By BRENT STUBBS
Senior Sports Reporter
AFTER spending the past 20 years as an assistant coach at Auburn University where he helped to nurture and develop a number of Bahamian athletes as members of the Tigers athletic team, Henry Rolle is now venturing full time in the elite field of track and field with his newly formed Puma MVP International Track Club.
On September 1, Rolle will complete his tenure at Auburn where he worked under coach Ralph Spry and was instrumental in the early development of such athletes as Avard Moncur, Osbourne Moxey, Leevan ‘Superman’ Sands, Gerard Brown, Xavier Coakley, Teray Smith, Donald Thomas, Sheniqua ‘Q’ Ferquson, Krystal Bodie, Nivea Smith, Cache Armbrister, Tamika Clarke and Jenae Ambrose.
They all made their presence felt for the Auburn Tigers and the majority of them went on to represent the Bahamas at the Olympic Games and the IAAF World Championships where Moncur, Sands and Thomas won multiple medals.
In addition to those athletes, Rolle also trained and assisted in the development of Olympians and World Championship competitors Dominic Demeritte, Anthonique Strachan, Everett Fraser and Bianca Stuart. Demeritte, now a track and field coach and agent, still holds the record for the IAAF Indoor 200m as the event was disbanded when he won the title.
As the Puma representative for the Caribbean, Rolle is currently attending the IAAF Diamond League Finals this weekend in Zurich, Switzerland and Brussels, Belgium where the shoe company is holding their annual general meeting and at the same time, he wants to use it as a springboard for his new club that will be based out of Boca Raton, Florida. “It’s good when you can retire early from one job and continue to do what you love doing in another job,” said Rolle, who began his coaching career at St John’s College before he went to Oral Roberts for a couple months and then at Auburn University in 1998.
“I feel refreshed, renewed. I almost feel like I did after I left St John’s. It’s like I hit a refresh button. I think this is exciting. Puma has been gracious to me in so many ways. It’s a great company to work for and I look forward to doing it full-time.”
When he considers the fact that he endured more good than bad memories at Auburn, Rolle said he will miss it, but he said he was grateful to have been able to help so many Bahamians who passed through and competed for the Tigers to make his journey an interesting one.
He couldn’t help to mention the other Caribbean athletes who also played a pivotal role in his longevity there as a coach, including Trinidad & Tobago’s Darrel Brown and Mark Burns and Jamaica’s Kerron Stewart and Elva Goldbourne.
“I had a great network there, great friends and so forth. But with me now moving to Florida, it gives me a wide range to do some things,” he said. “I’m working with Puma and I will have an opportunity to be closer to home where I can fly back and forth to work closely with the BAAA (Bahamas Association of Athletics). It’s exciting, it’s brand new.”
The new club will afford Rolle the opportunity to coach just elite athletes in an extension of the MVP Club in Jamaica that is now headed by Puma. It will be solely for those athletes represented by Puma who reside in the United States.
While at the IAAF Diamond League Final, Rolle will be meeting with the Puma principals as they fine tune the criteria and selection process for the eligible athletes.
“We’re going to be very selective with the athletes that we choose to be a part of the club,” Rolle pointed out. “It’s just not an open door policy. It’s an agreement with myself and Puma on who spots are given to.
“The goal is to get athletes who can be very successful in winning medals at the 2020 Olympic Games and so obviously I will keep my eyes on the Bahamians coming up to give them the same opportunity.”
Looking back at his trek from high school to college and now to the professional ranks, Rolle said he owes a debt of gratitude to a number of persons, including Alpheus ‘Hawk’ Finlayson, the late Livingstone Bostwick, Sheldon Barr, the late Thomas A Robinson, his former principal Arleen Nash-Ferguson, Franklyn Wilson, Nat Adams and Sidney Cartwright.
All of those individuals were instrumental in getting me to this point,” Rolle stressed. “In this business of elite athletes, your success is truly measured by winning medals. So I’m glad that I’ve had individuals who won Olympic, World and other regional medals.
“But now it’s full time, so my success is truly built on winning medals.”
Having had a long collegiate season to deal with, Rolle said none of his athletes are here competing this weekend, but he will be rooting for the Bahamian trio of Shaunae Miller-Uibo, Steven Gardiner and Donald Thomas.
“I think Shaunae will run really well. She’s ran well all season. She’s so gracious,” Rolle pointed out. “I think Stevie will also run very well. Donald Thomas has always been so consistent, so it could be good if he can get back on the podium with another medal.”
At the Weltklasse Zurich on Thursday, Gardiner will be the first to compete when he contests the men’s 400m final.
Then on Friday at the AG Memorial Van Damme in Brussels on Friday, Thomas will be entered in the men’s high jump and if she defends her two titles, Miller-Uibo will have about an hour in between the 400 and 200m respectively.
During the course of 12 meets held in Doha, Qatar, on May 3 and in Birmingham, Great Britain, on August 18, athletes qualified for this weekend’s finals by accumulating points to earn one of the top eight-12 spots, depending on whether it was track or field events. The final events will come down to the winner taking the lion’s share of the cash prizes that range from $50,000 for first place to $2,000 for eighth. The IAAF is dishing out a total of $3.2 million in total cash prizes this weekend.