As told to, and by, Clayton Goodwin
Have you enjoyed television coverage of the Winter Olympics? Good. So has Tremayne Gilling – but he would much rather have been enjoying, and participating, in Beijing rather than from his home in South London. He could well have, and probably should, have been there as a bobsleigh representative of either of two national teams for which he is qualified. Tremayne is British by citizenship, Jamaican by heritage (his mother is former champion athlete/coach Lorna Boothe), and, ah yes, there is a third, the U.S.A., through birth, as he was born in Los Angeles. With several irons in the fire, and his being a talented and proven athlete, you would think his selection to have been secure, especially if any of those countries had wanted him – and they did. But the embarrassment de riche has led him to a spend quiet winter “by the fire” (figuratively if not literally). Maybe his training as a therapist will provide him with some method of consolation for his heart-ache.
Jamaica, though hardly favourite for a medal, are among the glamour teams of the competition. Cool Runnings, and all that. The world-wide publicity, and the subsequent internationally-acclaimed film, of the island’s participation in the Winter Olympics bobsleigh at Calgary in 1988 still has heroic resonance. Gilling was enthralled when he was invited to be a member of their team this time round. Not so fast, though ….. Great Britain, too, had a claim on him and prohibited him from representing the island of his maternal heritage because, as I understand it, they claimed he was “too valuable” to them.
That, so you would think, would ensure him a place in the British team. Not so. When the team was announced, Tremayne’s name was not there. The British bob had taken off without him. In my early years as a journalist, covering music and entertainment, I reported quite often on major recording companies having signed a promising performer to an inviting contract and then doing nothing to promote their career. The intention was entirely to take him/her out of circulation and prevent any rival from benefitting from their talent. Could that possibly …. Perish the thought. Tremayne’s neighbours on the Surrey fringe of South London aren’t strangers to controversial sports selections. The longer-lived will remember Frankie Lucas being omitted from the England boxing team for the Commonwealth Games in 1974. (In this case, however, the St Vincent-born boxer gained selection, vengeance and a gold medal for the island of his birth).
Tremayne Gilling, who was born on 27th July 1990, has a range of athletics expertise, as befits his being a relative of the legendary Herb McKenley (the “Usain Bolt” figure of the immediate post-war decade). He started out as a track athlete, representing the GB U20 team at the Loughborough International and Bedford International Games 2009. Starting speed and power, indeed, is the prime requirement of a bobsleigh brakeman, and other sprinters have made the same transition. The switch into bobsleigh came when Gilling’s coach Lloyd Cowan suggested he look into the sport after having been frustrated by injuries on the track. By 2016 he was placed fifth in the World Junior Championships and sixth at the World Cup at Lake Placid. The following year, as a member of the senior squad, he finished fourteenth in the European Championships. Further success has followed in the ensuing years.
Shortly after his bobsleigh debut Tremayne told the Sportsgazette in 2018: “My best couple of seasons in bobsleigh was coming off a good athletics season, so what I’m going to do is get back to athletics, get myself in good sprinting shape, as I was four, five, six years ago. I know the bobsleigh technique now. I know what I need to do to make a team and now I need to put the two together and hopefully in four years’ time I’ll make the Beijing Olympics.”
Well, as we know now, Gilling didn’t make it to Beijing, but it wasn’t for the want of invitation. On second thoughts I cannot quite see this young man sitting quietly by the fire and watching events there unfold on his television screen. He will be out training. Tremayne, as I recall, would not be deterred by the restrictions of the initial pandemic lockdown. He went into the local park and trained – by WhatsApp (or its equivalent) – to the instructions of his coach who was in Los Angeles. Too valuable for selection.