They range from World champions and medal favourites to real unknowns, teenagers to grizzled veterans and world-weary professionals. Their accents are all different, and all they really have in common is the accident of origin. They are 15 athletes from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), all of whom will be participating in the athletics competition at the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad in Athens, Greece.
Alleyne Francique, the IAAF World Rankings number one at the 400m event, carries the greatest expectations, the tall, elegant Grenadian going for gold in the men's 400m. If he can manage to maintain his form through the qualifying rounds of the men's quarter-mile race, his chiseled features could break into his trademark grin as he covers himself in Grenada's flag. Having run some of the best times in the world this year for the one-lap race, the 28-year-old is tipped by many to win in Greece.
Collins is "at where he operates best"
Francique is the World Indoors Champion in his event, Kim Collins the World champion in his, the men's 100m dash. The unlikely champion, a slight, boyish and playful young man from St Kitts-Nevis, will be hoping to pull off his unlikeliest triumph in Greece. Collins has not had the best run-in to the Games, and he is well off the radar insofar as possible medallists are concerned. But then again, that's where Collins operates best.
Francique and Collins have compatriots in Athens. Female quarter-milers Tiandra Ponteen (SKN) and Hazel-Ann Regis (GRN) will attempt to overcome a long season of collegiate track and field, at Florida and LSU, respectively. Both All-Americans at the NCAA level in United States, they have taken different paths this summer. Ponteen won the NACAC Under-23 title in Canada last week, whilst Regis prepared for Athens by running in Europe.
Randy Lewis stands out from the rest of the OECS athletes in Athens. Like Francique and Regis, he is from Grenada, the Spice Isle. But unlike those two, and every other athlete from the sub-region the former Wichita State Shocker is one of the world's outstanding triple jumpers, even though he has barely competed this year, and has just one mark over 17m in 2004. At WSU, Randy was an All-American long jumper.
100m junior sprint talent
Aside from Collins, the OECS will be well represented when the men's 100m gets underway. Still just 17, Antigua-Barbuda's Daniel Bailey, a finalist at last month's world Junior Championships, is one of two Antiguan qualifiers. Brendan Christian, who also qualified for the men's 200m, is the other. One of just two OECS men to have gone under 10 seconds for the 100m, Christian hopes to recapture his 2002 form, on which he took his country's first World Junior Championships medal, in the 200m dash.
Dion Crabbe, the sole athlete from the British Virgin Islands at the Summer Games, is the other OECS sprinter who will contest the men's 100m. The 27-year-old Central American and Caribbean Games champion will carry the flag of the British dependency after overcoming injury concerns in 2003.
Female dashers too
Two women will run the 100m dash. Natasha Mayers of St Vincent & the Grenadines is qualified for the 100m and 200m races. The 25-year-old USC grad and OECS record-holder has held her own against the world's best, and form would dictate that she concentrate on the 100m.
Former OECS record-holder Heather Samuel of Antigua-Barbuda will represent that nation in the women's 100m. At 34, Heather is the grand dame of OECS athletics. She is a graduate of Murray State, and she remains very involved in the development of track and field in her home nation.
Andy Grant is down to compete in the men's 800m from St Vincent & the Grenadines. Grant recently competed for SVG at the NACAC Championships in Sherbrooke, Canada.
From the Commonwealth of Dominica, 24-year-old Chris Lloyd qualified for the men's 400m under the IAAF A standard. The Texas Southern University graduate was born in the US Virgin Islands and grew up in the United States, but both his parents are from Castle Bruce, Dominica. Marie-Lyn Joseph, a 22-year-old who has represented the Nature Isle at World Championships, will run the women's 800m.
Heading the opening ceremony
Usually, Andorra and Angola are at the forefront of world athletics, at least alphabetically. At the opening ceremony in Athens, St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines will follow the host nation into the Olympic Stadium. But the two main men from those territories won't compete till the Games are nearly over. Pamenos Ballantyne (VIN) and Zepherinus Joseph are the Caribbean's leading distance runners, and on 29 August they will take on the men's marathon as the curtain come down on Athens 2004.
Terry Finisterre for the IAAF