By Alexander Britell
It was 1928 when Haiti’s Silvio Cator won a silver medal in the men’s long jump at the Amsterdam Olympics (his name now graces a stadium in Port-au-Prince). While Haitian athletes have competed in 11 Olympic Games since, including in Beijing in 2008, a medal has eluded them. But if triple jumper Samyr Laine has his way in London this summer, Haiti will do just that. Laine has already qualified for the Olympics in the triple jump, is ranked in the top 15 in the world, and has big ambitions for London, particularly because he’s just now hitting his prime. Part of the reason is that, unlike his competitors, Laine spent three years earning a law degree from Georgetown (he’s also a Harvard College graduate)– and has a job at a New York City law firm waiting for him when his athletic career comes to a close. To learn more, Caribbean Journal talked to Laine about the Olympics, representing Haiti and what winning a medal in London would mean for the country.
How has your training been going?
So far, so good. We’re actually just getting to the meat of things now, because we were competing all the way until the end of October for the Pan American games. So we took a little time off after that. Now, we’re getting the ball rolling, feeling good, and feeling healthy and ready to make the year a good one.
What’s your status right now for London?
I’ve qualified, so now it’s just making sure I get there and leave my mark. In 2008, I was on the outside looking in, and now I’ve sort of punched my ticket. I don’t just want to be an Olympian. I want to go out there and make sure I’m an Olympian who either made the final round or went all the way and got a medal.
Talk about representing Haiti in the Games.
Well, the biggest thing is, I’m a United States citizen as well. In 2007, when I first started representing Haiti, to be honest, I didn’t think I would be in the top 10 in the world, or the top 15 as I am now. My goal was always to go to law school. I figured if I could compete for Haiti – we don’t have an Olympic trial as rigorous as in the US, and my goal was to go the Olympics. So I figured, if I’m there, you never know what would happen, versus competing for the US and not even making the team. There’s more of an impact you can have competing for Haiti. If you’re one or two or three athletes representing the country in the Olympics, rather than being one of 56, even if you win a gold medal for the US, it’s a drop in the bucket. But it’s a little more impactful for Haiti – the role you play as an athlete, because here in the US, they’re a dime a dozen.
I don’t just want to be an Olympian. I want to go out there and make sure I’m an Olympian who either made the final round or went all the way and got a medal.”
How much contact have you had with the Haitian Olympic Committee?
I interact with them on a weekly basis. The vice president of the Haitian Olympic Committee, who is also the president of Haiti’s Track and Field, I interact with him on a regular basis, to make sure I’m entered into meets, like the World Championships, and I interact with the Olympic Committee to let them know how my training is going.
What about the other Haitian athletes competing?
As far as the other Haitian athletes, because the team is not so large, we keep in touch on a regular basis. There are actually two other athletes who have competed for Haiti in the past, or are competing, and they live within 20 minutes of where I train. So we make sure everybody’s doing well, and everybody has their eyes on the prize.
What would it mean to win a medal for Haiti?
Wow. It’s tough – it’s something I envision, probably on an hourly basis. Because it’s not something you just do for yourself. Doing it for Haiti, the first medal, period, since 1928, that would be huge. Even though we’ve had teams in almost every Olympics, we haven’t been on the podium. Just to let people know what the island can produce, and get people enthusiastic – I feel like it would give them a lot to aspire to. I went last year [to Haiti] and a lot of the kids at the orphanage I went to didn’t know what the Olympics were – that’s a little bit depressing – we take it for granted on what people are exposed to. I feel like a medal would expose children on the island to a lot more, and the future of Haitian athletics would be bright. I think for the Haitian people as a whole, it would brighten their spirits. So I feel like a medal, that would really have a huge impact. It would also put Haiti in the news for something other than the earthquake and any other maladies that the country experiences on a regular basis. The country was in the news for such negative things, and it would be great to have some good press for once, and also to let people know that people in Haiti still need help, but it’s not all bad – even if I’m just one person and one medal.
What are your plans going forward?
Well, assuming things continue to go as well as they have been in the last couple of years, I’d like to compete through the 2013World Championships at the very least. But there’s also the fact that I have a job offer at a law firm in New York City – so eventually I’ll have to give up my triple jumping and go head-first into the legal world. I hope it doesn’t have to be at the end of this season. But as for what lies for me in the future, I feel like I’m just hitting my prime. I haven’t been jumping as long as some of the other competitors, so hopefully, with this year behind me, and hopefully I can get an Olympic medal.