By Chelsea White
At the 2012 London Olympic Games, the nation of Barbados had just six athletes total competing across all 26 sports that were represented. The six athletes competed in just three sports – athletics, judo and swimming.
Six athletes to compete for an entire nation – that is equivalent to the amount of triathletes Great Britain saw race during the very same London Games.
Barbados is a small island country off the Atlantic Ocean in the Caribbean, so it is not uncommon for the number of athletes sent to the Olympic Games to mimic the size of the country. As such, in the past four Olympic Games that has featured triathlon, Barbados has never qualified an athlete to compete.
But this year, that is all about to change. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, Barbados native Jason Wilson will make history as the first Bajan triathlete to ever compete at an Olympic Games.
After missing out on going to the Olympics at the London Games in 2012 by just a few points, his mind over the last four years has been geared towards making it to Rio.
This Olympic quad, Wilson had to fight to the very last qualification race at World Triathlon Yokohama for his Olympic fate to be determined. But this go round, Wilson ensure he was on the right side of the list with enough points to qualify for the American new flag.
“Rio has always been a goal for me. We tried to qualify for London very last minute in 2011 and I missed qualifying for the “new flag” by a couple of points, so going into Rio our goal was to always qualify,” Wilson said.
Growing up in the Caribbean sounds like a dream come true for most, a vacation-like lifestyle you get to live every single day. But what makes island-life so special is that the community bond stretches far wider than the ocean-touched beach borders that surround it.
“It’s like when you take a picture of something really cool to show everyone and the picture just doesn’t do it justice. As best as I try to explain it just won’t be good enough. Barbados is like a small city. Everyone knows everyone and everything. If you kiss a girl the entire island knows before you wake up the next morning. Same thing goes for doing something huge, like being the first triathlete from Barbados and the Caribbean in that matter, to qualify for the Olympics. The entire country knows, supports and is behind you!”
For Wilson, that support started early in his life, when he first began getting involved in endurance-type sports. While cricket, football and surfing are the most popular sports for kids to play when they are young, Wilson found his enjoyment in sports such as running, cycling and, living on an island, swimming.
“I always swam, my Mom made me and my sisters start swimming when we were very young. But when I got older I mainly started doing track and field competitively and then kind of jumped into triathlon because of my background with swimming and running. There was a point where I had stopped triathlon and started cycling for a while on our national cycling team. I actually was doing all four sports for a while, it was pretty crazy. I was going to swim meets, track meets, cycle races and triathlons all in one weekend sometimes, it was insane.”
He was twelve years old when he competed in his first triathlon, which was just a local race in Barbados. After racing locally for a little while, he then started competing in events throughout the Caribbean. However, when Wilson took a summer trip to Canada, it was there that his whole triathlon career changed.
While in Canada, Wilson had the opportunity to meet someone in triathlon that is as famous as his voice himself – Barrie Shepley. Shepley took Wilson under his wing and coached him for the remainder of the summer and was able to compete in some local races during the time. A couple years later he decided to attend University in Canada, and met his now present coach Craig Taylor.
“I never had the goal to always move to Canada and train, but it wasn’t until the summer that I met Craig and had switched Universities that I decided I wanted to train there. He was a little hesitant at first to let me work with him because I guess he wasn’t sure if he should take me on because Caribbean athletes have had a bad reputation and have been known to be a little lazy and are never on time, but I don’t think he regrets it now.”
Wilson has steadily improved his way through the ITU circuit. Winning multiple Pan American Cups and several top-twenty finishes within the WTS and World Cup cycles, Wilson even placed fifth at the 2015 Toronto Pan American Games. All of his accomplishments were working towards the goal of making it to Rio, a goal he can now proudly say he accomplished. For the last couple of years has been involved in Team ITU, which has helped aid towards his Olympic dream.
“Team ITU has been great, I have been on it for a couple years now. I think they help a lot. Not only with helping me get to the races, but also with all of the support they provide at the races, such as a coach and Zita with ITU has helped tremendously. It is nice to get that kind of support with small countries that a lot of big countries have because then you are more comfortable at the race for when something goes wrong, there is someone there to help you, you are not by yourself, so it just has been great being a part of Team ITU.”
But from all the hard work, dedication, sweat, training and competing, Wilson finally gets to revel in the fact that he has fulfilled a lifelong goal. A goal he has dreamed about and has been working towards for years.
“I have been working at this for 10 years. You know the feeling you get when you have spent hours, maybe days working on a school project over the weekend and you final finish just in time Sunday evening. It feels like that but 10 years of work!”
“Any athlete that qualifies for the Olympics is ecstatic about it, it’s a massive accomplishment and a dream come true. But being the first ever from Barbados to do it and the entire Caribbean just takes that to a whole new level. Like a friend of mine posted on my Facebook wall “records can be broken but being the first to do something is there for history!”
So the tiny island of Barbados can be proud of Wilson and all that he has accomplished. They’ll no doubt be cheering him on in August when he lines up against the world’s best on Copacabana beach in Rio, encouraging him along the way while he prepares to make his dreams a reality.
“Can you say you are an Olympian once you qualify or do you have to wait until after the Games? I had this discussion already regarding getting a tattoo of the Olympic Rings. Either way it is literally unbelievable, what we have accomplished is sinking in a little more each day. It seemed so out of reach 10 years ago that I never even thought to dream about it. It’s more than a dream come true though.”