TRINIDAD and Tobago para-athlete, Akeem Stewart, proved the sport of men’s javelin may be this nation’s most lucrative discipline on the world stage as he powered to Paralympic gold (F44) with two mesmerising world record-breaking throws on debut as day-three of the 2016 edition which launched off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, yesterday.
The 24-year old field athlete threw the spear a mammoth distance of 57.32 metres on his sixth and final attempt at Olympic Stadium to snare top spot and deliver TT’s first ever Paralympic gold under the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) banner.
Stewart, who also holds world F43 records in the discus (63.03m) and shot put (20.10m), started off his competitive campaign in Rio yesterday by shattering his own previously standing world record of 54.77m (set in Doha, Qatar at the IPC World Championships last year) by producing a enthralling 57.23m distance on the first attempt.
The 2011 CARIFTA Games double-medallist’s following throws saw the spear land at 56.64m; 56.84m; 53.94m and 55.77m respectively, before rewriting the scripts once more on his final attempt. Stewart’s historic medal-winning performance saw Canadian Alister McQueen (55.56m) bag silver trailing by a lengthy difference of 1.76m. Kiwi para-athlete, Rory McSweeney (54.99m), held on to bronze.
Ironically, the former Scarborough Secondary student juts missed out on qualifying for last month’s Olympic Games during his qualification campaign earlier in the year. The gold rush may have just started for the Tobagonian as his father Wayne Arnim Stewart, a former national rugby player, speaking to Newsday yesterday, revealed the javelin is not really his favourite event.
“Once he hits that trigger point in that discus, I think big things coming. Really the shot put is he favourite event but he used to throw the javelin from primary school. But with the challenges with the foot, he put it down,” he said. Wayne, a coach at Falcons athletics club in Tobago, said celebrations were already underway at their home yesterday evening. “This thing just move to tears man - tears of joy. When you study how far this journey began. When you saw the challenges (he faced) that you read about in the papers, I continued to say ‘press forward regardless. The harder the battle the sweeter the victory will be’,” he said.
Wayne thanked God for his son’s success stating: “Without Jesus it couldn’t be done. We’re just celebrating here. We just came from training, we holding we equipment in we hand and we having some fun. The neighbours are here and we just sitting and discussing how sweet it is.” Wayne, a former soldier, said he was not surprised by the gold or his son’s world record. “I told him ‘take no prisoners. Let the sky be the limit. You go out there fearless, ferocious and with all respect for competitors and the rules of the game’,” he declared.
Meanwhile, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) Brian Lewis, boldly heaped praises on the gutsy competitor stating, “Congratulations to Akeem Stewart on his tremendous world record breaking Rio 2016 Paralympic javelin gold medal. To Akeem, his coach Wade Franklin, his family and THA (Tobago House of Assembly). Well done. A significant moment for the Trinidad and Tobago Paralympic Movement and Sport in Trinidad and Tobago. Rio 2016 will hear the Trinidad and Tobago anthem. Awesome! Congrats Akeem.”
Lewis was also quick to make mention that the Falcons Athletic Club member would benefit from the TTOC’s Olympic/Paralympic medal bonus which would see Stewart pocket a hefty pot of US$10,000 for his top finish. “It’s a big medal for Trinidad and Tobago,” he continued, “Anyone who thinks that the major sports in Rio were over had another thing coming. I challenge anyone to go out there and do what Akeem did. This is history for us and I am proud. The para-athletes remain equal to our Olympians and he will benefit in the same way that our Olympians do.”
This was also the first time under the IPC banner that TT captured a medal at the Paralympic Games. In 1984, at the formerly-known Stoke Mandeville and New York Paralympic Games in USA, TT para-athlete Rachael Marshall won double-gold in the Women’s javelin L5 and shot put L5 and then earned bronze in the Women’s 100m freestyle L6 events. This event, started by Dr Ludwig Guttman, was then renamed to the Paralympic Games in 1960. From there, the Paralympic Games began taking place in the same cities and venues as the Olympics due to an agreement between the IPC and International Olympic Committee.
Meanwhile in other para-action yesterday, national swimmer Shantol Ince placed third in Heat Three of her Women’s 400m freestyle event in 5:25.57. However, her time was 16th fastest of the 17 contenders and thus did not advance to the next round, with only the top eight moving on. Stewart though, will continue his Paralympic campaign on Friday when he lines up in the Men’s discus.
Ince will also have another shot at precious metal on Monday in the women’s 100m freestyle, before again vying for top honours in the 50m freestyle (Tuesday) and 100m butterfly (Thursday). Additionally, TT’s lone track athlete Nyosha Cain, gets her campaign underway on Wednesday in the women’s 200m T44 and 100m T44 three days later.