The Cayman Invitational’s status is on the up, with this year’s event attracting sprint icons Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix. Meet director Cydonie Mothersill tells us about the annual event’s growing reputation.

Mothersill’s child

Cydonie Mothersill was inspired to put on The Cayman Invitational by the colour and noise of the annual Jamaica Invitational, which is just a short hop across the Caribbean from her Cayman Island home.

“Back when I competed in the Jamaica Invitational I thought it was amazing and I wondered if I could create a similar event in Cayman,” says Mothersill, the 2001 world champs bronze medallist over 200m.

Mothersill, who in 2010 won Commonwealth 200m gold, launched the event in 2012, belieiving an Olympic year would provide perfect promotional timing. With the help of Jamaica’s 1976 Olympic 200m champ Don Quarrie, the inaugural Cayman Invitational rocketed into action on 9th May that year.

It proved a big hit. Yohan Blake won the men’s 100m in 9.84. Among the other winners were Warren Weir (200m), Chris Brown (400m), Carmelita Jeter (100m), Novlene Williams-Mills (400m), Melissa Bishop (800m) and Will Claye (long jump).

Close to Mecca

While football (soccer) remains the nation’s number one sport, Mothersill insists athletics is “very popular” on the island.

“Our close ties with Jamaica, a track and field Mecca, has influenced this,” she says. “A large population of Jamaicans encourages this along with our national pride in our athletes.”

Besides Mothersill, Kareem-Streete Thompson is the other Cayman Islander to have excelled on the international athletics stage. He won long jump silver at the 2001 Lisbon World Indoor Championships (and accidentally qualified for the 100m final at the 1999 Sevilla World Championships).

Locals have an appetite for more, with tens of thousands turning out over the four years that the event has been running.

“We are a small community, but that means when something this big happens, whether you are a die-hard track fan or not, you want to be there,” says Mothersill, who expects the homely but atmospheric Truman Bodden Sports Complex to be a 4,000 capacity sell out on 14th May.

“We expect the attendance at this meet to bring out every level of fan, including many who have never even attended a track meet.”

Felix and Mothersille ()

The 2009 Berlin World Champs saw Mothersill (right) race Allyson Felix, who she has lured to Cayman for this weekend's meet

Taste of the Caribbean

There is no more mad for it athletics region on the planet than the Caribbean. Fact.

The incredible atmosphere generated by the passionate Jamaican fans at the 2002 Kingston World Junior Championships will live long in the memory. The 2014 and 2015 IAAF World Relays in the Bahamas made grown men weep such was the spine-tingling atmosphere inside the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium.

You can rely on the Cayman Islanders to provide something similar.

“Caribbean fans are really like no other fans when it comes to the way they express themselves and their passion,” adds Mothersill, a veteran of four Olympic Games.

“We take fandom to a whole new level, not only through our cheering but also our clothing, our props and unique style of supporting who we love.”   

Caymankind

Attracting both Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix – winners of 12 Olympic and 25 outdoor world champs medals between them – is quite a coup. Mothersill says the lure of the magical land, which is located west of Jamaica and south of Cuba, has proved irresistible.

“Both Usain and Allyson have been to Cayman before. The fact that they are willing to come back shows that they had a good experience,” insists Mothersill, who ran a 200m best of 22.39.

“I truly believe that our Department of Tourism slogan ‘Caymankind’ is what draws people to our lovely islands and keeps them coming back. We go that extra mile in Cayman to make sure people feel at home and welcomed.”

Indeed the tiny island is home to more than 100 different nationalities, so visitors can expect to be well received.

Carmelita knows!

Entertain and inspire

“Amazed” by how the event has grown during its relatively brief history, Mothersill says interest from athletes, spectators, the corporate community and local and international media has soared over the years. The presence of Bolt and Felix for this year’s fifth edition will only help to boost the sport in the local community.

“The Cayman Invitational is all about inspiring and encouraging our local athletes,” explains Mothersill, who won 200m bronze at the 2001 world champs.  

“This will give all our up and coming athletes a chance to see these amazing athletes in action, and many people will have the opportunity to hear more from them and what propelled them to success.”

Beyond track

As you might expect of a Caribbean island, golden sands and crystal blue water are in plentiful supply, but there’s more to Cayman than the beach.

For a truly local experience visiting fans and athletes should check out Stingray City – a sandbar in the middle of the ocean where stingrays merrily swim up to and around visitors. It is, we’re told, an “unforgettable experience”.

The national dish of turtle stew is normally reserved for holidays, but stewed conch made with coconut milk is a year-round favourite. Pudding fans will love the local dessert, which is called heavy cake.

Music is also an important part of island life with reggae, calypso and soca all popular strains heard across the island.

“We have a lot of talented musicians who are in demand all over the island. Just ask any local or your hotel concierge where the best spot is on a particular night,” adds Mothersill.

We don’t doubt a certain Mr Bolt will be following that advice.