TOKYO, Japan – The Bahamas has won three straight CARIFTA Swimming Championships and five of the last six, but the question remains, what can be done to achieve similar success, or experience a major breakthrough internationally, on the senior side.
The country is usually represented by about two to three swimmers at each Olympic Games, but to date, there has been just one Bahamian Olympic finalist in swimming – Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace in London, England, in 2012. She is arguably the greatest swimmer, male or female, in Bahamian history.
This was supposed to be the year that Joanna Evans duplicated that feat from London, but according to Bahamas Aquatics Federation President Algernon Cargill, a bout with infectious mononucleosis (mono) and nagging injuries and setbacks in this Olympic cycle hampered her progress.
Still, the Grand Bahama native was able to record two top-20 finishes in swimming at these Tokyo Olympic Games here in Tokyo, Japan. Evans, 24, was less than a second off a national record in each swim, and just missed out on advancing past the preliminaries.
Swimming in his first Olympics, Izaak Bastian, just 20, was a second off his personal best national record time in the 100 meters (m) breast and had a respectable swim in the 200m breast.
Cargill said the future is bright, looking for the young up-and-coming swimmers to build off the momentum Evans and Bastian generated in Tokyo.
Action wrapped up for The Bahamas in swimming at the Olympics at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre on Tuesday.
“We cannot get comfortable winning CARIFTA or CCCAN (Central American and Caribbean Swimming Confederation) medals,” said Cargill. “Those medals are great for the junior level but we need to be recognized at the world level as a swimming powerhouse. If we want to see our swimmers advance to the next level, we need to work with them in changing the mindset so that it can be seen that we have a long way to go in swimming. We have to base our success on what’s happening globally and that will be a strong focus of our coaching staff in this season to come.”
Out of the two Bahamian swimmers here in Tokyo, Evans was the only one who attained an ‘A’ qualifying standard and she did it in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, swimming a national record of 4:07.33 at the Longhorn Aquatics Elite Invite & Time Trials, in Austin, Texas, in May.
Cargill, who represents the Americas on the FINA Bureau, the executive team of the world’s governing body for aquatic sports, said they are looking at ways to continue to support swimming in the Americas region, particularly in the Caribbean. High on the list of the agenda are funding for national team members and developmental swimmers, grants to improve facilities, and learn-to-swim programs.
The main objective of FINA (International Swimming Federation) is to develop and facilitate aquatic sports globally. In the Caribbean and locally in The Bahamas, more funding is needed.
“The swimmers who are advancing to finals and winning medals, they do nothing else other than train,” said Cargill. “They don’t have to worry about finances and they don’t have to worry about facilities. Here in The Bahamas, we have one 50-meter pool. It has to be our goal to get a 50-meter pool in Grand Bahama.
“If we expect stronger performances from our athletes, we have to have better facilities and more funding to ensure that we provide the foundation that they need in order for them to achieve the same level of success that their peers are achieving.
“We have to really commit ourselves to being a sports powerhouse in swimming. I want to be able to ensure that we have more swimmers representing The Bahamas at the Olympic level in the future.”
Cargill said Bahamas Aquatics is requesting an audience with Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Iram Lewis to discuss more funding for Bahamian swimmers among other issues.
“Our athletes who make national teams should be training for free. They are paying to train at our facilities,” said Cargill. “We have to ensure that we provide ways for national team swimmers, and other swimmers who want to swim, to be able to train without some of the hefty fees that they have to pay. If we don’t secure additional funding to support this, we will continue to be left behind. There is so much more that we could achieve in swimming with more funding and more facilities.”
Cargill, who is here in Tokyo in support of The Bahamas’ two Olympic swimmers, said whilst it was expected that there would be better results, they are pleased with the performances of both swimmers and are looking forward to continued progression.
The Games of the 33rd Olympiad is just three years away – set for July 26 to August 11, in Paris, France.