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May 28, 2020

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Kyron McMaster’s 400m hurdles win gave the British Virgin Islands a first ever Commonwealth gold, and came months after his coach Xavier Samuels was killed in Hurricane Irma

Kyron McMaster did not succumb to tears when he received his gold medal inside the Gold Coast’s Carrara Stadium, waiting instead until he was in relative privacy to release all the pent‑up emotion.

“I might not cry out here,” he said. “But when I go back to the hotel, me and my team-mate are going to sit down on the porch and just cry.”

The outpouring was not the usual mix of joy or even relief an athlete might experience after years of hard work culminates in a major medal. For McMaster, one of the hottest young talents in athletics, it was grief and regret that the man to whom he owes so much of his success could not be there to watch him win his first senior title.

McMaster’s former coach Xavier Samuels, known as Dag, was one of 134 people killed last September when Hurricane Irma ravaged the Caribbean. The British Virgin Islands, where McMaster is from, was among the worst hit by the most powerful Atlantic storm in history. Most of the buildings on the island were either damaged or destroyed and 6,000 people, one fifth of the population, were left homeless.

McMaster soon discovered the storm had claimed the life of Samuels, who had been his coach for seven years and fell from a roof during the hurricane. “Me and my cousin were clearing a road when my father called me back up into the house,” he said. “It was the day after the hurricane. My coach’s sister lived right down the hill from us. She told my father and my father told me. I said every day immediately after that: ‘I don’t want to continue track because I really have very little motivation left because I lost someone very close to me.’”

With the main stadium on the British Virgin Islands decimated by the hurricane McMaster was persuaded to relocate to South Carolina where he now trains at Clemson University under his new coach, Lennox Graham.

Winning the 400m hurdles in an impressive 48.25sec, well clear of his nearest rivals Jeffery Gibson of the Bahamas and Jamaica’s Jaheel Hyde, McMaster said he had been driven by the trauma and upheaval of recent times. “With the hurricane, the loss of my coach, moving to a new coach, changing to a new programme, adapting to a new life it’s been a hard six months on me,” he said.

“My family and friends we just made it through together. We know how much this would have meant to my coach.”

McMaster is the first Commonwealth champion the British Virgin Islands has had and the territory’s most successful sporting export. He hoped his latest triumph would help its inhabitants recover from tragedy.

“My country is the motivation for me right now,” he said. “I’m just searching for ways to help everyone get through this with me. I know they’re back home celebrating. They’re all gathered in one big spot to watch the race on one big TV and it’s 5.45am in the morning. Even if I came last they would’ve still loved me.”

England’s Jack Green finished fourth in the final at his first Commonwealth Games and has overcome his own struggles to even be on the start line. The 26-year-old, who suffers from depression, took almost two years out of the sport before returning to competition and said racing can still be a struggle mentally.