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Interview with Alwyn Babb

04/11/09: Clayton Clarke interviews with Alwyn Babb, coach of  2009  Barbados World Championships 110m Hurdles gold medallist Ryan Braithwaite.

CC:  Congratulations on the success of Ryan in Berlin how are you feeling on that achievement?

AB: Thanks, I feel elated because I have worked with him for several years and you toughed it out in circumstances where motivation was necessary. And to realize that your persistence and your hard work over the years have reached somewhere I am elated.

CC: Ryan had a particularly good year broking the Barbadian 110m hurdles record several times.

AB: His preparation and exposure to high level competition on a regular basis (helped him) to lower the mark (to 13.14 sec in taking the gold medal in Berlin). He is currently at Barton Junior college and is sponsored by Adidas.  

CC: How did you first met him? What potential did you see in him?

AB: I met him ( in 2003) as a student at the Lester Vaughn School where I teach and during our P.E. (Physical Education) classes between September and December we tend to do a lot of talent search. One of the sessions was hurdles and we had one outstanding hurdler, Lorenzo Wickham, who was a medallist at the Carifta (Games). The young boys tend to challenge each other so Ryan told him(Wickham) he can beat him. So when I saw his approach without being taught and based as a youngster on what he envisioned what hurdles was about and though he did not win the challenge(with Wickham) you saw something to work with.  

CC: What was the next step?

AB: He was more involved with other sports so getting him to train consistently as a hurdler only happened in the later part of the year (2004). The year when he won the CAC (Central American and Caribbean Junior track and field championships held in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago) gold(100m hurdles) as an under 17(athlete) he did not make the Carifta team (for Barbados) which came down to consistence and training. After that effort at CAC, we saw some improvement in terms of how he trained. And then he went on win Carifta gold medal (at the 2005 Carifta Games) and set new records at the 2006 CAC and Carifta games in the  under boys 100m hurdles.

CC: In 2005 he won silver in the 100m hurdles at the World Youth Championships in Marrakesh, in Morrocco tell me about that.

AB: I didn’t not go to that World Youths but based on his preparations and how he was working I was expecting him to win the gold medal but in the semifinals he picked up an injury to his foot. Going into the finals with the world leading world youth time[13.34 seconds(+1.6m/s) -91.4cm] which he set in the heats. And he was a clear favourite but since he sustained that injury that is what costed him the gold medal.

CC: Take me through the next year 2006.

AB: For CAC and Carifta he wasn’t challenged really other than (by)the two Jamaicans (Andrae Collins and Keiron Stewart) and they were adamant that they were going to beat him so we worked a little harder that year and we saw the Carifta record being broken. At CAC he won the gold medal [in a new CAC record of 13.69 +1.6)]. I think he was unchallenged at that point in time (because) he was running with so much confidence and the Ryan I know even today believes that if he puts him mind to what he doing he is unbeatable.

He then attended the World Juniors in Beijing and that was I called the low point in his career. (He was false-started). In the prelims, coming to World Juniors with outstanding times and performances there was false start in his heat. And on the second he came to set and he fell out of the blocks. He did not move to run but the starter held him so long and he fell over on his face. And that was a low point for him. He took it very hard but after a couple of months he got back in the groove and he put that behind him and trained even harder.  In 2007 he went to Pan Am Juniors (in Sao Paulo, Brazil and won bronze) and Pan Am Senior( in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and made the finals) At these championships he qualified for the 2007 World Athletic Championships in Osaka Japan ( and reached the semifinals). In  fact he was doing exceptionally well for a junior in the senior competitions.

CC: How would describe him?

AB: He is outgoing, easy to get along. He isn’t one for stressful situations. If there is a problem he tries to get rid of it quickly. He is very jovial and even with all of this success that has not change. He loves a good laugh. When we travel we usually room together and he gets about his business but he has time for self.

CC: How is his response to training?

AB: I am so glad with the change. Ryan as a young man, (as) with  most youngsters, if you asked them to train three, four days a week (and) two hours after school there is a lot of distraction and difficulty with commitment. In the early years he was not the best person to turn up at training but he was talented. What he brought to the hurdles event was natural ability and an understanding of hurdling like no other. But I have seen change, now that he recognized that running pays the bills (and) that he can make a living. When I speak to him about training instead of complaining how hard is, is he laughs and jokes about hard the training is.

CC: When he decide to go to the US?

AB: He didn’t indicate an interesting in going but I wanted him to be exposed to more competition because he was running out of challenges in the Caribbean among his peers.

CC: You also coached Shane Brathwaite (2007 World Youth Octathlon champion). Is he related to Ryan?

AB: No.

CC: You are a Sprints and Hurdles coach (IAAF Level IV).

