LONDON OLYMPIC LEADER
Heading to the London 2012 Olympics no English speaking Caribbean swimmer had graced the final of the 50 metre freestyle.
The legend known as George Bovell III of Trinidad and Tobago made his intention known from early at the London Aquatics Centre with the fastest swim of the morning heats with a blast of 21.77.
The semifinals of the splash and dash would see him repeating that time and getting the fifth fastest time in the final.
The final on August 2,2012 saw him cutting through the water to place seventh in 21.82.
History created and another chapter written in the Bovell legacy.
IMPACT ON CARIFTA REGION SWIMMING
Before Bovell at the Olympics there was Hilton Woods of then Netherlands Antilles who had placed eighth in then B finals in 1988. Woods, the 1987 PAN AM Games Bronze medallist (23.39) made it to the B final with a swim of 23.46 before registering 23.65 in his second swim at the Seoul Games.Finishing just ahead of Woods was Mark Andrews 23.64 who represented Trinidad at the PAN AM Games a year earlier and had won Bronze in the 100 metre freestyle.
In 1996 Allan Murray of The Bahamas , a great CARIFTA region sprinter of his era also made it to the B final. He set a then national record of 22.75 in the heats to be 11th overall. In the B final he tied for fourth place in the race with the legendary Brazilian sprinter Gustavo Borges in a time of 22.92.
BARRIER BREAKING BARCELONA BRONZE
Staying in Europe exactly a year later at the Barcelona World Aquatic Championships George would make another breakthrough for the CARIFTA region. This time the series leading into the final was like a building swim. Bovell was 14th in the early qualification with a time of 22.09. The semi finals saw him cracking the 22 seconds barrier with a 21.74 earning the last available spot.
This August 3,would be even better than the previous year. His reaction time was 0.71 off the blocks his turn of speed however would be even greater as he rocketed to 21.51 to earn the Bronze medal. Silver went to Vladimir Morozov of Russia in 21.47 and the Gold to Brazilian César Cielo in 21.32.
IMPACT ON CARIBBEAN SWIMMING
Bovell at this stage in his career had made three World Championships finals and also set the Championship record in 2009 with his still standing national record swim of 21.20 during a swim off to make the Championship final. No other swimmer has made the 50 metre freestyle final so many times or held the Championship record.
Only Puerto Rican sprint star Ricardo Busquets who won Bronze at the 1998 Perth Championships can match Bovell re medal count.
What makes those years especially historic and inspirational is what George overcame before the London Olympics.Reggae icon Buju Banton summed it up best in his hit song “Not An Easy Road”
“It’s not an easy road
And many see the glamour and the glitter so them think a bed of rose”
In his own words Bovell spoke about his ordeal to his home club Marlins of Trinidad and tobago
” My brain injury before London – I had terrible vision and memory loss. I was forced to remain very quiet because if my blood pressure raised from an elevated heart rate it could have caused the bruise on my brain to bleed, giving me a stroke which could have been potentially fatal. It was a very stressful time because for a while there I had no guarantee that everything would be ok and the prospects having a stroke or having to undergo brain surgery had me absolutely terrified and unable to have peace of mind. After progressive brain scans we saw that my brain healed up and I was allowed to return to training. I lost so much strength and fitness that I think to fight back and make it to the Finals in London will be something that I will continue to be proud of for the rest of my life.”
The legacy of Bovell III continues to be a source of motivation not only for the swimmers of the region that he represented but athletes in all sports. An indomitable spirit and an unquenchable thirst for excellence.