Ato Boldon, the 1997 World 200m champion, was a guest at today’s press conference ahead of the 2013 IAAF World Youth Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine.
Although he missed the opportunity to compete at the World Youth Championships, Boldon was a junior star before going on to enjoy a long and successful career representing Trinidad and Tobago. Based on those experiences, Boldon passed on five valuable pieces of advice for the 1500 athletes taking part in Donetsk.
“The first thing, and the most important thing, is the friendships you will make,” he said. “There are people I competed with in 1992 – Kareem Streete-Thompson, Haile Gebrselassie – and these are still friends I have to this day, 21 years later. Of course it’s important to compete and to do as well as you can. But if you lock yourself in your room and refuse to socialise with your team-mates and athletes from other countries, then you’ll miss out on making lifelong friendships. One of the best things in sport is friendships.
“The second thing – understand very clearly that the road to senior success is littered with a lot of young phenomenal talents. It’s not a given in this sport that being a young star or teenage champion will automatically result in being a senior star. For every Usain Bolt, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross and Yelena Isinbayeva, there are a thousand who do not make it. Even if you’re the best now, it means nothing going forward. As all those athletes had to figure, there’s a gap between junior success and senior success. To have great career, you’ve always got to be thinking four, five, even 10 years ahead.
“You only have to look around in sport to realise the temptation to cut corners and go the route of doping is always going to be there. I’m a living example of why you should resist. There are people, even ones I’ve come up against in competition, who took drugs and did it the wrong way. They’re now remembered for all the wrong reasons. As a young athlete you’re interested in being the best, but all athletes want to be remembered. It’s important to be remembered for all the right reasons. Guard your reputation ferociously.
“Sometimes the best decisions aren’t going to be the easiest. Sometimes you might have to make sacrifices and move out of your comfort zone. Look at Mo Farah – he moved to the USA to train with Alberto Salazar and then became a star. I moved to California to train. Sometimes where you’re most comfortable as an athlete is not where you’ll achieve your biggest success.
“The last of my five pieces of advice is you have to understand, whether or not you already know it, that you’re now a role model. Some athletes embrace that, but others don’t. But the fact remains, you’re now wearing your team’s national colours; what you do here when representing your country is going to be scrutinised. Understand from a very early age, you’re now an ambassador and a role model to young people in your country. Be aware of that when you speak, when taking pictures to put on Facebook and Instagram, and be aware of it when you’re out in public because you never know who is watching.”
“World Youths is the place to see future champions”
The World Youth Championships began in 1999, by which time Boldon was well into his senior career. But he was a talented teenager and won gold medals in the 100m and 200m at the 1992 World Junior Championships in Seoul.
“I’d only just started to represent my country that summer, so for me the World Junior Championships that year was just another meet,” he said. “But I was aware of the fact that I wasn’t just competing against Central America and the Caribbean – I was up against the World.
“I got to Korea and I had no idea of where I was ranked in the world or who was my competition. But when all was said and done I won two gold medals, which the media at the time told me hadn’t been done before.
“When you look at what the World Youth Championships have produced, people who have been champions at this competition are now standing atop the podiums at World Championships and Olympic Games.
“That’s why it’s important to be here – if you want to see future champions of the sport, you’ve got to be at this championship.”
Boldon was recently made an IAAF Ambassador. “It took a while, because it felt as though I was an ambassador for the sport since I was 18,” he said. “I’m grateful to be in this position, and my passion for the sport comes out when I broadcast.
“I have an online show, Inside Athletics, which I produce with the IAAF where we talk to World and Olympic champions past and present. It’s interesting to see the different personalities and you don’t realise how fantastic and successful these people are off field of play.
“For me, as someone who has always considered track and field to be one of my biggest loves, being an IAAF Ambassador feels like I’ve finally arrived home.”
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF