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Recalling some brilliant sprinters from 'fifties era Coast glory days

SYDNEY Australia -- Three of the best sprinters from the Coast during the glory days of the 1950-60s were Seraphino Antao, Joe Faria, Albert Castanha.

A journo’s thanks with a labour of love: Former Kenyan journalist and author Cyprian Fernandes is embarking on his new book (working title: The Stars Next Door) which he calls his own little tribute to all the Goan men and women and their friends who shone on the fields of sports dreams including soccer, cricket, hockey, and all the other outdoor and indoor games that gave so much pleasure and entertainment to generations of Kenyans from the Coast, to Nairobi, the Rift Valley and Kisumu on the lake.

Fernandes also plans to features those entertained us through music, song and dance.

Naturally, Mombasa and Coast looms large in the planned book if only because Mombasa, for example, was the nursery for some of the finest sprinters in the country, both male and female.

As aspect that been indelibly imprinted on the Kenyan DNA by the double gold medal history making victories by Seraphino Antao in Perth Australia 1962.

Mombasa could have easily have had five or six or seven Olympians with the likes of Albert Castanha, Ali Yusuf, Joe Faria, Jack Fernandes, Meldrita Viegas, Laura Ramos and lots of others.

THE PART-TIME GLORY MAKERS: What was it about the Kenyan coastal capital that produced the largest number of male and female track athletes, among them the greatest Goan athlete of all time: the 1962 Commonwealth Games double sprint gold medallist Seraphino Antao?

There has never been a Goan or East African sprinter of his ilk again.

Was it the sea air, the fresh fish curry and rice (Goan national staple diet), an abundant array of fruit, fresh young delicious coconuts that continue to live in the memory of those who tasted them, was it the club:

The Mombasa Goan Institute, was it the girls and boys Goan schools, was it the soft beach sands of Mombasa, or was it

The genius of coach Ray Batchelor that was responsible for as many as five or six stunning male sprinters (Albert Castanha, Joe Faria, Jack Fernandes, Antao, Pascal) which moulded into the finest sprint relay teams had ever seen and remained so for a long time, three female sprinters, a couple of middle distance specialists, a large number of soccer and hockey players (four or five who played for Kenya), one of whom, Albert Castanha, played international football and hockey for Kenya and was on the verge of Olympic selection as a sprinter but sadly fell short at the last moment?

Was it the fact that they all banded together and formed the wonderful Achilles Athletics Club under Ray Batchelor and dragged each other beyond the individual limits of achievement,

Or was it just the nature of the things?

It was a time before television and there was little or nothing of interest on radio but carrying doing the leisure things that had won their hearts as young school children was the natural thing to do?

Again, what set Antao apart from his compatriots?

Was it the rivalry amongst them?

Did they spur each other on?

Albert Castanha had dominated Antao and the others for many years before Antao took off on his own towards gold medal glory.

Once he achieved his impossible dream, he was the toast of the international track world. If only he had dragged the other Goan sprinters with him, what a wonderful world that might have been!

Similarly, what was it about the mild temperate climate in Nairobi at around 6000 feet above ground?

Was it the dust, from the murram fields the young players practised on, the Dr Ribeiro Goan School which produced all of the Goan Olympians born in Kenya and some from outside Kenya or was school coach and teacher Anthony De Souza the factor.

Many will swear that it was really De Souza’s coaching skills, honed on his own experiences of playing for the Lusitanians in Bombay and other parts of India that made the difference.

Others will say it was he is caring and kind but firm attitude couple with his experience as a hockey player at the top layer of the game that made the difference.

Whatever it was, it meant that more than a dozen players were selected and played in at least three Olympics and four in the case of Alu Mendonca, as opposed to a handful from the coast

And the thing about it all was that all of them were part-timers because they had juggle full-time employment with training and preparation for matches that is why I say they were the part-time glory makers at the international level and at the club level, every one of them deserves our continued respect, admiration and praise.

Fernandes would be happy to hear from folks who would like someone of note mentioned in the book or wish to send a photograph.

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Author, journalist and music lover Cyprian Fernandes

Former Nation Chief Reporter Cyprian Fernandes is a veteran investigative journalist who currently lives in Sydney Australia.



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