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Updated 5 October 2009
Alonso EDWARD, Panama (100/200m)
Born: 8 December 1989, Panama City
Coach: Matt Kane
Only three years after taking up athletics, and choosing it as his permanent sport, Alonso Reno Edward Henry became, in 2009, the youngest athlete to win a medal at 200m in the World Championships, gaining silver with a South American record of 19.81.
Indeed, at the 12th World Championships in Berlin, Edward, then 19, was beaten only by the astonishing Jamaican, Usain Bolt, who set a World record of 19.19. “I never thought I would progress so quickly,” Edward said. “I believe this is thanks to sacrifice and perseverance. I would like to thank God as I am able to enjoy success with my beloved Panamanian people.”
Edward is the third of four siblings in a deeply Christian family with strong sporting roots. His mother, Margaret, was known in Jamaica, her country of origin, as “the girl with long legs”, when she used to practise athletics. His father, also named Alonso, took part in several sports with the soldiers posted in the US bases in the former Panama Canal Zone, where he excelled with a strong body and good physical condition. Alonso’s brother, Mateo, who is following in his footsteps, is dreaming of participating in the 2012 London Olympics.
The year of 2005 turned out to be decisive for the adolescent Alonso, who was born just 12 days before the United States launched a military invasion of Panama to topple the then president, General Manuel Antonio Noriega. He grew up near the Pedro Miguel lock (Panama Canal) and was raised around the remaining US residents based in the area, which was returned to Panama on 31 December, 1999.
A natural science teacher, Gilberto Sanchez, motivated Edward to take up athletics when he made mention to him of an inter-school competition at the Rommel Fernández Stadium, in Panama City. He assured him that he had a chance to win thanks to his remarkable speed. Although he preferred baseball and basketball, Edward accepted after Sanchez made him a tempting offer: he would help him pass the subject if he decided to participate in the competition.
The young Edward had no alternative as he was not doing well in natural sciences. He decided to run and beat internationally experienced athletes. He overwhelmed experts who saw in the young man an incarnation of the famous Panamanian “son of the wind” Lloyd LaBeach, who had gained the 100m and 200m bronze medals at the 1948 Olympic Games in London.
“Honestly, I ran only because I had to pass the exam,” Edward recalled. “Actually, I wasn’t completely sure about practising athletics as I did not feel so attracted by it. But my teacher kept motivating me and I really thank him now.”
When he achieved this local win at secondary school level, Edward was already playing competitive baseball. However, one day he was hit hard in the chest by a ball and collapsed breathless. He decided to quit the sport, but he had showed his speed between bases and an excellent defence in the centre field.
“I wanted to hit the pitcher, but I was breathless and laying on the home plate and had to wait to recover,” Edward said. “I just thought baseball was not made for me and quit. I knew my parents and the coach would be mad at me for not playing anymore, but they eventually understood me.”
Since his emergence in Panamanian athletics, Edward has provided several joyful moments for his country. He became South American Youth 100/200m champion in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2006, under the guidance of Panamanian coach Cecilio Woodruff. In São Paulo, in 2007, he took the South American junior 100m gold in an Area record of 10.28. He also excelled at the ALBA Games, in Caracas, winning the 100m and finishing second in the 200m, and dominated the sprints in Central America.
In 2008, Edward completed a training period in São Paulo, Brazil, before accepting an offer to study and race in the United States. His main aim for the year was the World Junior Championships, in Bydgoszcz, Poland, but an injury just a few metres from the finish line prevented him from advancing into the second round in the 100m.
At the end of the season, Edward started to train at Barton County Community College, in Kansas (USA), and compete in the junior college division. He impressed with his speed under the guidance of coach Matt Kane.
In his first indoor season, in 2009, Edward set a national 200m record of 20.89. Outdoors, at 100m, he clocked a windy 9.97 in early May. Then on 23 May, at the National Junior College Championships, in Hutchinson, he won both sprint titles, setting national records at both the 100m (10.09) and 200m (20.34), lowering the latter again with 20.00 at the Rethymno Grand Prix to confirm his solid aspirations for the World Championships in Berlin. During his summer campaign, he also became the first Panamanian to take the sprint double at the South American Championships, in Lima, in June.
“Edward is a very disciplined athlete, who has managed to make great progress and achieve remarkable results at just 19 years of age,” Panamanian Athletics Federation president, Ricardo Sasso, said. “He is a prospect who is set to give more satisfaction to the country as he has done with his silver medal performance in Berlin.”
The head of Panamanian athletics expressed all kinds of praise for him and said that the key for his quick success was his family and the way the federation had managed his preparation. “His family is very Christian and they have always responded to all Alonso’s needs,” Sasso said. “He was been brought up with good education and values, which makes him a great person, whose main feature is humility.”
Like many youngsters, Edward, who is studying at Barton, likes to party and have fun. He said that carnivals are his favourite parties, although he believes he won’t have any other opportunity to enjoy them until he retires from competitive athletics, due to his busy international schedule. “I love carnivals as I can spend four days with friends dancing, having fun and enjoying the music of my favourite reggae artists on the streets of Panama,” he said.
With his characteristic smile and placing God above all, Alonso promised during the warm welcome accorded by the Panamanian people following his Berlin feat that he would prepare conscientiously to face the likes of Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay. He has just started to write his own history in the world of athletics.
100m: 10.09 (2009)
200m: 19.81 (2009)
100m: 2006: 10.60; 2007: 10.28, AJR (10.25w); 2008: 10.63; 2009: 10.09, NR (9.97w)
200m: 2006: 21.18; 2007: 20.62, NR, NJR; 2008: 20.96; 2009: 19.81, AR
2006 1st South American Youth Championships, Caracas (100/200m)
2007 1st ALBA Games, Caracas (100m)
2007 2nd ALBA Games, Caracas (200m)
2007 1st South American Junior Championships, São Paulo (100m)
2008 heats World Junior Championships, Bydgoszcz (100m)
2009 1st NJCAA Indoor Championships, Lubbock (200m)
2009 1st NJCAA Championships, Hutchinson (200m)
2009 2nd NJCAA Championships, Hutchinson (100m)
2009 1st South American Championships, Lima (100/200m)
2009 2nd World Championships, Berlin (200m)
Prepared by Roger Gonzalez for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2009.