AB: Yes.  I enjoy coaching the sprints and the hurdles.  I stuck with the sprints up the 800m because I believe that as the (NACAC) region tend to dominate from the 100m to the 400m and, that is not to discourage any other coach who likes the middle distance, but that is where our strengths are.  If you look at it the Europeans tend to dominate all the throws with the Americans flipping in here and there. Then you have the Africans and some of the European countries taking over the middle distance and we see the dominancy of Jamaica and what we see now in some of the (sprint) finals in the world that the NACAC region takes up all eight final spots with the odd person coming from outside of the region. That is where our strength is. Unless that changes I am going to stick to the sprint and the hurdles.

CC: Barbados has produced quite a few world class hurdles in recent times, Andrea Blackett (1998 Commonwealth women’s 400m hurdles champion, a four-time World championship finalist and 100m/400m hurdles national record holder), Kierre Beckles (2009 Commonwealth Youth girls 100m hurdles champion, finalist at the 2008 World Junior and national junior record holder), Shane Braithwaite (2007 World Youth Octathlon champion, 2009 Pan American Junior 110m hurdles bronze medallist and national junior 400m hurdles record holder) . What do think is responsible?

AB: The hurdles is a rhythmic event and Barbadians have rhythm. Our culture in terms of (the) Crop –Over (festival) see some good gyration (laughs loudly).  I don’t what has been our seemingly progress so well in hurdles as opposed to other events.

CC: You were in Berlin when Ryan won the gold. What was your reaction?

AB: I was more nervous in the semifinals because it brought the memories of the false-start in the 2006 World Junior. And believe it or not there a false start in the semifinal. My concern really was not whether or not he would win a medal. My concern was whether he would hold up and get through to the final because I know once he was in the final, based on what he has been doing, consistently getting better from round to round, that he was going to medal. What colour was the medal was another discussion. At the semifinal stage we were more concerned about getting past that stage and reaching the final.

CC: I think the whole field was buoyed by the non-finishing of Dyron Robles (World record holder) in the semifinals (due to injury). What was your reaction to that?

AB: As a coach I tend to do a lot of looking around in the warm up area and observing Dyron during the warm up I recognized that he not going over hurdles at all. I said that was very strange and I knew that something was wrong. I kept it to myself. And then in the semifinals when I saw it repeated. He took the same route (of not going over hurdles) I said to the athletic therapist who was there that he (Robles) was not going to get much further because I believe he was saving himself in the hope of whatsoever concerns he had would hold up in the rounds and not interfere with what was happening in terms of his injury. At that point I was not concerned because he was not at 100 percent.

CC: What about the Americans?

AB: Those who (were) more concerned (about) because, the Americans in terms of track and field are very competitive and territorial. They feel the hurdles and the 400m belong to them. We kept our eyes on what they were doing. But again they didn’t run a lot (coming into Berlin) and that was unlike the Americans in terms of the hurdles. Knowing that the hurdles was a rhythm event, the more you run it the more you improve your rhythm. (And) those guys those came, David Payne and the other two (Terrance Trammell and Aries Merritt) who were there they did not do a lot of running competitively which raised a couple of red flags in terms of fit they were in respect to the hurdles. So although you knew they were very competitive that was in the back of my mind. At that stage, it also knowing that Ryan was the only person in the world to run close to Dyron, in London (Aviva Grand Prix on 24th July).  All the other races when he (Dyron) ran he was head and shoulders clear of his rivals.  Ryan was the only person to run him down to the wire to the finish. With him out unfortunately because he was injured we decided that Ryan was next.

CC: How important do you think that win (in Berlin) is for Barbados?

AB: I am glad you asked that question because I am hoping that with his success that in the whole event of celebrating the win and trying to showering on him all of the gifts which he rightly deserve for his achievement that we some how don’t lose the real picture that we want to achieve. I would always encourage those persons who are showering gifts and are prepared to spend money not only on Ryan but several other athletes in Barbados who need assistance.  Right now Ryan is now a professional athlete. He gets paid for what he does. The most important thing is instead of exploiting the success to put your name behind it as a business (and say) you gave him this, you gave him that I want them to be encouraged by his success and use that to say “look we can help the others who are here” because they are lots of others in the wings waiting for that opportunity. I am hoping that someone who be brave enough to say to the athletic clubs and coaches who sacrifice daily, free of cost (and) no pay who gave the country free mileage every time an athlete is successful in a major meet. That the governments of the Caribbean don’t have to pay for that. They don’t have to pay a cent in terms of advertising. It is free. And that type of exposure for your country adds or equals to millions of foreign exchange. Ppeople who then would want to then associate with your country and then incline to visit your country because they may be curious. They have never been to Barbados but here we are. We have several sports persons who are doing well. How can you advertise for that and not get money and show appreciation to a sport and to the association or to a club and coaches who sacrifice daily. So I am hoping that with success I am hoping we get more input and support financially and other wise for our clubs. And coaches are respected for the efforts they put in everyday. I am saying that his success or athlete’s success generally does not mean that the coach’s live changes financially or other wise. I am going my business. Nothing has changed.