Wednesday 4th June 2003


Trini to the bone, but Ato hurting

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Ato Boldon

It was without much fanfare that local sprint star Ato Boldon left this country after months of rest. Boldon, 28, had taken a break from track, but speculation was ripe that he had quit the sport. After a car accident on the Priority Bus Route, Boldon said his near-death experience taught him not to sweat the small stuff. Last week, with a win at the Modesto Relays, Boldon is back on track and looking forward to being in winner’s row once again.

In this exclusive interview with ESSIBA SMALL, Boldon talks about his career, his detractors, why he needed to get away from T&T for a while and why this interview may be the last of its kind.

Q: What have you been doing since you left T&T?

A: I have been putting together my plan to be the best me I can be - both on and off the track. I think I have more than done so, and most of my inner circle has remarked, as of late, that I seem to be happier and “in a better place” now than I was last year, both spiritually and mentally.

My results on the track so far this year, have already been better than all of last year as well, so that is a good sign. Optimism is highly underrated, as is faith.

You said you wanted to take a break from this country. Why?

The day I take a break from T&T is the day I’m laid to rest. And even then, I doubt that will be the case.

Most people know how much I am into all things Trini. It’s not a coincidence that I wear red shoes and black socks to compete, or that I drive a red and black car. Even my SUV, which I refuse to put any other stickers on, must have a T&T flag — sticker at all times. Trini reminders are everywhere around me in my house and anywhere I can put them.

It wasn’t a break from Trinidad at all. I simply had to get myself into a more positive place in order to begin piecing my career back together... it’s hard to do that when you’re in your car listening to some so-called radio personality on the air talking about how awful you’re running and how retirement is the only way out.

You also said to your detractors that they shouldn’t count on your quitting athletics. What would you say to them now?

I get way too much support and love from Trinis, both in Trinidad and abroad, to ever worry about who doesn’t like me or finds this or that or the other with me.

There were points at which I felt like maybe I was kidding myself with this “comeback” thing, but at the same time, one simple fact remains: from 1995-2001, I never finished the season without one of the top five times in the world in the 100metres. 2002 was awful, granted. So does it mean I should focus on the one bad year, or the other seven? It seemed pretty logical to me.

Let me tell you when I will retire: when I do the work I am used to doing - and get no results. I said to myself last year that I did minimal training because I didn’t want to run. I wanted a rest. I still fail to understand what was so hard to understand for some of the critics about last year, and why it provoked such vitriol from people.

It was funny, actually. We should have 10 Olympic gold medallists instead of one if so many folks are so knowledgeable about this thing called track and field.

Did you ever think of pursuing a career besides athletics? And if so, what?

I wanted to be many things - a pilot, an engineer and at times, I wanted to be a lawyer. But my problem is that I have no interest in doing anything where I can’t say that I am the best or one of the best to ever do it makes me very picky.

If I had my wish, right now someone would give me the start-up money to do what I am most passionate about these days, and that is building computers for my friends and neighbours. I have built quite a few, and I thoroughly enjoy it.

Of course, I only build the fastest, most high-end computers possible, and I have now started to time how long it takes me to from start to finish - I am still a competitor at heart, with a love for speed, I suppose.

What do you think is the local public’s perception of Ato Boldon?

I suppose when I was 18, I wanted everyone to be an Ato supporter. That hasn’t been important to me for a long time. I just want to be able to have an avenue to give back as I’ve done in the past.

One of the few positive things about 2002 for me was being able to go to a different school every Monday with Brian Lara and feel like I gave something back positively.

Are you happy with the way T&T treats its sporting heroes?

I’d just like to see the ones who have shown promise be supported properly.

My first sponsor was a bank, and I notice that local banks continue to post record profits. You’re trying to tell me that Kerston Manswell should be working full-time doing the back-breaking work he does and then going to train, and he’s already a Commonwealth medallist?

At what point do we begin to support this young man? Look, don’t write letters to the press about how bad the schoolchildren are behaving and how Trinidad can’t possibly be saved in your opinion, when you’re not willing to put pressure on the folks with the money in their hands to support potential role models and leaders in sport.

