Rodney Wilkes, the weightlifter who won Trinidad and Tobago’s first ever Olympic medal, has died at the age of 89 after battling against prostate cancer.
The featherweight athlete first made his mark on the international scene when he won gold at the 1946 Central American and Caribbean Games.
He then secured his first Olympic medal – and indeed the nation’s – when he claimed the silver at the London 1948 Games, before winning gold at the 1951 Pan American Games and bronze at the Helsinki 1952 Olympics.
The 1954 British Empire and Commonwealth Games saw him claim the featherweight title, and he went on to claim bronze at the 1958 edition in the Welsh city of Cardiff.
An injury meant Wilkes was unable to defend his Pan American title in 1955 and he just missed the podium, placing fourth, at his third and final Olympics in Melbourne in 1956.
He continued competing through to 1960 before retiring that year.
Wilkes was inducted into the National Sports Hall of Fame in 1984 and was also awarded the Hummingbird Medal.
Despite his sporting feats, Wilkes lived a life of poverty.
Trinidad and Tobago Minister of Sport Anil Roberts said he was “saddened” by the passing of such an iconic sports figure and pledged funding to help pay for his funeral.
“Wilkes’ historic feats at the Olympic Games as well as his other achievements at international level, are not forgotten by those of us in the sport industry who believe that his efforts are an inspiration to those who dreamed of success in their chosen sport,” he added.
“We are extremely grateful for the time he spent with us and wish to honour his life in a suitable manner.
“The Ministry stands ready to offer whatever support is required for his final farewell.”
Brian Lewis, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC), also paid tribute to the athlete.
“Mr Wilkes’ achievements are etched in Trinidad and Tobago’s sporting history,” he told insidethegames.
“He is an acclaimed, authentic hero and sport great.
“His Olympic medals, his Commonwealth, Pan Am and CAC gold medals.
“His courage and determination to battle against the odds defined his years in the competitive arena of weightlifting.
“There are important lessons the TTOC must learn from the life and times of our country’s historic Olympic medallist.
“As we bid a final farewell to the man who laid down the foundation and was a driving force for all of Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympians and Olympic medallists, there can be no greater tribute to Mr Rodney Wilkes than the sustainable revival of the sport of Olympic weightlifting in Trinidad and Tobago.”
The International Weightlifting Federation wishes to express its deepest condolences to the Trinidad and Tobago Weightlifting Federation and community as well as to Mr. Wilkes’s relatives.
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