When the Belize Olympic team passed through Los Angeles on their way to Beijing, China, for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, the Belizean community certainly looked forward to hosting them during the brief layover. Preparations were made and a welcome delegation consisting of Consul General Roland Yorke, Mr. Merve Hendy, Mr. Fred Westby, Ms. Verona Burks and Ms. Kim Hernandez were in place; but regrettably, no athletes were in sight.
After about two hours of unsuccessful sightings, Consul General Yorke took matters into his own hands. Accompanied by Mr. Hendy, they proceeded to try and track the athletes through the airlines. After some diplomatic maneuverings, Air China reluctantly agreed to page, via intercom, two of the names they were given.
Simultaneously, other members of the delegation worked on airport officials and individual passengers to get word to the athletes. After about 20 minutes, Jayson Jones and Tricia Flores emerged in the check-in area.
Flores and Jones were excited to meet the small delegation. They explained they were unaware of the layover plans. Even more so, they were not expecting our welcome party. Both displayed much enthusiasm and were genuinely eager to speak about their expectations in Beijing.
Jones, who resides in Florida, participated in the two hundred meter race. He explained that he ran his qualifying race in Florida. He headed to the Olympics with a 20.70 seconds time, which is the current record time for Belize.
The 30-year old had high expectations for a good performance. He previously represented Belize in international races at the 2004 Olympics, as well as the last Pan American and World Games.
Trisha Flores, 28, lives and trains in Belize. She represented Belize in the long jump competition. She is the current Belize record holder in long jump, with a 5.96 meters jump distance. She is an educator at Nazarene Primary School and a student at the University of Belize. Her focus is primary education.
Flores was excited about her Olympic appearance. She and Jones provided information about the other athletes during the layover; Jonathan Williams of Los Angeles performed in the 400 meter hurdles. He also is a Belize record holder for that event, and Alfonso Martinez, who lives and trains in Taiwan, represented Belize in Taekwondo.
Williams went on to qualify for the semi-finals of the 400 meter hurdles. He came in fourth in his qualifying race. He has made history for Belize, as it is the first time that an athlete representing Belize at the Olympic Games competed in a semi-final race of any kind.
Unlike the confusion surrounding the meeting of the delegation that included the athletes, two nights earlier when the two Belizean students representing Belize at the Olympic Youth Camp were intransit via Los Angeles, things were more organized.
Ryan Zuniga and Kara Kisling, both eighteen, wore their Olympic jerseys and carried the Belizean flag. The Consul General and Mr. Hendy also had a Belizean flag, so it was easy for the delegates to be identified, and consequently, retrieved from the airport. Recognition was instantaneous. If only there was a Belizean flag present in the delegation carrying the athletes that night, the reception would have been so much more enjoyable and less hectic.
Both students spent their layover at the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Merve Hendy. They were able to unwind, eat, nap and prepare for the fifteen-hour flight to China. We bade them adieu and good luck.
Kisling and Zuniga submitted essays/resumes about their involvement in Belizean sports to win the honor to travel to China. They were both looking forward to the visit and expected to visit the games, see the sites of China and interact with others attending the youth camp.
Upon their return from Beijing on August 18, 2008, the two remained excited about their trip. They spoke about the culture, sites and people of China. In particular, China’s cuisine instigated a long discussion, as their palates were introduced to several new delicacies.
The Belize delegation to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games was comprised of 14 people; 4 athletes, 2 youth camp participants and 8 officials and attendants. All 14 attended the opening ceremonies. Belizeans around the world tuned in for the opening ceremonies and watched with great pride as Jonathon Williams proudly carried the Belizean flag.
As it turned out, that decision was an excellent one, as even more tuned in to watch his historical semi-final race.