Someone once said that, “Whoever said it’s not the winning that matters but the taking part must have been a fool”. They probably did not realise that it was Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, who had espoused such a high-minded, sport for sport’s sake view. Laverne Eve is undoubtedly on the side of the old French baron, rather than the modern sporting hero, as far as that outlook is concerned.
“I just love to do it,” she said this morning, her latest, and ninth, World Championship experience ending in disappointment, after the Bahamian women’s javelin champion missed out on a place in Friday night’s final.
'I keep going because I can'
Eve’s World Championship career began 20 years ago in Rome, when Ronald Reagan was still US President, Kylie Minogue had her first pop music hit, and for most people the world wide web was still something to do with Spiderman. Among other Osaka competitors, only sprinting legend Merlene Ottey has enjoyed such athletic longevity.
At 42, Eve is still bright eyed and enthusiastic, enjoying the sheer buzz from being at the beating heart of international sport. “I keep going because I can. As long as I am healthy and I can throw, I don’t see why I should not carry on.”
Eve’s fondest memory of the World Championships was 2003 in Paris, when – competing as the Commonwealth Games gold medallist from Manchester the year before – she made it into the final and placed eighth.
In her late 30s, this was something of a purple patch in Eve’s career. In her 20s, from her college days at Louisiana State University, she had competed across all the throws (she won the bronze in the Shot Put at the 1993 Central American and Caribbean Games, for instance), but as she matured and specialised, so she began to refine her technique and better harness the sheer power that she had always possessed.
Thus, she was sixth in the Olympic final in Athens in 2004 and made another World final in Helsinki two years ago, when 10th. A second, silver, Commonwealth Games medal came her way last year.
Like many young athletes from the Bahamas, she always had to depend on competition in the United States, but more recently, as she has become the world age-group record-holder, finding the right sort of meetings has become more difficult.
“I really needed to compete more before I came here,” she said after throwing a best of 56.87m left her short of what was required for the final.
“My last competition was the Pan Am Games, but that was six weeks ago.”
Eve works for the Ministry of Youth and Sport in Nassau, which has always been an understanding employer, “they let us take time off to go to compete at championships”, she explains, but her high profile presence when abroad sees her regarded as an ambassador for Bahamas sport.
Eve has missed just one World Championships – Stuttgart in 1993 – since making a nerve-wracking debut in the historic Stadio Olimpico.
“I was just 22 then, and it was a bit of a disaster,” she remembers, “I had three no throws in qualifying. I learned a lot from that.”
Any such lesson has stood her in good stead, for Eve has collected four Pan-American Games medals since, including a bronze this year, 12 years after she won her first silver, and has been a regular contender through the years at high profile events such as the IAAF’s World Athletics Final and the World Cup, where she was the bronze medal-winner in 1989.
She believes that had she had the benefit of better technical advice earlier in her career, she may have achieved even more.
“If, earlier on, I really knew how best to throw and to train for the event, I can only think about what the difference could have been in my career.”
But today’s last throw by Eve may mark the end of an era. She concedes that the time may be approaching when she cannot compete at such a high level any longer: “I certainly plan of being in Beijing next year for the Olympic Games,” she said.
“That would be the right way to end it.”
Steven Downes for the IAAF