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TT hurdles champ faces another stumbling block

By JONATHAN RAMNANANSINGH Monday, August 11 2014

Five-time national 110 metre hurdles champion, Mikel Thomas, has been presented with a golden opportunity to train alongside reigning Olympic champion and world record holder, American Aries Merritt, at the World Athletics Center in Paradise Valley, North Phoenix, Arizona.

Over the past six weeks, Thomas has been in talks with the Center’s recruiting coordinator/ sprint hurdle coach, Andreas Behm, who has equally shown interest in the two-time Trinidad and Tobago Olympian. However, the 26-year old cannot simply join this esteemed training programme and must first undergo an interview process.

But, the current National 110m hurdle record holder is merely exploring his options at the moment since he is still waiting on a response from the Ministry of Sport as to when, if ever, he would be receiving his promised funding from the Elite Athlete Assistance Programme (EAAP). This programme, according to the Sport Ministry’s website, was created to “provide financial assistance to outstanding athletes, in support of their preparation for, and participation in international competition”.

Thomas, who has met all requirements to be a beneficiary of the EAAP, has not received any monetary help since May 2013 and was recently evicted from his Florida apartment due to the inability to pay his bills on time. He has since been forced to give up his professional training and volunteer job as an assistant coach at the University of Florida. Presently, he is bunking by family members in New York and using this time to weigh all options for his athletic future.

“I looked into it (World Athletics Center) to seek options but there is equal interest and they have expressed my approval and desire to have me. They have kept in contact with me and I’m hoping I can still seize the opportunity and get ready for 2015/16 season there,” Thomas said yesterday.

“I can only go if I can fit the cost. They have other foreign athletes there, but they are either fully sponsored or aided by their respected governments or federations. Without the support for me, this once in a lifetime move might just slip away. The Center would have all I need to take things to a next level. Track and strength coaches, medical and physiotherapist aid, good weather, elite training partners and facilities as well,” he revealed.

Other than this, the 2014 Gugl Games champion is considering returning to Florida and his volunteer coaching job with the help of the University assistant coach, Erin Tucker.

He added, “I’m working as hard as I can to organise (myself). I’m even looking into what a move back to Trinidad might be. I’m not opposed to coming home, but help and a plan has to be in place. The best training conditions would be at the World Center though. As I wait to see what direction God will take me I will do my best to knock every door I can.”

All attempts to contact newly appointed Minister of Sport, Dr Rupert Griffith, for a comment on Thomas’ crisis proved futile throughout Saturday and yesterday. On Saturday, Newsday was told that Dr Griffith was in a meeting on two occasions. Yesterday, two attempts were again made to contact the Minister, but both went unanswered.

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