With just four months of preparation the squash team joined forces with all the sporting delegates representing Trinidad and Tobago at the Commonwealth (CW) Games in Melbourne. All national teams convened at the airport which became a sea of red, white and black uniforms.
From the moment the plane landed we were well looked after. We were greeted by the friendly faces of volunteers who whisked us off to the purpose-built CW Village. We were shown our apartments which became home for the next 17 days. To add to the warm welcome local children had drawn pictures with touching messages and one was hung above each of our beds. It was a lovely gesture which made me feel relaxed and at home.
After unpacking it was all go. A light-hearted tour was provided to help familiarise us with the Village as well as the services and facilities available during our visit. We had several days to acclimatise and settle into a Games routine. In the run-up and during the squash events my day started with breakfast at 7.00am in the athletes’ restaurant with Colin and Josh. The free-flowing food and beverages catered for every taste, diet and culture and was available around the clock. Our dietary disciplines were immediately put to the test!
Managers meetings, court-practice, matches, squash meetings, report write-ups in the early hours of the next day were the main activities of each day. The only thing that was not in abundance for me was sleep. With all the Trinidad officials sharing a few computers it was normally 1.00am before I could get started on updating those back home.
Colin and Josh were excited by the idea of competing in the Games and were anxious to check out the courts. Squash, swimming and table-tennis were hosted at the same venue and from memory the journey took around one and a half hours. At the first practice their nerves showed as they came into contact and rubbed shoulders with players they held in high esteem - players they idolised and had only previously seen in magazines or on TV screens. A little pep talk was required to help boost their confidence and, as they eased into their routines and relaxed into the environment of the Games, they were able to brush off these early jitters.
In any event it is always interesting to see how players deal with the competition though the CW Games presented a test on a different scale as they vied with players at the top of the world rankings. Both Colin and Josh rose to the occasion and produced some of their best performances to date. Even when outclassed they remained positive and determined throughout, playing with an admirable passion. This was noted and remarked upon by TTOC officials. That alone was a huge positive result. Added to this both won matches within the singles events. With no training facilities for doubles it was amazing that the pair pulled off a win within their pool. These positive results exceeded expectations and fully reflected their mental approach.
Despite the fierce level of competition there was an overwhelming exciting, friendly and secure atmosphere within the Village. Everyone was keen to chat – coaches, officials, athletes, volunteers and entertainers alike, asking which sport you represented and whether you were competing or coaching. There’s no wonder it had become known as the Friendly Games and the only danger was being attacked by a larger than life character dressed in costume.
Outside the Village people were just as friendly – volunteers, locals and visitors alike. The city was buzzing with live coverage of the sports displayed on huge screens and cultural entertainment with live professional performances/acts from around the world. Apart from enjoying the ambience and high level of organisation, another positive was interacting with athletes and managers from other disciplines in the CW countries, including those from Trinidad. These conversations were encouraging and enlightening. Journeys to and from the competition venue were made light by this camaraderie. As a result of these daily commutes I got the chance to meet the best known squash player of all time, Jahangir Khan, at the Village. Another highlight was an informative discussion with a table-tennis athlete competing in the para-event.
Of course, I would have loved to have taken advantage of the small quota of free tickets that were available to the Trinidad officials on a daily basis to attend other sporting events. Instead, I settled on reports for updates. You can only have your cake and eat it in the Athletes restaurant!
As the Games drew to a close I organised individual post-performance discussions with Colin and Josh. At 22 Colin was at a crossroads - to continue to work in finance or go for it on the professional circuit. The next two years would be vital (if he was to go pro) and again, a learning experience. There is no time like the present and the decision Colin made makes for another story.
All in all the Commonwealth Games was a unique and memorable occasion. There is an anti-climax after all big events, but by that stage all we are looking forward to is well-needed sleep as the levels of adrenalin subside and exhaustion suddenly kicks in as we land on Trinidad soil - back in the real world.