I carried TT Track on my back
By Veersen Bhoolai (Aprl 2004)
Ian Morris will go down as on of Trinidad and Tobago's greatest Track athletes.
Don't let the fact that he never won an Olympic medal fool you. In a time after Hazley Crawford and before Ato Boldon and Darryl Brown, this quarter miler from Siparia, South Trinidad, was a constant source of pride and inspiration for TT athletes and fans.
Morris missed out on an Olympic bronze medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games by just one-hundredth of a second. In the semi finals he broke his own national record running 44.21. To this day, it's the fifth fastest national record in the world. Only Michael Johnson, 43.18 (USA); Robert Hernandez, 44.14 (Cuba); Innocent Egbunike, 44.17 (Nigeria) and Samson Kitur, 44.18 (Kenya) are faster.
His 44.25 in the finals, was at the time one of the ten fastest times in Olympic history.
This time would have won him Gold in the '84 Olympics and a Silver behind Michael Johnson in the '96 and 2000 Games.
The fact that Morris came so close to a medal in the '92 finals was big surprise in itself. With one hundred metres to go, he was at the back of the pack and seemed out of it. Then all of a sudden, he started accelerating. The manner in which he gained ground, made it look as if the other athletes were simply standing still.
A terrible miscalculation
Morris refers his fourth place as "a miscalculation.
I usually pick up after the first 225 metres. I didn't pick up. I don't know why. At the top of the turn, I asked myself, why am I here? As a reflex action, I started to go (faster).
"I caught up with Steve (Lewis) (in lane six), at the finish line. Quincy (Watts) had already won the race. I looked to the right and to the left. I did not dip. I ran through the line. Had I dipped, I would have won the silver medal.
"To this day, people always stop me and tell me that I looked (both ways) and that I should have dipped."
Morris was also the anchor for the 4x400 metres squad at Barcelona. This was a very promising group, and many believed they could break the three minute barrier and medal.
Alvin Daniel had run a Personal Best of 44.82 earlier that year. Patrick Dalice the NCAA Champion had run in the region of 44.93; Neal DaSilva was running around 45.2 and then there was Robert Guy and Morris.
The team had toured Europe just before the Barcelona Olympics and broken the national record in the process (3:01.00).
Putting country before self
Morris was pumped and confident. "I remember just before Olympic training. We were in England and I went into Hazley Crawford's room. I told him we were the best team other than America in terms of time. Hazley said 'just think of your race.'
"He was right. But you see I was patriotic, I was thinking of my country. I was carrying TT (track) on my back.
"The 4x400 team should have dipped under 3:00 minutes"
The reality is that TT after looking good in the prelims came into the final expecting a medal. They weren't sure of the color, but they did expect to place in the top three.
Many were shocked after the first leg to see Alvin Daniel in the lead. However, the team regressed and eventually finished last.
Morris laments that their overall preparation was not sufficient. "Usually when we went to a meet, there would only be two of us. The Jamaicans would ask us: 'Where's your (relay) team?' When we said it was only the two of us, they would steups and say we playing the fool."
Did picong cost TT a medal?
Morris believes another problem stemmed from the failed 1600 metre relay final at the Pan American Games in Havana, Cuba. TT had been placed in lane eight. Morris explains that when the gun went, first leg, Patrick Dalice thought he heard a click. However, the gun did go off and whilst Dalice dropped his baton and started walking back; the other runners took off.
"You know in TT we like to give people talk ... picong. Well, we started to call Dalice 'Boom Boom, Click,' because he hadn't heard the gun in Havana.
"Well he didn't like that and decided he didn't want to run the first leg anymore.
"Neither he or Daniel wanted to run the first leg at Barcelona. So there was some animosity as to who would start.
"In the relay Dalice would start at a low 45. Daniel a sub 44. Neal DaSilva, when you put a stick in his hand, he will kill you, he would also run a sub 44. I was running to the best of my abilities, a sub 43. We could run a sub 3:00.
"Dalice, Daniel, DaSilva to me. We had a great team vs. anybody in the world, even America. They wouldn't have beaten us by far. We would have been competitive."
However, great team or not, TT went into the final not in the proper mental frame. Daniel did lead.
"Neal Dasilva was happy to be in the final. He ran his heart and soul out.
"Now when I get (the baton) and I see all those runners ahead of me by 30 to 40 metres. I say what I killing myself for. I can't catch dem. I eh no beast."
Morris believes had there been no dissent before the final, TT could have won silver behind the USA.
The Jamaicans want it more
However, Jamaica with less talented runners during the early and mid nineties seemed to out perform TT. Why?
"They wanted it more than anybody else," explains Morris.
"They had about two good runners, the rest were mediocre but their fraternity is based primarily around Track & Field. The High school Championships and the Boys Championships have packed stadiums. The only thing I can liken it to is our school's Intercol Football. The way our crowds come out for college's football, is the same manner they support track. Guys will come out to support their alma mater."
An impressive career
Olympic medal or not, Morris still had a pretty impressive career. Primarily a footballer for his local Siparia Angels, a knee injury turned him to Track at the relatively late age of twenty four.
Oswald Joseph, the Falcons Track Coach was hesitant to take on Morris. However, he had seen him running during football games and aware of his speed, decided to take a chance.
