National holiday, huge rewards for gold medal winner
BERT WILKINSON Special to the AmNews | 8/17/2012, 10:41 a.m.
The business community of Trinidad and Tobago expressed its disgust and dismay when Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar took to the airwaves late Sunday to declare the next day a national holiday in honor of a 19-year-old from a northeastern fishing village after he had won the men's javelin competition at the London 2012 Olympics. However, their displeasure did little to mar the outpouring of support for the youngster after he had given the country its first gold medal in 36 years.
Keshorn Walcott, a shy athlete from the oil- and gas-rich twin-island nation, surprised everyone when he beat a field of seasoned international veterans by throwing the javelin 84.58 meters to take the gold, kicking off wild celebrations in the southern Caribbean nation of 1.3 million.
So overwhelmed was the cabinet that it consulted no one when it decided to name this past Monday a national holiday, sending the business community into a mad scramble to make alternative arrangements on what is normally a working day.
Still, Walcott, who says he does not want his life to change much, could be financially well off in life if he wisely invests the gifts the state has given him for winning the gold, promoting the country on the world stage and for allowing the national anthem to be played for the world to hear as he accepted his medal from Olympic officials over the weekend.
For his exploits, he will receive just over $160,000 in cash "to be invested as he so desires," a $400,000 home in the posh Federation Park neighborhood in the city, 20,000 square feet or four house lots in his home village of Toco and a full scholarship to one of the local universities to pursue any degree he chooses.
"[This is] for bringing us such pride and recognition to the nation of Trinidad and Tobago," Persad-Bissessar told thousands of well-wishers and officials at an airport ceremony on Monday, when Walcott and his coach Ismael Lopez walked off a plane from London. Incidentally, one of the Caribbean Airlines jets will be named after him, along with a marine lighthouse and a new housing development in his neighborhood that officials are planning.
Sprinter Hasely Crawford was the last man to win a gold for Trinidad and Tobago at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, but Crawford's achievements represented what critics say were creditable performances by Caribbean athletes at the games, led, of course, by the Jamaicans and Usain Bolt.
Though quiet and refined, Walcott was smart enough to appeal to the cabinet for better facilities for rural Trinidad. The prime minister said she had instructed the sports ministry to quickly bring proposals for a better sports infrastructure for review.
"I'm a bit tired, but I know everyone is proud of me. I'm proud of myself, so I'll just go and celebrate with everyone," Walcott said as he left the airport in a huge motorcade for his home village.