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Belize Jumper Faces Hurdles, Alone

July 26, 1999

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) _ Nothing seems to be going right for Belize’s only track and field athlete in the Pan American Games.

Not only did Michael McKoy struggle in his only event at this regional Olympics, officials failed to spell his name right on the entry lists.

The phone card he bought to call home didn’t work, and the scant media attention he earned came from the fact he represented one of the smallest delegations at the games.

Such are the travails for this tiny Central American nation’s lonely long jumper, the only Belizean among nearly 600 track and field entrants.

While countries like Brazil, the United States and Cuba brought hundreds to the games, the former British colony with a population of about 200,000 could only send McKoy and two cyclists.

It’s athletes like McKoy, though, and those in equally tiny delegations like St. Kitts and Nevis, that make events like the Pan Am Games unique.

``It’s not necessarily the one athlete with the most bells and whistles who wins,″ said Brian Koshul, the games’ press secretary. ``Every athlete adds to the luster; any country that would be missing would detract from the games.″

Just getting to the Canadian heartland for the event was tough enough for the 21-year-old auto mechanic, who works a regular day before training at night. He considers Sunday his day off because he only has to do a 10-mile training run.

After all that work, McKoy was hoping to make his mother proud. She raised the family of seven alone ever since his father left when he was 7 years old.

``I miss her,″ he confessed. ``She’s my mom and dad.″

The crowd roared as he approached the runway for his first jump _ but not for him. The fans were cheering for the men’s 400-meter race.

He clapped his hands above his head, trying to persuade the crowd to urge him on. The smattering of spectators who noticed politely obliged. He charged down the runway, but a red flag followed him into the sand. Foul.

On the second jump, the crowd was focusing on the women’s pole vault. No matter. Another foul.

If he fouled once more, McKoy would not have even been able to register a jump. The pressure was on. The crowd noticed him this time, stepping in for the country without a cheering section.

He leapt. This one was fair. The mark was 22 feet, 6 inches.

He finished last.

``I’m disappointed,″ he said. ``I came here to do a job and I didn’t do it.″

Unable to watch the rest of the event, he sadly walked off the field toward the area reserved for interviews. Only moments before, it had been swarming with reporters following U.S. decathletes Chris Huffins and Daniel Steele, but only a few stragglers remained when McKoy walked in.

He stood by the rail and sheepishly admitted even losing was a thrill.

How could he forget the opening ceremony and the honor of walking behind his country’s flag? Or the performance of the Snowbirds, Canada’s precision flying squad? Or the torch-lighting?

``It has been such a pleasure,″ he said. ``A lot of guys wanted this spot.″

Track isn’t such a big deal back in Belize, a tourist destination known for its Mayan ruins and spectacular coral reefs. But McKoy’s countrymen were avidly following every jump.

``Absolutely, he’s our only representative,″ said James Adderly, the sports editor for Belize’s Channel 5. ``We’re going with him.″

Well aware that he would be besieged back in Belize, McKoy dreaded explaining why he lost.

``When I get home, they’ll ask, `What did you bring back,′ ″ he said, wishing the answer was something metallic.

``I bring back my best. I tried my best.″

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