I don’t believe that sportsmen are saviours, but at the same time, they have a role to play, and you never know when the next one will have a major positive impact on society.

What would you say is the reason for your not winning races?

That’s not the easiest question to answer. Let me point out that anyone who has “doubled” - running both the 100 and 200 - at a world class level for a while has had injury issues of late.

Three sprinters have done it with regularity over the past seven years - Obadele Thompson, Frankie Fredericks and myself.

All of us have had major injury issues since 2000. Oba has barely been heard from since his Olympic Games bronze medal, Frankie missed the Olympic finals in 2000, and has only recently returned to his old self, and I have been hanging on, seemingly by a thread, in the past couple of years, fitness-wise.

Regardless of what else I do, or do not do, my legacy to this sport is being able to do the 100m and 200m at an invitational meet better than anyone else in history. Sub 10 seconds for 100m and sub 20 seconds at 200m in the same meet had been done once in history when I turned pro. I’ve done it six times since then. No one of my generation has done it at all, despite countless attempts.

However, it has taken a toll on my body over the years.

Last year may have been awful performance-wise, but even with the minor injury issues I’m dealing with now, it’s okay - because my body is rested and ready to go now...and I understand that I have to be a bit more selective in running races and certainly in doubling at my age.

Winning races may seem like right foot, then left foot, all the way down the track, but in fact, it is considerably more complex.

Rumours always surround you. There has been talk of another accident (which we spoke about already), talk that you and your wife have separated, that you are too old to compete and that you have been missing races. Care to respond to any of those?

If you are in the public eye, there are going to be weird and often totally untrue stories about you. The average person likes fiction. Facts are boring. It’s why the Enquirer tabloid sells so well. I take it as part of the job.

None of those rumours you mentioned are even remotely true, but I’m sure there’ll be some more entertaining ones to follow. Those don’t bother me, I am amused by them. There’s still a man who claimed in the press years ago that he was my “real” father, living somewhere in Trinidad. Now that is hilarious!

You said that you won’t be doing any more interviews. Why?

I want at this stage to just limit my comments to track-related matters. I owe folks that much because I am a representative of the country. From now on, though, all other issues will be totally off-limits and I will no longer answer any questions pertaining to my personal life.

What prompted this move?

I simply want to start to prepare for my life after track and field, and to be quite honest, I think it’s all been printed or said already. Against the protests of many of my advisers and handlers, I have answered questions over the years that I probably shouldn’t have, and tried to accommodate every single interview request. I’ve always wanted to be accessible and not come across as someone who couldn’t be approached, because that is not who I am or have ever been.

What I have said to reporters, though, is not always what was printed, and sometimes that has made me out to be someone I am not.

We have young up-and-comers in sport and certainly in track and field now. That should be more than enough for the press to cover and report on. I, myself, would like to know more off-the-track stuff about Darrel Brown or Marc Burns.

Q: What do you think your fans would think about this?

A: My fans always know where to reach me, and I still personally answer every question sent to my Web site from wherever I am in the world. There are almost no people in my line of work that can honestly say that, but that is something I will not compromise on. You take time to write to me, and I’ll do likewise.

What does the future hold for Ato Boldon?

People may be surprised by what I have in store in my life next, and I intend for it to be just that - a surprise.

When the track thing is over, the next arena I’m seen in is probably not the one people would guess right now.

I just want to continue to be a positive example, though. I have never attempted to be perfect, but a positive anything, to me, is better than a negative nothing.

Anything else you wanted to add?

I just want to say how deeply saddened I was by the passing of Jean Pierre. She was the Minister of Sport when I first represented the country, and she was the first Minister who took it upon herself to reinforce what I was doing by assisting me in every way she possibly could, both financially and otherwise. Perhaps, because she herself was a world-class athlete, she knew that all I needed was someone to believe in me, at that stage.

I was also best friends with Maurice, her son, in primary school, so it was a difficult thing for me to accept when I read of her passing.

I pray that her soul rests in eternal peace.

I have also realised that everything I say or do will always be misunderstood to some extent by some, but I maintain that it will never deter me from speaking my mind or doing what I believe to be the right thing.

©2003-2004 Trinidad Publishing Company Limited

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