|Pioneer achievements give Robinson revered ‘status’|
Guardian Columnist/Sales Executive
Published: Jul 12, 2012
The Bahamas Association of Athletic Association (BAAA) is into its 60th year of existence.
Thomas Augustus Robinson is cemented as the face of track and field in a nation that is regarded widely as the most prolific, per capita, in the world.
There have been many instances during the years since 1952, when performances turned in under the jurisdiction of the BAAA (the organization once known as the Bahamas Amateur Athletic Association) have greatly enhanced the sports power image of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
There have been multiple Olympic and World champions. Particularly over the last 20 years, Bahamian athletes have had their share of world-best performances. There have been three Olympic gold medals, the 2000 sprint relay won by the Original Golden Girls (Pauline Davis, Eldece Clarke, Chandra Sturrup, Savatheda Fynes and Debbie Ferguson); Davis in the 200 meters final of 2000; and Tonique Williams-Darling in the 400 meters of the 2004 Olympics.
The list of world champions is longer.
High jumper Troy Kemp started the world title haul in 1995. In 1999, the Original Golden Girls, one of the great relay squads in history, won the world championship. The year 2001 was a bonanza one for The Bahamas. The country won four world titles in athletics.
Chandra Sturrup began the world title drive that year by winning the 60 meters indoor title. Later at the World Outdoor Championships, Avard Moncur, at the zenith of his career, won the individual 400 meters title and led his teammates to the 1600 meters relay crown. Ferguson won the 200 meters title.
In 2004, Dominic Demeritte won the 200 meters final at the World Indoor Championships. A year later, Williams-Darling captured the title in her specialty. Another world title for The Bahamas came in 2007, courtesy of high jumper Donald Thomas.
In 2010, the remarkable Shaunae Miller captured the World Junior Championship in the 400 meters and the next year, added the World Youth Title in the event.
An abundance of silver and bronze medals have also been won by BAAA registered athletes at the Olympic and World levels. The country was able, at the same time, to maintain success at the regional competitions such as the Pan American Games, Commonwealth Games, Central American and Caribbean Games and the Central American and Caribbean Championships.
Indeed the medal count for this little country in track and field has been nothing short of marvelous. The names by the scores have risen, stayed in the spotlight for a time and then replaced by others. Through it all though, the name that has stayed constant for most of the life of the BAAA has been Thomas Augustus Robinson. This is the case amazingly, despite the fact that he never won an Olympic medal and his career did not parallel the world championships eras.
What has made this man Robinson so very special?
Why is he more synonymous with track and field than all others in The Bahamas?
It’s a simple answer. His pioneer milestones introduced this tiny nation to a large portion of the citizens of the world. He first attracted global attention when he was the one-man-team at the 1958 Commonwealth Games in Cardiff, Wales.
During the parade of the teams around the stadium at the opening ceremony spectators saw the one man holding his country’s flag, walking behind the banner of The Bahamas.
Where was this Bahamas?
That was the general question that Robinson answered many times during a glorious competitive campaign in Cardiff that netted a 220 yards gold medal and a 100 yards silver medal.
Today, he says very simply “that was our coming out part”.
Robinson’s swift feet had carried the message that the small Caribbean nation produced an athlete who had demonstrated that he was one of the best throughout the world.
He began the trend.
Robinson medaled at three consecutive Commonwealth Games, winning silver medals in the 100 yards in 1962 and 1966 as well. He won the 1962 Central American and Caribbean Games 100 meters gold medal. He was the nation’s second standout collegiate athlete in the United States, following the great Charlie Major Sr. (of high jumping fame).
Robinson starred on the University of Michigan track varsity team from 1958 to 1961 and was an individual Big 10 champion on multiple occasions. He competed in four Olympics, dating back to 1956, the first time a Bahamian competed at the Olympics in track and field.
He would also be a part of the Olympic delegation as a competitor in 1960, 1964 and 1968. There were no medals, but ironically, it was his excellent series at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan that gave him perhaps greater world status than his accomplishments six years earlier in Cardiff.
Godfrey Kelly, one of the legendary international Bahamian sailors, was on that 1964 Olympics team.
“Boy I remembered that well. We were at our sailing event, in another city but we all sat around the television pulling for Tommy. I mean we were so hopeful. Then, I just remembered he was in the thick of it and then the race was over and I don’t remember him finishing,” said Kelly recently.
Well, Robinson did finish, but such was the disappointment that it blanked out the final portion of the race for Kelly.
Robinson’s series of races up to the final had made him one of the medal favorites. In the first round, he ran second to the great American Bob Hayes, both of them clocking 10.5. In his second round heat, Robinson dipped to 10.3 seconds to easily win and move onto the semi-final.
He ran 10.2 easing up for third in his semi-final heat once his place in the final was secured. The 10.2 time with him not all out, firmly established him as a co-favorite (in the minds of some) with Hayes for the gold medal.
Tommy remembers the sequence of the race.
“Man, I felt good. I had run 10.2 in the semis and I had a lot left after crossing the finish. I remember the gun going and I got out feeling really comfortable. The guys were able to start a bit better than me so I wasn’t concerned about leading at the early stage. But, when we got to the halfway point, I was right there with them and then I said to myself ‘well now let’s go.’
“Then, I felt a little twinge. But you know, you’re running and you think to just go for it. Then, I felt something bigger. My heart fell. I knew the pull was for real and my chance a medal was gone,” said Robinson.
Yes, he faltered and finished eighth. Such was his momentum that even though the severe muscle pull came some 25 meters from the finish, he still clocked 10.5.
The sailors, other Bahamians, all others watching and those waiting for news of the result have been left to ponder about what could have been. Robinson of course will wonder for the rest of his life about the probable outcome, if not for the leg problem.
In defeat though, his legacy grew. Respect around the world for his sprinting prowess deepened.
At home, a stadium was named in his honor. The Thomas A. Robinson Stadium will soon be relegated to a practice facility, only. The new nearby state-of-the-art structure has also been given his name.
This is so because while others have followed and reached loftier medal heights, Robinson did such an excellent job blazing the trail in track and field that he remains the most revered one of them all.