Belated Honors from the Country He Loved

Recent 400 meter run (men) at the Bolivarian Games

Recent 400 meter run (men) at the Bolivarian Games

Lloyd La Beach had come to rely upon his own resources since his performance at the London Olympic Games of May, 1948. The Immortal Hero of the Barrio of Calidonia, by now a recognized Olympic superstar and University of California graduate, the sole representative of the country of the Panama would subsequently, in the year of 1951, bring glory to his beloved Roxy Athletic Club. Regrettably, however, for the rest of his countrymen his glory would not shine or reach recognition as he competed without assistance or acknowledgment from highly respected international athletic organizations.

The story unfolded as the immortal Lloyd LaBeach reached the site of the Bolivarian Games of 1947-48 in honor of the “Great Liberator” Simon Bolivar. These were regional games which were organized by the mostly Spanish Speaking countries of Latin American.  For La Beach it couldn’t be soon enough after the Olympic Games and other track and field athletic events for his youthful and demanding disposition to request an opportunity to compete with some of the best sprinters.

The United States athletes were slated to compete, but it being so soon after the London Games none of the great North American sprinters would show as competitors for that Latin American venue. Hence, the stage was set again as the icon of the Panamanian Westindians prepared the way for another rise to stardom.  For Lloyd LaBeach it would be just another opportunity to represent the country and family he loved so dearly as he responded to the athletic officials’ call to the runners to take their places at the starting blocks for the 100 meter run. It’s almost needless to say that by the end of the flash run line officials clocked the winner at 10.5 seconds and awarded him the Gold Medal.

The day, however, would not be over during the Bolivarian Games when the incomparable Westindian Panamanian would, again, thrill the expectant crowds to a resounding win in the 200 meter run in which Lloyd LaBeach clocked in at 21.2 and was awarded, for a second time, with the prestigious Gold Medal and trophy.  The political climate and attitudes were such, however, that even the regional Athletic Federation and other world Athletic Federations would not accept the world breaking records set by Lloyd La Beach.

By the time the Central American and Caribbean Games rolled around in the year of 1950, our Westindian Panamanian hero could not wait to compete with the best that Latin America had to offer.  Lloyd managed to leave those games with more medals, this time the Bronze Medal for his third place time of 10.5 in 100 meters and again his 21.2 in the 200 meters run. Lloyd was at last pleased it, seemed, with his performance since he had bettered the 21.17 he clocked in at during the same games in 1946.

Just when all his friends from the Roxy Athletic Club, his family and even the people who knew him in Calidonia were beside themselves with pride at his performance, Lloyd would receive the thrilling news that there would be another major track and field event in the upcoming 1951 Games at Guayaquil, the capital city of Ecuador. In preparing for these meets he would practically be a fixture at the Roxy training with the crew he loved so much.

The times, however, were hard on the children of the Westindian Panamanian Diaspora and it seemed that even their best efforts and greatest achievements were either underreported or snubbed by the Panamanian as well as the International press.  This attitude of total disregard for the achievements made by barrio youngsters would unfortunately include most of the Westindian youths.

To make matters even more discouraging there was the underlying issue of employment or, rather, the lack of employment.  The second and third generation of young people of Westindian descent were, by now, systematically being denied opportunities at employment even within the Panama where most of them were born. For those blacks who were tied to the Black Canal Zone, whether they lived there or just worked there, the same disheartening attitudes prevailed.

Nevertheless, the Roxy Athletic Club attracted some of the best talent within the descendants of Silver Roll People still residing and/or holding down employment on the Canal Zone. On both ends of the sandwich, however, much like an economic squeeze, the youth of those days who were reaching the expectant early years of the 1950’s were truly suffering as a community. In fact, a quiet air of depression prevailed amongst the people of the Diaspora, notably so in the environs of a country that had passed a new constitution that had “No Westindian Panamanians Wanted!” written all over its principal tenets.

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