September 2016, Sports

Falcons fly at the Olympics

Saint Augustine’s University is known for dominating the CIAA, but its student-athletes can compete at the highest levels – Falcons are regulars at the Olympics. Four Falcon athletes took part in the XXXI Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, representing Saint Augustine’s and their home countries.

It was hardly the first time Falcons had competed at the pinnacle of athletic events.

“I’ve had athletes go the Olympics for the last 35 years, so it is all the same,” said head track and field coach, George Williams. “You want them to do the best they can and you find out that it is an experience for them.”

The four athletes who competed at the games in Rio were Tia-Adana Belle, Burkheart Ellis, Jr., Ramon Gittens and Roxroy Cato.

Rising senior Tia-Adana Belle, competing in her first Olympics, competed in the women’s 400-meter hurdles for Barbados, her home country.  Belle competed in the first round and crossed the finish line at 56.68 seconds, narrowly missing the chance to advance to the semifinals. This concluded a successful season, where she was able to defend her national championship title. Belle also set a new NCAA Division II record and meet championship record in the women’s 400 hurdles.

Belle was impressed by the whole experience. “While warming up before the race, I noticed all the people there that do this for a living,” she said in an interview with The Falcon Forum. “When I was on the track about to race, just seeing everything that was going on, I was just like, ‘Whoa!’ ”

Belle is still deciding on her future plans. “I’m not sure just yet but I’m just going to go with the flow because sometimes plans don’t happen.”

Recent graduate Burkheart Ellis Jr. also represented Barbados and also competed in the Olympics for the first time. Ellis took part in his best event, the 200-meter dash. Ellis finished in the first round at 20.74 seconds. While he did not advance to the semifinals at the Olympics, Ellis’ performance came at the end of a very successful collegiate career in which he lead the Falcons to their fourth consecutive NCAA outdoor championship, won two national titles in the men’s 4×100 meter relay and the 200 meter dash, placed second in the 100 meter dash and earned NCAA Division II Track MVP.

Another Saint Augustine’s student, Ramon Gittens, not only competed but played a special role in the Olympics. In the opening ceremony, he was the flag bearer for Barbados. Gittens competed in the sprint duo at the games. The sprint duo consists of the 100- and 200-meter dashes, which Gittens completed, in the first round, in 10.25 seconds and 20.58 seconds, respectively.

This was the second Olympics for Gittens; In 2012, he competed in the games in London in the men’s 100-meter dash. Gittens also earned NCAA All-American accolades while attending Saint Augustine’s as a student-athlete.

Roxroy Cato flashed black, green, and gold on his chest, racing under the Jamaican flag. In the men’s 400-meter hurdles, he was able to advance to the semifinals by successfully running the first round in 48.65 seconds. This was the second Olympic games for Cato, as he competed in London in 2012.

While competing for Saint Augustine’s, he was the NCAA Division II indoor national champion in the men’s 400-meter dash and the outdoor national champion in the men’s 400-meter hurdles in 2014.

Although the Olympics is a bigger stage, for Williams the regular season competition is more important. “We have won 38 national championships, so it is the thing I look forward to – another national championship,” the coach said. “Of course, I want the students to graduate from college and do well. If you get all of those things done, with academics first, athletics second, and then a controlled social life, then everything else will fall in place.”

But he knows the Olympics has a special place for many. “It’s their dream,” he said.

“I got a lot of support and felt honored because a lot of people wanted to be there,” Belle said.