A lot can happen in 43 years.
People can learn to live completely out of their smartphones, a black guy can become the leader of the free world and a small country with just a population of several hundred thousands can rise out of nowhere to become an internationally recognised sporting power.
To put the timeline in perspective, when the Bahamas was born as an independent country in 1973, the Miami Dolphins and New York Knicks were superpowers in their respective leagues.
Say this fact to a millennial today and they’ll think it’s a nostalgic myth developed by an older generation to give us hope – much like the separation of church and state.
Not only are millennials accustomed to those franchises being laughing stocks, but they’ve also been spoilt by the exponential development of sports in the Bahamas.
All they’ve seen is growth. All they’ve been witness to is greatness. As far as they know sports has become the vehicle for most Bahamians to manifest their national pride.
Year 43 for our Bahamas coincides with the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. For less pretentious people, that’s the Rio 2016 Olympics.
We’re at the point right now where we don’t hope for Olympic medals, we expect it.
Frank Rutherford has been inked as the first track and field athlete to ascend the podium for the Bahamas with his bronze medal in triple jump in Barcelona, Spain in 1992.
The Bahamas has medaled in every Olympic Games ever since.
Rutherford was followed by the (soon to be) Golden Girls team of Pauline Davis-Thompson, Sevatheda Fynes, Chandra Sturrup, Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie and Eldece Clarke-Lewis taking silver in the 4 x 100m relay at the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
The 2000 Games in Sydney was the most successful for team Bahamas with three medals – an individual gold for Davis-Thompson in the 200m, the official coronation of the Golden Girls in their signature event and a bronze medal for the emerging men’s 4x400m programme featuring Avard Moncur, Troy McIntosh, Carl Oliver, Tim Munnings and Chris Brown.
In 2004 in Athens there was gold from Tonique Williams in the 400m and bronze from Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie in the 200m.
Beijing in 2008 saw triple jump return to the forefront with a bronze from Leevan Sands and silver from the men’s 4x400m team of Brown, Michael Mathieu, Andretti Bain, and Andrae Williams.
Brown, and Mathieu were joined by Ramon Miller and Demetrius Pinder to form the “Golden Knights” and they took gold at the 2012 London Games.
This brings us to Rio and the unenviable position of Shaunae Miller, Jeffery Gibson and Arianna Vanderpool-Wallace.
They say heavy is the head that wears the crown and this trio has several hundred thousand tons of expectation on them headed into Rio.
Miller is undefeated on the year and has the second fastest time in the 400m, Gibson is coming off his best season as a pro where he captured a 400m hurdles bronze medal at the World Championships and Vanderpool-Wallace, who made history in London by becoming the first Bahamian swimmer to make an Olympic final, is ranked fourth in the world in the 50m Free.
Three athletes in their primes that are pretty much already endeared to the country. Of course everyone loves them and wishes them to do their best, but our unreasonable fan base will just love them a little more once they bring home some hardware.
In sport, this one aspect of life that may seem trivial in the grand scheme of things, this small island nation gets to stand toe-to-toe with the world’s super powers. A spot on that medial podium makes us elite, satisfies out national Napoleon complex (substitute stature with population size in this metaphor) and gives us a unifying sense of national pride like nothing else can.
Pre-Independence, our first Olympic medals (courtesy of Sir Durward Knowles, Sloane Farrington and Cecil Cooke) came in sailing but since 1973, the Bahamas has won 10 medals, all in track and field.
Other sports continue to develop and improve and the breakthrough has to be here soon. Tureano Johnson came close in the boxing ring in 2008, Vanderpool-Wallace was on the brink in the pool in 2012 and this year the Bahamas set another milestone with the qualification of its first Olympic rower – Emily Morely. Dustin Tynes and Joanna Evans will also make their swimming debuts in Rio.
The Bahamas Olympic Committee has grown to now include 18 sports under its umbrella with fencing sent to re-emerge and push that number to 19.
We head into the Olympics in year 43 already on a national pride high fuelled by sports and the rise of Buddy Hield. While the front pages are dominated by political pandering aimed at dividing the country in a quest for votes, Buddy Hield pretty much unites the entire country whenever he decides to get dressed and leave the house.
Hield’s milestones in year 43 bring the basketball story for the Bahamas full circle as he became the greatest basketball player the country has seen since Mychal Thompson.
In 1973, Thompson captured the national attention of the American media when his “Miami Jackson Five” went undefeated en route to a state title, making Thompson a sought after NCAA recruit. An incredible collegiate career then led to him achieving iconic Bahamian status when he was selected No.1 overall in the NBA Draft.
Basketball may not be on the list in the archaic “national sport of the Bahamas” conversation but give it garners more attention than anything else. Walk into any school in the country and ask the students how many of them have hoop dreams. Ask them to name their 10 favourite NBA players and they would probably list 20. Ask them what they play in the afternoons, what they play all summer, what they watch the most on television. It’s why Buddy Hield has the impact he has right now.
