WHEN track and field competition gets underway at Rio 2016 Olympic Games in August, one TT athlete who is unlikely to be overawed in the face of competition against the world’s best is shot-putter Cleopatra Borel.
Barring the unexpected, Rio de Janeiro will be the fourth Olympiad at which the Mayaro-born field athlete has represented her country, and, adding to that five IAAF World Championships, it will be her ninth appearance at a global championship.
In an event dominated by the Europeans, Borel will compete as the champion thrower of the western hemisphere, having taken the gold medal at last year’s Pan Am Games in Toronto-- an achievement that basically guaranteed her fifth title as the TT Olympic Committee’s Sportswoman of the Year, and the third in succession.
Speaking after the award ceremony at the Hyatt, a typically relaxed Borel confessed to Newsday that she had not envisioned being around 14-15 years after she first competed for TT at a major event.
“There was no plan, to be honest.
I honestly did not believe I would be in the world of sport in 2015,” she said, adding, “To be a 36-yearold shot-putter? Who plans that?” (giggling).
Declaring that she had been “retiring for almost eight years now,” Borel admitted she was thankful she had not.
“Absolutely, because it’s been the best half of my career since 2008,” she stated. “It has been really the pinnacle of my career and without this time, my career would not have been what it is. When I was ready to give up, that’s when things took off for me. So you never know; God has such plans, always.” A near-perfect 2015 was marred, however, by a freak injury to her hand that prevented Borel from contesting the shot put final at the World Championships in August.
She had finished sixth in the qualifying round with a best effort of 18.55 metres, but during her warm-up for the finals, the webbing between her fingers was damaged.
throwing in pain, her best effort was 17.43 and the TT athlete was forced to drop out, relegated to 12th.
Accepting the setback, Borel is looking forward to improving on her 10th place on her Olympic debut in Athens, 2004 and surpassing the 18.36m she threw in London, 2012.
Her personal best (PB) is 19.42 metres.
Reflecting on the successes that have come in the latter half of a long career, she put it all down to maturity and the support and encouragement of the people around her.
“I returned to TT and (was) surrounded by my family. My coach is excellent, I train with an amazing group of throwers and we now have a lot of the facilities and such that we need to train here in TT .
“So being at home, if I were still in the US, I would be braving the snow right now; I definitely had enough of that. So I think that my maturity and my approach to my sport, making it my everything, one hundred percent of my focus and returning home, it was really pivotal; and of course, my coach.
Borel’s coach is Ismael Lopez Mastraphan, the Cuban under whose guidance Keshorn Walcott won both World Youth Championship and Olympic men’s javelin gold in the same year (2012).
Even in the relaxed evening atmosphere following the awards, the five-foot-eight thrower seemed clearly focused on her destiny in Rio.
“Right now, I’m in my maximum strength phase, which means basically I’m building the strength that I need to be strong as a shot-putter,” she explained. “So it entails going to the gym five days a week, throwing heavy shot puts, extremely heavy shot puts several times a week, throwing twice a day; it’s like the big working time for us. It’s a tough time, but it’s the time.” However, the Pan Am champion is not being carried away by the successes of 2015. Recognising that to medal among the world’s top female throwers would be a fantastic feat, she maintained that she will go to the Games with nothing to fear.
“My personal goal for Rio is to do my best, and that’s all I can do, and the chips will lie where they fall.
I’m not pressured to win medals or to break records; I am going out there to represent TT . I’m in double- overtime; I’m doing my best and that’s all I can do. I’m having fun and I’m representing my country to the very best of my ability.”