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Another Easter without “Country”; celebrating “3 Belizean women”

SportsAnother Easter without “Country”; celebrating “3 Belizean women”

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 29, 2021– There was troubling news about a new and dangerous coronavirus exploding in China around December of 2019, but the Krem New Year’s Cycling Classic rolled on as scheduled on January 1, 2020, keeping the New Year tradition that had begun back in 1991. But by March 11 of 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, and by month’s end the government had declared a State of Emergency in Belize. And that was it for the April 11, 2020, Holy Saturday Cross Country in Belize.

With the State of Emergency still in effect, there was no Krem Classic to greet the New Year 2021, and it is now clear that again there will be no Cross Country Classic this Holy Saturday, April 3, 2021.

The only previous national crisis that caused a pause to our Holy Saturday Cross Country had been the September 10, 1931 hurricane that destroyed Belize City and killed over a thousand citizens; so there was no Cross Country in 1932. (The first Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic was held in 1928.)

Even after Hurricane Hattie had devastated the Belize and Stann Creek districts on October 31, 1961, the community had recovered enough to still hold a Cross Country the following year on Holy Saturday, April 21, 1962. But we’re now dealing with a different type of national crisis, and the lingering threat and danger from this microscopic enemy that has already claimed over 300 lives in Belize, is still present, though the infection rate has dwindled and the vaccination program is well under way.

When a hurricane has passed, it is only a matter of hours or days before the white flag, All Clear signal is given, and citizens can assess the damage and begin the process of repairing/rebuilding their homes and infrastructure. But a whole year has passed, and the pandemic is still raging in countries all around us. While we hear of tentative steps being taken to begin reopening some schools, our situation is still far from safe. Covid-19 is still lurking around and looking for an opportunity to flare up once again. So it looks like we will be breaking our record this year. For the first time in its/our history there will be a back-to-back cancellation of our most revered one-day sporting event, the Annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic. The record books chronicling the list of Cross Country champions from 1928 onwards will now have two more years with a blank space. While that unhappy distinction once only belonged to 1932, now it will also be “2020 – No Cross Country”, and “2021 – No Cross Country.”

At this time, we were thinking of giving a big salute to our last Cross Country champion of 2019, whose reign will hopefully end next year, 2022, when the race resumes. And, with some regret, we are reminded that in 2019 our Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic was a complete sweep by Guatemalans, all members of the Guatemalan National Team, who finished – one, two, three. The reigning Cross Country Champion is Julio Padilla Miranda of Guatemala. His countryman Alex Rony Julaju was 2nd, and another Guatemalan, Jose Canastuj was 3rd. Fourth place belonged to an American, David Flynn. The first Belizean to finish was Giovanni Lovell in 5th place. Respect, Giovanni!

The memory is painful, and this dreaded Covid-19 has denied our young men the opportunity for another year before they can try to get back the garland.

But, thank goodness for our women! The 2019 and reigning Women Cross Country Champion is Belize’s own Kaya Cattouse, and in that 73-mile journey from San Ignacio our Belizean women accomplished something close to what the Guatemalan males did a week later in sweeping the 144-mile Holy Saturday Cross Country.

Another Easter is here, and we do hope our football Jaguars will give us something to celebrate this weekend with their World Cup Qualifier against Turks and Caicos Islands in the Dominican Republic this afternoon.

But just in case, to be sure we have something to lift our spirits before Easter Sunday, why not just reminisce on that glorious day back in 2019 when our Belizean women saved the Country.

Below are some excerpts from the Amandala story (Check our web site.) titled, “Three Belizean women unite to ‘ride for country;’ Kaya Cattouse is 2019 Women Cross Country Champion,” dated Friday, April 19, 2019:

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Apr. 15, 2019
When the early break in yesterday’s 30th Annual Women Cross Country Classic showed three Belizeans and two Mexicans in the lead bunch, Belizean fans immediately and instinctively began hoping and praying that those three Belizean women cyclists, which included perennial rivals and both two-time Cross Country champions, Alicia Thompson and Kaya Cattouse, would decide to work together to try and ensure a Belizean won the race. And so they did, as the post-race revelations confirmed…

With two foreigners, both Mexicans, included in the small field of women cyclists, it was generally accepted that they would likely be serious contenders for the championship; and another foreigner, American Jadine Riley, having taken the title last year, home fans had reason to be concerned that it could be back-to-back foreign champions in the Women Cross Country. And, while in all recent local races, including some Cross Countries, the highlight has been the raging rivalry between premier Belizean riders, Alicia Thompson and Kaya Cattouse, the race circumstances combined with their patriotic fervor seemed to dictate that they may need to put differences aside and cooperate to try and overcome the foreign competition…

The station prize count among those five on the way to the old capital tells a story worth noting, for its implication on the final stanza. Having taken a few months off the bike, and recently returning to full time training, former champion Alicia Thompson was not banking on the big prize at the end, and made sure to collect all of 12 station prizes along the way, her last being at the corner of Vernon Street and Central American Boulevard in Belize City. By contrast, Kaya Cattouse only stepped up for 1 station prize, at Garbutt’s Puma Station in Roaring Creek; Kaya was conserving her strength for the big one; while “new kid on the block” Nicole Gallego grabbed 4 station prizes, her last at Premium Wines & Spirits on Princess Margaret Drive before the final stretch to the finish line in front of BTL Park.

Interestingly, Mexican cyclist Maria Camargo seized 8 station prizes, her first at Teakettle Village and her last at Marion Jones Sports Complex on Princess Margaret Drive; while her teammate Brenda Iñigo, like Kaya, was satisfied with only 1 station prize, which she claimed at the Mile 5 canal entrance on the outskirts of Belize City. Brenda was obviously the Mexican to watch at the finish.

It has been suggested by at least one cycling aficionado, that a successful team effort by the 3 Belizeans against the 2 Mexican riders, could have resulted in a Belizean cyclist coming in alone; but that script might have been easier said than done. When fans at BTL Park greeted the five women cyclists tearing toward the finish line in a furious sprint for the garland, they were overjoyed to see a Belizean, Kaya Cattouse surging in front by a bicycle length, and followed closely behind by another Belizean, Alicia Thompson, with Mexican Brenda Iñigo and Belizean Nicole Gallego right on her back wheel, and followed by Mexican Maria Camargo in fifth place.

In the celebratory atmosphere at the post-race interviews, all three Belizean top finishers were quick to declare that “we rode for country,” signaling the cooperation that they engaged in during the ride to give a Belizean, in this case Kaya, who, like Brenda Iñigo, had sacrificed the station prizes, her best chance to be strong at the finish. And Kaya brought home the garland for Belize!  What a race!

After reviewing the tape, cycling officials announced that there was a dead-heat at the finish between Belize’s Nicole Gallego and Mexico’s Brenda Iñigo, so they shared 3rd place…

A happy and safe Easter, all!

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