For the average Olympian, the end of a competitive sporting career marks the end of involvement with the Olympic Games. For Donald McLean, the end merely marked a new beginning.
His love affair with sailing started when he was a 15 year old Sea Scout.
“We went away to Grenada to Sea Scout regatta. I started sailing there – I actually competed in rowing in Sea Scout regatta but that’s where I first started sailing,” recalls McLean.
His attention was soon diverted by football, with McLean running out for the Cayman national team. From there it was off to university where he injured his knee, and found himself unable to continue playing football. So at the age of 25, McLean was looking for a new sport, and soon found one in windsurfing, which was very popular at the time.
“Windsurfing led to sailing dinghies at the sailing club, so I got back into sailing. At least it wasn’t hard on my knee,” he says. “Sailing gets in your blood, and it’s a very Caymanian thing – sailing has been around for a long time. All our ancestors came here by sail boats, not by 737.”
Once McLean took up sailing again, things quickly snowballed as he was given the opportunity to represent Cayman at the Central American and Caribbean Games in 1990 as a crew member on a J24, and went on to represent Cayman at another CAC Games, as well as the World Sailing Games in 1994 and the J22 World Championships in the Netherlands in 1995.
McLean’s Olympic moment came about quite by chance.
“In 1995 I was Commodore of the Sailing Club, and we were approached by Robert Nunes who was president of the Olympic Committee who asked if we would like to send a sailing team. And I said OK we’ll think about it. And we thought about it and we put together as many as we thought might possibly want to go and subsequently it was the biggest sailing team to date,” says McLean.
“Initially I wasn’t even meant to go – Johnny Bodden was intended to go and his wife had a baby and it all sort of happened pretty quickly towards the end of ’95. Me and Carson [Ebanks] had sailed together before on the J22 on which we’d won national titles here. So he asked if I would like to go along, I said, well, why not?” recalls McLean.
Ebanks and McLean would pair up in the Star class, a two man keel boat, and with the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta coming ever closer, they followed an intensive training and racing programme to prepare for the high level of competition they were expecting to encounter.
Participating in the 1996 Olympics Games in Atlanta was “one of the most significant things in my life – so far” according to McLean.
Subsequently he tried to qualify for the 2000 Olympics by going to world championships in 1998 in Slovenia and 1999 in Italy, but due to the increasingly strict qualifying criteria he decided to give up on repeating as an Olympian.
“I was asked to go as Chef de Mission in 2000 to the Sydney Games by the president and that sort of whetted my appetite for the whole administrative side of things. Then subsequently I became the secretary general in 2001 and since 2005 I’ve been the president of the Olympic Committee.”
London will mark the fifth Olympic Games that McLean has been present at in one official capacity or another – quite an impressive record as it will only be the ninth time the Cayman Islands will be represented at the Olympic Games.
McLean is a strong believer is setting realistic goals for the Cayman Islands at the Olympic Games.
“There are so many countries out of the 205 countries that compete that have not won medals, and a lot of those countries are much bigger than the Cayman Islands. We keep comparing ourselves to our close neighbours, but Jamaica has three million people, Cuba has 11 million people, so it is a totally different situation. When you put it in perspective we have done brilliantly on the world stage and will continue to do so.”
Although McLean praises sports such as rugby which has achieved great success in team sports, he believes that Cayman’s biggest chance at international success lies with individual sports.
In order to make the most of the available local talent, McLean believes that we need a comprehensive national sports policy to pull everything together.
“We have the Olympic committee doing a great job and preparing teams for the Games and we have the government doing a good job as well building a lot of new facilities and funding the various federations. Some federations are really very well organised, but you have some that are not as well organised. Having a national sports policy, having a national sport council will help us do that.”
Although elite athletes are the main focus for the Olympic committee, McLean believes that recreational participants who take part in sport for sport’s sake are vital to the survival and growth of sport in Cayman. With a small pool of athletes to draw from, talent identification and training specialisation becomes very important.
“I am not advocating that everybody should be specialising, but we have to have a process in place where we identify people and encourage them. If you have talent identification programmes and national sports policies more refined and in place, I think we can do more.”