Ferguson back on the treasure trail


Ferguson back on the treasure trail

Monday 22 March 2004

Nearly four years after she anchored the Bahamas 4x100m relay team to a memorable gold medal in the Sydney Olympics, Debbie Ferguson is back on the treasure trail.

Now 28, Ferguson is building up for another tilt at Olympic glory - and this time she is convinced she can win an individual title as well as helping the Bahamas successfully defend their relay crown in Athens.

Ferguson will begin her build-up in earnest when she competes in the Mutual Games in Kingston, Jamaica on May 7. Further events are pencilled in at Mexico City and Portland, Oregon before Ferguson and her fellow Bahamians face their Olympic trials. Although these are early stages, Ferguson is feeling pleased with her work so far this year.

”I am slowly getting back into it,” she told PA International in a telephone interview from her home in Miami. ”It’s going well, I’m pleased and pretty happy with it.”

She prefers not to dwell on injury problems that have hampered her over the last year.

”There have been some little problems with my ankle and my foot but I am trying not to focus on it,” she said. “This is the Olympics after all so I am not worrying about it.”

Competitive sprint double

Ferguson is positive about her hopes of individual gold in Athens and believes she can be competitive in both the 100m and 200m.

”I honestly feel my chances are great and my hopes are high - I was under a little stress earlier but honestly now I am ready. I am getting into better shape and giving more focus to my training and I think my chances are very good for winning.”

Although some consider the 200m as Ferguson’s speciality - - she won the silver medal at the Edmonton World Championships in 2001 - she is keen to keep her options open. In 2002 she doubled up to win golds in both races in the Commonwealth Games in Manchester although, obviously, the Americans and French were absent from that event.

”Although people focus on me in the 200m, they have seen that I can actually run a very good 100m and I am excited about both the 100m and 200m. I am focusing on my start, getting into line and we’ll see how it goes from there. If I had to say which race would be my best chance I would say the 200m, though."

Ferguson is not complacent, however, and admits she will have a lot of work to do to add an individual gold to the one she won as a member of the all-conquering quartet in Sydney.

”In the 100m there will be my team-mate Chandra (Sturrup), while for the Americans there will be Chryste (Gaines) and Marion (Jones) who will be ready to go in time for the Games. Zhanna Block is also going to be a threat, the French have got Christine Arron and the list continues.”

Olympic gold repeat quest

However, the Bahamas women are determined to hang on to their Olympic title in the relay.

In Sydney, their brilliantly-drilled quartet of Sevatheda Fynes, Sturrup, Pauline Davis-Thompson and Ferguson crushed the opposition to win a gold that proved hugely popular. An immaculate series of baton-changes saw the Bahamians win with Ferguson raising her arms in triumph as she crossed the line before taking the blue, yellow and black national flag on a joyous and raucous lap of honour with her team-mates.

Stadium Australia loved every minute of it and immediately after the triumph, Ferguson revealed that she had motivated herself by seeing herself as David and American Jones and Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey as twin Goliaths.

Behind the Bahamas, Jamaica finished second while the United States took bronze - Jones had targeted the relay as part of her “drive for five” golds but instead had to settle for three - she was also beaten in the long jump by Heike Drechsler of Germany. The relay win - Davis-Thompson also took silver in the 200m - achieved a feat that escaped the attention of many in Sydney.

In fact Bahamas topped the “per capita” medals table, largely thanks to the exploits of the quartet who were predictably dubbed the “golden girls”.

With a tiny population of 297,477 the Caribbean nation was in fact the most productive nation in terms of medals when population is taken into account - putting superpowers like the US, China and Russia to shame.

The female Pirates of the Caribbean returned to their home shores laden with gold - although in their case the booty was won fairly and squarely. They have been honoured for their achievements while Ferguson has also taken on charitable roles with the United Nations Food Programme and disadvantaged children.

“I am not really focusing too much on the relay yet,” said Ferguson. “We will start to do some (baton) exchanges before the end of the month of April. “It might be at home in Miami, Carolina (where Sturrup is based) or Austin, Texas (Fynes’ adopted home), we have not decided where yet. We have not run together in a while and we have been hurt by the retirement of Pauline Davis-Thompson.

“We will try and see if we can get it together because we have some tough opponents. The French team looks very good and the Americans and Jamaicans will be a threat as well.”

The retirement of Davis-Thompson - the quartet also won the World Championship gold in Seville in 1999 - means there is a vacancy to be filled in the team that will defend the title in Athens. It remains to be seen who will join Ferguson, Fynes and Sturrup in the starting quartet.

“We are still looking at two youngsters,” said Ferguson. "There is Tamica Clarke and Shandria Brown. We have not yet decided who will join the team. You have to remember that the Bahamas is a small nation so we do not have a very wide choice.”

That Sydney feeling

Despite her individual ambition, Ferguson admits it will be difficult to top the feeling of winning Olympic gold with her three team-mates in Sydney in a Stadium Australia that was packed to its 110,000 capacity. That would have been big enough to hold more than a third of the population of the Bahamas.

“That was just a first for us,” reflected Ferguson. “Being the Olympic champions - team wise there’s nothing that can top that.”

However, she admits that individual glory will also be on her mind when the Games returns to Greece, the spiritual homeland of the Olympic movement.

”To win an individual title that would be fantastic, that would be the pinnacle, the highest anyone can do,” she said. “That’s what I dreamed about when I was a girl.”

It was at the age of eight that Ferguson first felt she had the ability to run at the top level.

”Then when I was about 16 or 17 I got a scholarship to the University of Georgia. That’s when it started to really fall into place.”

Athens preparations

Ferguson admits that this year the Olympics will be a little special and is unconcerned about reports that the facilities in Greece may not be ready in time for the start of competition.

”Maybe we will try to get to Athens about a week before the Games,” she said. “We’ve been reading stuff about the problems but remember this is the way the Olympics got started back in Ancient times and everyone is very excited about it being in Greece.”

Before they arrive in Athens it is likely that the golden girls will stop off at a European training camp.

”Maybe it will be in the second week in August, maybe in Germany,” she said. “We will go somewhere in Europe to acclimatise - there’s a lot of difference between the climate here and there. Then we will be ready and we will see what happens.”

Tom Ross – PA International for the IAAF