another interesting spin from the aforementioned is comments from BOC Secretary General Romell “Fish” Knowles, stating that the BAAA nationals had no bearing on who ran what event at the Olympics, seeing that it is not an official Olympic trials. He said that all the power regarding any decision in relation to Team Bahamas in Rio would have rested with the Chef de Mission, but as mentioned above, Chef Colebrook supported Cleare in his move to deny Miller a shot at the double.
“The world championships is a brand of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations). The Olympics is a brand of the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and the BOC has the ultimate authority as it relates to Team Bahamas,” said Knowles on the Sports Guys show. “There should be some collaboration and not a stand-off as to who has the final say. It is permissable for the Head Coach to make changes to the line-up, but that should be done in collaboration with the necessary officials. It’s a collective responsibility.
“For me, this isn’t about authority. From what I am hearing about the reasoning for the decision, is a little disturbing. If you say that it is in Shaunae’s best interest that she not run the 200 meters, then that’s fine. I could support that, but I can’t support that someone might suggest that she didn’t run in the nationals so she is not eligible to run that event at the Olympics. That had no bearing at all when we did the entrants. This is the first time this has happened in my short history in the BOC, and I hope we could correct it going forward.”
Going forward, all sides are calling for better communication between the relevant parties so that future turmoil could be avoided.
Miller is the gold medalist in the women’s 400m, running a personal best and world leading time of 49.44 seconds to edge American superstar Allyson Felix. Whether or not she would have been able to accomplish that had she ran the heats of the 200m that morning, is unknown.
One thing is for certain – The Bahamas’ newest athletics superstar wanted to attempt it. That alone could very well be enough for most Bahamians. One could only imagine what the end result would have been.