The Cayman Islands Olympic team has five athletes from three sports in Tokyo, Japan for the Summer Olympic Games which start on Friday
Athletes Kemar Hyman and Shalysa Wray, swimmers Brett Fraser and Jillian Crooks and gymnast Raegan Rutty are representing Cayman at the world’s biggest sporting event.
Kemar Hyman, 31, 100m
Hyman is the national record holder in the 100 and 200 metres. He also holds the 60m record with Olympian Kareem Streete-Thompson in 6.56 seconds. He graduated from Florida State University with an economics degree where he also won many track honours.
This is the third Olympics for the George Town resident. "It's a relief and a long time coming," he said.
Qualifying almost two years ago, Hyman, like many others, has been contemplating whether the Tokyo Games would actually happen. (Even at press time there was speculation it could still be cancelled).
Hyman qualified for the Games in 2019 after running the 100m in 10.02 seconds at the Johnny Loaring Classic in Canada. The global pandemic kicked in 18 months ago.
"It was definitely a mental roller-coaster. There were hardly any competitions last year due to COVID, and there were a lot of cancellations for track meets. And, I do think that altered the shape I was in, prior pre-COVID."
Although Hyman's training slowed down, he was able to work alongside Cayman's athletics coach Kenrick Williams for over a year.
"I know things won't be 100 percent at these Games, but I can say I am better prepared mentally in 2021 as opposed to 2020. As always, I do feel my goal in any competition, big or small, is to get through the rounds and execute the best race possible, like my performance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games."
Shalysa Wray, 22, 400m
Wray is no stranger to the international stage, having recently competed at the 2021 under-18 and under-23 North America, Central America, and Caribbean (NACAC) championships in Costa Rica, taking fourth place in the 400m finals. She is an outstanding athlete at the Kansas State University.
“My goal for this Olympics is really just to finish healthy and run a personal record,” she said. “I’m also hoping that this experience will teach and prepare me for future games and even the World Championships next year. I’ve been training very hard for the Games and training is going very well so I’m hoping to run a PR.
“I’m looking forward to the experience of being and getting to compete at the Olympic Games.”
Despite the strict Covid-19 protocols, Wray is still expecting it to be a great experience.
Brett Fraser, 31, 50m freestyle
Fraser is gearing up for his third Olympic performance at #Tokyo2020. Although qualifying more than a year ago, he continued to train meticulously despite the global pandemic.
“The COVID delay provided [me with a] longer preparation period which I have found to be beneficial,” he said. It allowed him to “focus on strength training and refine race relative techniques”.
Fraser qualified for the Games at the 2020 Geneva International Challenge Meet with a B-standard Olympic time of 22.54 seconds in the 50m free.
His goal is to make the final of the 50m freestyle. Fraser, having previously competed at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, like other Olympians, will be accustomed to packed stadiums and roars from excited spectators. But there will be absolutely no fans.
Despite the limitations, Fraser is just as eager to be competing at #Tokyo2020
“This is my first time competing in Japan, and I have confidence the Games and competition will still be great, given the limitations.”
Jillian Crooks, 15, 50m free
Crooks is still at high school but the precocious teenager’s exceptional ability in the pool sees her in Tokyo competing with the world’s best. No wonder she says: “It is a remarkable feeling!”
Crooks, has already represented Cayman internationally at six meets and holds more than 100 Cayman Islands swimming records at many levels.
“It feels like I have made my seven-year-old self-proud. Becoming an Olympian has motivated me to work and challenge myself harder than I have ever done before.
“I am looking forward to representing the Cayman Islands on the world stage. Competing at the Games will be a good opportunity for me to race against new and faster competitors.”
She has broken many barriers, not only becoming the first female to swim under 29 seconds in the 50m butterfly but also smashing the senior national record to become Cayman’s fastest female with a mark of 28.72 secs at the UANA Olympic Qualifier in Clermont, Florida.
“My goals for the 2021 Olympic Games are to make a personal best time in the 100m freestyle and hopefully, make a semi-final.”
Crooks credits the Lord. “I would like to thank God for giving me this talent and providing me with the opportunity to use it; my family, my church family, my friends and coaches: coach Caleb Miller, coach Bailey Weathers, coach Grant Ferguson. I have been blessed to be surrounded by so many beautiful people who wish me well, and to you, I say, thank you! I hope to use my journey to inspire younger local athletes.”
Gymnast Raegan Rutty, 19
Rutty was introduced to gymnastics aged four since her sister was already in the sport and 15 years later is now a proud Olympian.
Rutty will be the first gymnast and only the ninth woman from the Cayman Islands to compete at the Olympics, and she looks to inspire athletes of all disciplines.
"I really want, even if they're not gymnasts, just because Cayman Islands is a small island doesn't mean we can't achieve anything," she said. "If we come together, we're an amazing country. We can make big strides forward in the world of sports or anything. I want kids to realise that if you have a dream to go after it because you never know how far it could take you."
Rutty only secured her Olympic berth a few weeks ago, but she was already training flat out in anticipation. She has also added more difficult skills in her routines where possible.
"It's quite hard you know," she said. "Sometimes I cry because just I'm so happy and grateful. Other times I can't sleep at night because it's just finally here. I've got everything I wanted. I try and contain it, but I do scream a little bit inside all the time."
Rutty expects one of her biggest challenges at the Olympics to be competing without an audience.
"I know that everyone's still supporting me," she said. "I just know I have to keep up that energy that a crowd would usually give off and just keep myself almost hyped and pumped, and I know I'm at the Olympic Games and make the most of the experience."
For some years, Rutty has lived in Katy, Texas to get higher level coaching and use of excellent facilities. The wrench has been difficult but for her, utterly worthwhile.