Building towards the biggest event of her career, the Beijing Olympics, Trinidad and Tobago shot-putter Cleopatra Borel-Brown is excited.
“I’m having my best training cycle ever and I’m feeling stronger than ever: I’m bench-pressing 280lbs and working up towards 300lbs,” she says.
Up to six days a week, the 29-year-old hones the core strength, technique and explosive power she needs to propel a 4kg (8.8lb) metal shot for 20 metres.
A Commonwealth Games bronze medallist, she is concentrating on arriving at the Beijing National “Bird’s Nest” Stadium in the best condition of her life.
“I don’t want to think of medals, because that’s just added pressure. Everything coming together on the day, that’s what you’re striving for. I want to win, of course—but I cannot affect how others perform, only how I perform.”
Born in Mayaro, Trinidad, one of four siblings, Borel-Brown took up throwing events after watching her older sister Natasha compete. Her first athletic achievement owed little to sporting ambition, though.
“We had a district games in Mayaro and I was in the under-nines sprint race. The first three got medals and these giant Ovaltine cookies. I wanted the cookies more than the medals.”
But she nearly didn’t compete at all.
“Mum and Gran were still sewing my race skirt when it was time to leave. It was literally hot off the machine and onto the track.”
Borel-Brown works as an administrative assistant to the Virginia Tech track team, and lives and trains in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her six years in the US show only in an American twang.
“I miss Trinidad. I miss my family; Mayaro and the beach; liming; the weather, the way it rains, hard and fast, and then the heat rises again afterwards; the seasons like Christmas and Carnival; how every religion celebrates each other’s festivals; the music—I’m a huge Machel Montano fan; and of course the food.”
Like any good Caribbean expatriate, she smuggles much-loved culinary goodies from home. For Borel-Brown the obsession is roti.
“Last time I flew from Trinidad, my bags were way too heavy—so I just left some of my clothes behind and kept the roti skins.”
The five-foot-seven, 210-lb athlete says she especially wants to inspire larger women.
“Just because you can’t sprint doesn’t mean you can’t participate in sport and have fun. Sport builds your confidence, keeps you healthy and is something bigger girls can do.
“I am proud to represent not only Trinidad but the Caribbean as well and I feel strongly about setting a good example to young women.”
The most significant influence on Borel-Brown’s career has been her husband of three years, Balvin, a college discus thrower whom she met at an athletics competition.
“He noticed my potential and saw the athlete I could be, gave me that confidence to pursue it. Without him I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Though she’s on the brink of her second Olympics, her Olympic dream was realised at Athens in 2004.
“I don’t think there could be a greater shot-put event. It was hosted on the ancient site of the original games at Olympia, and we were the first female competitors ever. The surroundings were incredible: you walked in through ruins… I finished 10th, but for me it was really all about the occasion.”
Borel-Brown, whose personal best throw is 19.48 metres (69.9 feet), will arrive in Asia three weeks early to acclimatise. Beijing may well be the last major competition for the charmingly open Borel-Brown, who says the physical exertion is taking its toll.
“I really have to heat a lot of stuff up before I go out to compete these days,” she laughs. “Knees, quads, hamstrings, back. Then after the event I have to ice everything down again. I’m a bit like a classic car; I take a long time to get going and then have to have a good cool-down afterwards.”
It’s unsurprising, then, that she hints at retirement after Beijing.
“I would like to get into coaching full-time when I retire, but when that will be I can’t say.
“At the moment, everything is focused on Beijing.”