In his first race, he met Ali St. Louis of the Pale Seco Sporting Club, (an international for TT in the 200 and 400). "He barely beat me in the 200.
"The next day we ran a 400 and it was very close. Although he got it, I thought I had won.
"Do you know that I walked over to Mr. Joseph and cried. However, he told me that in a race you must beat the favorite by a clear distance."
At the Neal & Massy Classic in 1985, several of the world's top athletes came to TT. "I ran in the B race (local champ Mike Paul ran in the A race), with several of TT's top quarter milers, Ali St. Louis, Derek Archer and Michael Puckerin. I beat them by 15-20 metres and never looked back."
He has a number of CAC Silver Medals, a Pan Am silver in the 400 metres (1991); silver at the World Indoor Champs 1600 metre relay (1993) and a 1600 metre relay bronze at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria.
He has broken the national record two times. He has the three fastest times by a Trinidadian in the 400 metres.
He first came into international prominence at the Seoul Olympics ('88). His 44.66 broke Mike Paul's national record of 44.88. He finished seventh in the finals (44.95), the Jamaican veteran Bert Cameron was sixth in 44.94.
The highlight of his career would have been the 1992 Olympic final. The TT Government acknowledged his accomplishment by giving him the Humming Bird Silver Medal.
He points to the Indianapolis Pan Am Games ('87) as his low point. He contracted Chicken Pox in Mississippi a few weeks before. He couldn't train, but did manage to finish fourth in the final.
Did he ever feel at a disadvantage because of his smaller frame in comparison to other athletes who were six feet or taller?
He laughs heartily at this. "Not at all!
"When I go to run, I tell myself, let's go and see what happens. I have a big heart. You might beat me yes. But I'm not scared.
"No way. No how. Not ever.
"And I wasn't afraid of what they were taking (illegal drugs). I knew I was very clean.
Cameron and Redmond, inspirations
He describes former Jamaican and World 400 metres Champ, Cameron as an exceptional athlete. "A great guy, I looked up to him."
Cameron was a favorite for the Gold at the '84 Olympics in Los Angeles. However, he pulled up and jumped high in the back straight with an injury; somehow, he willed himself to go on, finished in the top four and qualified for the final. However, the injury was too much and he was unable to compete in the finals.
It is one of the unforgettable moments in Olympic Track history.
Morris describes this as an inspiration for him.
Another would be Derek Redmond's heart breaking moment in 1992. Injured in his race with about 200 metres to go, Redmond hobbled the rest of the way, determined to finish. His father jumped onto the track and helped him along.
"At those moments I got pumped up" says Morris. "When you put all that preparation and this happens, it hurts. All that hard work goes down the drain, it's not easy. I really felt for these guys when I saw this."
Beating them right out of Track
He describes former national 400 metres Champ Mike Paul as "a very good athlete. He could have been much better than he was. He didn't maintain his level of training to get further.
When I beat him at the CAC games in 1985, he just seemed to get despondent and lost interest in Track. In fact a lot of those guys, St. Louis, Archer after I beat them - they stopped running too. I don't know for what reason. It was like I just beat them out of athletics."
After the '92 Games, at the age of 34, he no longer had the enthusiasm for Track. He retired before the '96 Summer Olympics.
These days Morris works for the Ministry of Sport in Pt. Fortin. He conducts coaching clinics at schools and the local communities.
Put on the spot and asked to pick an all time TT 4x400 team, he would go with Wendell Mottley; Kent Bernard, Edwin Roberts; Mike Paul, himself and a toss up between Alvin Daniel and Neal DaSilva. He admits that Patrick Dalice deserves consideration as well, but "Alvin was more talented."
He added that the order of the team was not important. "The coach will decide that. He can work with the team and figure out the order."
Willing to share his knowledge
He explains that he has not really had an opportunity to train other athletes at home. "I wish I could work with them. However, other Coaches don't like to communicate. They think you are trying to take their athlete. I think of the country not myself. One should prepare an athlete to do his best at the highest level. I was in two Olympic finals. I have some knowledge. The Coaches and I can help the athletes. We should put our hands together."
Ian Morris, courteous and down to earth
I first met Ian Morris at the World Indoor Champs in Toronto ('93). I worked as security for a conference in a building next to the Sky Dome. All the athletes would walk past me, on their way to the 'Dome.
I was able to speak to the TT team on more than one occasion. When I asked for autographs of the relay squad, Morris walked around and made sure I got everybody's including the manager.
When I called him for this interview, we agreed on a time for the next day. He then thanked me for my courtesy. I had to remind him that I would be interrupting his work day and that it was I who should be thanking him.
He is as courteous and down to earth as he was back in his hey day.
When told that many Trinidadian and WI track fans still remember him, Morris finished the interview by saying:
"I would like to thank all those who supported me. I am grateful for that."
Editor's note: This interview was first conducted in 2004. Machel Cedenio holds the national Record of 44.01, placing fourth at the Rio 2016 Olympic Final. It is the fastest fourth place finish in Olympic history. (August 2018)
Tesoro Games (TT), 1985. l-r, Ian Morris (TT), Mark Rowe (US) and Carlyle Bernard (TT).