An exerpt from the the 10YS “Where Does Buddy Go” Column sums it up perfectly
“Buddy become a Bahamian icon even before he was drafted No.6 overall by the New Orleans Pelicans last month. He’s what 10YS calls a “One passport Bahamian.”’ There’s no other citizenship claim, and there’s only one national team he can play for no matter how much another country may want him. He’s our guy and even from humble beginnings, he’s way better than your guy (again that Napoleon complex masquerading as national pride).
Buddy is Bahamian, and unapologetically so. If you follow him on social media you hear him speaking in a thick Bahamian accent, getting his teammates to say things in that accent, and being authentically him. He doesn’t let you forget on his other social media either, always ready to drop a #242todaworld hashtag and add a Bahamian emoji.
Buddy gets it.
He gets it more than any other Bahamian athlete with this kind of platform ever has.”
Add that to this social media era and he has an opportunity to be the most famous Bahamian athlete of all time.
Thompson wasn’t the only one to come out of the independence gates swinging and make an indelible impact on the sporting landscape of a young Bahamas.
Perhaps the most glaring performance from that era came from Oswald ‘Elisha Obed’ Ferguson, who captured the Bahamas’ first and only world boxing title on November 13, 1975.
Obed defeated Miguel de Olivera of Brazil to become the World Boxing Council’s Junior Middleweight Champion of the World.
Fast forward to 2016 and Tureano Johnson appears next in line for a title fight and can mirror Obed much like Hield mirrored Thompson. Johnson was on the fastrack to face unified middleweight title holder Gennady Golovkin before he was derailed by a shoulder injury, but his camp indicates they will look forward to recapturing that opportunity when healthy.
Bahamians have also reached the pinnacle in the NFL and have experienced a resurgence in Major League Baseball, highlighted by the youngest group of teenagers and young 20-somethings currently in the minor leagues including the San Fransico Giants’ Lucius Fox, one of the most sought after international prospects in the class of 2015.
For all of our exploits in the arena our sport since ‘73, the Bahamas has developed as a major host destination thanks to the “Sports in Paradise” initiative.
The Bahamas has gone from minimal participation on the world stage to hosting marquee events like the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, Pure Silk LPGA Open, the IAAF World Relays, Battle 4 Atlantis, Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, Star Sailors League Final and many others.
Minister of Youth, Sports and Culture Dr Johnson called 2017 a landmark year in Bahamian sports as the country continues to solidify its position as a regional leader in sports tourism.
“Sports in Paradise is taking great shape and we are becoming the destination of choice,” he said. “We will host the Caribbean Amateur Golf Championships next month. We hosted the IAAF World Relays in consecutive years and they will return in 2017. Because of the success of that event, interest in hosting other events have exploded exponentially. We hosted the Chris Brown Invitational, we hosted the Caribbean Island Swimming Championships and Grand Bahama is currently preparing to host International Flag Football World Championships this September. The interest in the Bahamas as a sports destination extends beyond this year. In April 2017 the Bahamas will host the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup which will feature 16 teams playing over 10 days of competition. “
Another major event added to the calendar for 2017 will be the Commonwealth Youth Games. Last week, the Local Organising Committee of the Commonwealth Games Association, along with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture and the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology held a press conference to update the plans for the biggest multi-sporting event to be hosted in the Bahamas.
“The Commonwealth Youth Games, the largest sporting event held in the region, will consist of nine sporting events. Shortly thereafter we want to see if we can reintroduce the Bahamas Games in those same nine events. Records already reflect a positive economic impact from the World Relays, and it can easily be projected that these others will surpass the $25 million impact,” Dr Johnson said. “It’s also noteworthy that our ministry has AEG (Anschutz Entertainment Group) which makes sure we have a seat at the table where major sports are happening,” he said. “Discussions are underway with MLB and NFL with both entities looking to host events in the Bahamas.
He added that developments must be made if the Bahamas is to continue into the business of sports.
“Very few countries can ever say they have the ability to host the LPGA, PGA, FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup, the IAAF World Relays, along with NCAA sanctioned basketball and football in the same year. You can’t say we are not well on our way as a ministry. We look forward to leading the way in making the Bahamas a leader in Sports in Paradise.”
There’s no way to dictate what the next 43 years holds for Bahamian sport. For a people so rich with talent and vision, virtually anything is possible. By 2059, we should have flying cars (I’ll settle for hover boards at the very least), jetpacks, a proper functioning feeder system for Bahamian sports, a slightly less bureaucratic process for the most mundane tasks at government offices, and the Bahamas could host the first Olympic Games staged on a chain of islands.
It all seems far-fetched but I tend to wax poetic when it comes to the future of Bahamian sports.
A guy can dream…and a lot can happen in 43 years.