TT Road Runners

news : media : 2012

Heat In Coolsingen

By CHRIS CHRISTO : July 4, 2012

Rotterdam, the second largest port in the world in terms of cargo tonnage handled, is home to one of the biggest sporting weekends in Holland, the Rotterdam Marathon. Two Trinbagonians, Tonya Nero and John Lum Young face the starter with two different goals. Nero’s objective, to run the qualifying B standard time for London Olympics and Lum Young’s the age group Boston qualifying time.

Rotterdam, the second largest Dutch city, on Holland’s North Sea coast in the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta,has excellent inland access via canals and rivers to Germany, Switzerland and France. Rotterdamis also a hub for major European rail networks. No wonder this port is the “Gateway to Europe”, a genuine multicultural city with 47% of its population having non-Dutch origins.

Nero, in only her second marathon, is excited by the opportunity to compete against world class athletes and to improve on her time of 3:04:09 which she recorded in her debut at Dallas White Rock Marathon last December.

Rotterdam’s city centre was flattened in May 1940 during the German blitzkrieg (sustained aerial bombing) following the Nazi invasion in World War II. City Hall was the only building to survive the bombing by the Luftwaffe. Reconstruction progressed slowly into the 1970s as the City Council took the opportunity to layout a better city, not simply to rebuild what was destroyed. Construction gained pace in the 1980s.The architecture gives the city a modern look. So “outlandishly” modern, the residents have nicknames for many of the daring designs and concepts.

On the crack of the starter’s pistol the athletes head south along the Coolsingel. Soon they are crossing Nieuwe Maas, a distributary of the Maas River. Erasmusbrug, the 802m long cable suspension bridge,rippled under the impact of a thousand pairs of running feet. The bridge is supported from two asymmetrical pylons 139m high, earning the nickname “The Swan”.

At the 5k mark Nero is much faster than target pace and slows down a bit. Lum Young is on pace.

Most of Rotterdam is under sea level. Dykes and pumps keep the city from flooding.

Approaching 20k the runners can see Euromast, a 185m high tower which surveys all of Rotterdam, in the distance. They realize that they are returning for their second pass through downtown to explore the other side of the river.

At the half way mark Lum Young is on target but starting to slow. Nero is still too quick at this point. Would she pay the price for holding on to faster runners?

They run under Kubuswoningen, controversial apartments built between 1982 and 1984 meant to depict a forest of tree houses in the shape of cubes piled on top of each other at a 45 degree angle. This housing complex is nicknamed “The Cubes” or “Black Forest”.

At 25k Lum Young is getting slower. No doubt about it, he is definitely in survival mode. The Boston qualifying time has been replaced with the sole objective of reaching the Coolsingel finish line. Nero on the other hand is looking smooth and holding pace.

The athletes run through Kralingse Bos, 200 hectares which includes forest, tennis courts and other recreational areas and the Kralingse Plas, a 100 hectare lake. This green space is the lungs of the city.

By 35k Nero’s legs are feeling the distance but she is doing her best to maintain the required speed.

On Coolsingel she can see the finish line clock in the distance; 2:42 plus and ticking. She surges towards the line giving it her all…she needs to stop the clock at 2:43:00…she lays her heart on the course with all remaining energy.

She crosses the line in 2:43:14, a new national record, shattering Deborah Snagg’s 25 year old mark of 2:57:18, but 14 seconds over the required qualifying mark. Tonya is understandably disappointed and starts to reflect and question her decisions during the race.

Nevertheless she is very grateful for the deep commitment and unwavering support of her team: coach Paul Voisin, Allan Baboolal and coach Kirk Hunter who prepares her workouts all the way from Wichita State University, Kansas.

Tonya Nero is the only world class marathon athlete in the country and should have been given the opportunity to compete in the London Olympics. That experience would have redounded to her improvement and that of the sport in Trinidad and Tobago.

In some ways this situation is similar to that of Rosa Mota who missed the qualifying standard at the Portugal Olympic trials but was taken to the 1988 Olympic Games only by the determined insistence of an influential few. In their reasoning a small country with limited talent cannot afford to leave world class athletes home. Rosa Mota repaid her supporters’ faith by winning gold in the Seoul Olympics.

This article is from the July edition of the Trinidad & Tobago Review. To view in magazine format click here. For a complete list of previous editions, please visit


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