This month, Virgin Islands Olympians brought a ray of sunshine to the territory during a dark time.
For the first time in VI history, athletes from here qualified for the Olympic finals. And not just one reached that level, but two.
Both came close to bringing home a medal. Kyron McMaster finished fourth in the 400-metre hurdles, and Chantel Malone earned 12th place in the long jump.
Swimmer Elinah Phillip did not make the finals, but she also did the territory proud by competing in Tokyo and setting national and regional records in the 50-metre freestyle.
These achievements, which came through tremendous dedication and hard work, are cause for celebration. In a relatively tiny territory of about 30,000 people, any Olympic success is impressive indeed, and this year the VI came closer to the podium than it has ever been before.
The successes are all the more impressive given that this year’s athletes also had to contend with unusual additional challenges. Covid-19, for instance, delayed the games by a year and brought months of uncertainty. Before that was Hurricane Irma, which took the life of Mr. McMaster’s long-time coach and presented various other stresses as well.
We congratulate the territory’s Olympians and wish them the best of luck in the future. All three are young enough to compete in the next Olympics in three years’ time. If they are so minded, the government, businesses and other community members should collaborate to give them all possible support as they continue to compete and train in the coming years. Competing at such a high level, after all, is a full-time job.
Their success also underscores the importance of more broadly supporting all the territory’s athletes.
To that end, the VI is behind in many respects. Even before Irma, facilities and programmes here were lacking, and many top-tier athletes have had to travel abroad for the training they need. The long-promised swimming pool on Virgin Gorda is one example, but there are many others.
Irma greatly exacerbated the problem, destroying various sporting facilities and damaging others. Nearly four years after the storm, many of them still have not been fully repaired. Government must expedite the repair projects.
Meanwhile, sporting programmes for youths and others also must be nourished and supported by government and the rest of the community so that athletes can start training seriously from a young age and continue without interruption as they grow up.
The VI has an abundance of athletic talent. Properly nourishing it is crucial if the territory is to continue on the path to the Olympic podium.