U of M - Brandon's Blog: Bahamian National Hero Tommy Robinson
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University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
Down in the Bahamas, where 700 islands make up a country that sits only 206 feet above sea level at its highest land elevation, sports still stir the soul. Its athletic heroes are few, but when they make their name on the international stage, they are never forgotten.
The same might be said for our fans who remember the great Michigan Wolverines athletes who make their name on the athletic stage. Unfortunately, the operative word is 'might.'
The University of Michigan Athletic Department received sad news early this week. Thomas Augustus Robinson, a Big Ten champion and All-America sprinter and a member of our Hall of Honor, passed away Sunday (Nov. 25).
While much of today's Wolverine fan base would not recognize the name, Tommy Robinson was an outstanding U-M athlete and student.
He won nine individual Big Ten championships from 1959-61 as a sprinter on the Michigan track and field team and was member of four Big Ten Conference championship teams. He was the 1961 team captain and set a total of 10 school records during his U-M career. In NCAA competition, he placed fifth in both the 100 and 200 meters at the outdoor championship in 1960.
As a student-athlete, he was honored with the Yost Award given to student-athletes that excelled in athletics and in the classroom.
While the world now sees a Jamaican monopoly in the sprints on the track led by Usain Bolt, Robinson carried the torch for the Bahamas. He was the first Bahamian athlete to set a world record (the 300-meter run), the first Bahamian track athlete to represent the country in the Olympics, at Melbourne in 1956 (six years before Jamaica became an independent country), and the first Bahamian to participate in an Olympic final.
Robinson was considered one of the fastest men in the world. In 1960, he was in the starting blocks for the 100-meter final in the Rome Summer Olympics, going up against the greatest runners of the time. His final time of 10.5 was .3 seconds away from a podium finish and .5 seconds behind United States legend Bob Hayes, who set a world record time of 10.0 to win the gold.
Even though Robinson never medaled at the Olympics, his performance in the Commonwealth Games and the Central American and Caribbean Games from 1958 until 1966 produced two gold and six silver medals, making him one of the most decorated athletes in the country's history.
He was named captain of the Bahamas Olympic and International Track teams, he carried the flag for his country at the Commonwealth Games in Wales, and years later, in 2009, the nation held a Tommy Robinson Day in Nassau. On that special day, it was announced that a new national stadium would be built and named in Robinson's honor.
Just this past February, the stadium was completed. Thousands of people poured into the new, state-of-the-art Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium for the dedication. It was a nationally televised, four-hour celebration of historic proportion for this country.
The accolades for Robinson were not just for his athletic contribution, they were for integrity, character and pride for the development of his country. He dabbled some in politics and was one of the country's leading businessmen and ambassador for sports.
Upon hearing of his death, prime minister Hon. Perry G. Christie issued a lengthy statement. A portion of the statement stood out as it described Robinson. It said:
"Tommy Robinson, in whose honor our national stadium is named, was always so selfless in helping to guide those who came after him. He took great pride in the athletic accomplishments of the younger generations that followed him. He was a trusted and enthusiastic mentor and guide for them, and because he had achieved such great success largely on his own, he was an inspiration to them as well.
"Thomas Augustus Robinson is an icon for the ages now. He will continue to stand as a singular example of the greatness that can be attained in any area of human endeavour, be it athletic or otherwise, when natural talent is harnessed to discipline, courage, determination and patriotic responsibility. I mention this latter quality in particular because wherever Tommy went in the world as the standard bearer for the Bahamas, he always did us exceptionally proud. He was a model of first-class decorum and exemplary bearing both on and off the track. He consistently reflected the very best of the national character and, in so doing, set the standard for generations to come."
Thomas Augustus Robinson was a sports icon, he was a Michigan Man, and he will always be known as a Bahamian national hero.