Poised For London

Ato Boldon
Few people have as sure a grasp on the London Olympics than Ato Boldon. The four-time Olympic medal winner is a broadcast analyst for track and field with US TV networks CBS and NBC and is primed for NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Olympics. Last week, he was in Trinidad to host the SPORTT Awards during which he made time for an interview with the T&T Review.

TTR: Ato, London 2012 is now just over a half a year away. Are you satisfied that as far as Team T&T are concerned all systems are go? And do you think we have done what needed to be done after Beijing?
AB: We are on a nice streak, dating back to 1996, our longest ever, by far, where we have earned at least one medal in every Summer Olympics. Prior to that, we had a 20-year drought. The country has never won more than two medals at any Games, but 2012 could set a new precedent. I think we will win medals on the men’s side in the sprint relay and in events we never have before, maybe even in cycling, and win our first Olympic medal on the women’s side.

What would be your projections in terms of a possible medal haul? Are we likely to do better than we did in 2008 in Beijing?
Beijing was two – 100m silver and 4x100m relay silver. I think we will surpass that, which would be our best-ever total.

Where do you think our best chances of winning a medal lie? Can we realistically expect Kelly-Ann Baptiste to repeat or will she go one better? What about Richard Thompson? Has he gone off the boil or will he be back by July/August?
Kelly-Ann is the country’s best medal threat. Richard hasn’t won a 100m medal since the last Olympics, but is under a new coach who I think is the best in the world, so he will be prepared.

Is it too much to expect our relay teams, both men and women, to be among the medals this year?
Not at all. The men’s team was the most consistent in the world from the period 2001 to 2009, with three World Championship silvers and one Olympic silver, and the women just had their highest global final finish ever this year with fourth, with very young athletes. They are both likely to medal.

Remembering what happened last time around with the National Championships, are you satisfied that the necessary arrangements are in place for our athletes to be at their very best come July/August?
That is unlikely to happen again, so I feel reasonably certain that it will be a controversy-free Olympic trials for T&T.

The world now expects Jamaica to be high up on the medals table as far as the track events go. Can the Jamaicans maintain their recent outstanding performances on the track? Can they continue to upstage the Americans who will certainly be intent on recapturing the sprint crowns that the Jamaicans wrested from them in Beijing?
After Beijing, when some thought that the Jamaican team’s performance was an anomaly, I said Beijing would be the games people would look back on as the start of Jamaican sprint dominance. The following year, they got even more medals than they did at the Olympics at World Championships, but slipped in 2011 at the next World Championships, and the USA bounced back in a big way. I expect Jamaica’s London haul to be slightly behind their Beijing medal count total.

What about Usain Bolt? What can we expect from him this time around? More world records?
I think that’s unlikely this coming season, but not impossible where Bolt, who loves the global spotlight, is concerned, at the Games in London. He may have to break two world records to defeat his training partner and reigning world 100m champion Yohan Blake, who is a legitimate threat to him in BOTH the 100m and 200m events in London.

Is there any chance that there will be a change in the disqualification-on-first-false-start rule or will the IOC stick to its guns?
The earliest that rule will be changed is 2013, so it means we are probably stuck with it for at least two more seasons.

What can we expect from the rest of the world? Does Europe—France, Germany, Italy, Greece—have any exciting new prospects likely to be able to keep pace with the Jamaicans and the Americans?
Europe has two medal threats. Christophe Lemaitre of France who ran 19.80 for third at this year’s World Championships in the 200m. Jaysuma Ndure of Norway is the other; he was fourth in that 200m race, and is now a training partner of our own Richard Thompson.

What about the African domination of the distance events? Are we likely to see them extending that or are the others who have been threatening to spoil the party for them finally going to do so convincingly?
Ethiopia or Kenya is the question, when we talk events above 1500m. Kenya had a World Championships in 2011 that was as dominant as Jamaica’s Beijing Olympics in the sprints. Ethiopia will not fail to respond in 2012.

What about the problem of drugs? Are we any closer to having drug-free games than we were, say, a decade or so ago?
Blood testing is certainly a step in the right direction and Olympic athletes are blood tested now, but what I read indicates that there is never a foolproof test for everything. Ever. We just have to hope that what we see isn’t then found out to not be above board.

Do you think that, with 26 sports on the roster, the Games have grown too big and unwieldy and need to be brought back down to some manageable size? I mean, can cities really afford to stage the Games as they are currently organized or are they doomed to be financial flops even if they succeed as television spectacles?
The Olympics’ economic feasibility is certainly a relevant topic, as Greece adds “Olympic Hosting Costs” to its long list of unpaid bills. The UK has had some cost overruns, particularly in security. Countries will still line up and have multi-million dollar bids for the opportunity to host future Games. I haven’t heard any complaints about the Olympics getting too big. With multiple media platforms, there is always room to air more events, and the audience will decide what they want to watch and what they’d rather not see.

The Olympic motto is “Citius, altius, fortius.” Is this a mere slogan? Does it sound more and more to your ear like “the Greatest Show on Earth” with which I am sure you are familiar?
I am cynical about many things. The Olympic motto is not one of them. When I experience an Olympic Games, I feel as though it’s the only thing mankind has left to unite us and remind us how to live with each other -sport.
Ato, every Olympic year, the issue of the bias in the television coverage resurfaces. The American mega-channels pay stupendous amounts for the right to broadcast the Games exclusively and then we here at home only get to see events featuring Americans. Is there any solution to that problem? Is there anything that can realistically be done to ensure that the Caribbean athletes get their just desserts insofar as the television coverage is concerned?
I work for the American host broadcaster, and there is no exclusivity for NBC outside of the USA. I challenge anyone to say that in 2008 NBC ignored whatever “the story” currently going on was in my sport, track and field, to focus solely on “Americans”. As far as who T&T will get to see, I am amazed that people watching a broadcast which originates from another country complain that they don’t see their own enough. I watched the Olympics from Australia, and saw lots of Australian-focused coverage. I watched the Olympics in Greece-same thing. To see local stars, a local station must go, and broadcast. It’s as simple as that. The Jamaicans broadcast their own signal from the Olympics so they can control what their viewers want to see. Any national broadcaster will show primarily what is important to the viewers in THEIR country. Imagine that.

What are Ato Boldon’s plans for London 2012? Will you be a part of the NBC panel once more?
I will be in London to cover my second Olympic Games. 2012 will be my sixth year as the sprint analyst for NBC.

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