NIKOLI Blackman, 18, continues to show why he is one of Trinidad and Tobago's best junior athletes, swimming to a gold medal in the men's 50-metre freestyle event at the World Aquatics Junior Swimming Championships 2023 in Netanya, Israel on Thursday.
Going into the final with the second fastest time behind Australian Flynn Southam, Blackman knew he had to be at his best to finish on top of the podium.
Blackman and Southam would have kept a close eye on each other during the race as they were in lane five and four respectively.
It was Blackman's day as he touched the wall in 22.35 seconds, ahead of Southam who took silver in 22.43. Italian Lorenzo Ballarati also had a strong swim grabbing bronze in 22.47. The men's 50m freestyle is equivalent to the 100m event in track and field, so, therefore, Blackman is now considered the fastest junior swimmer in the world.
Blackman, who began school at the University of Tennessee last month, has had a memorable year. At the 2023 Commonwealth Youth Games in TT in August, he won three gold medals in front of his home fans at the National Aquatic Centre in Couva, ending the games as TT's most successful athlete.
His father Bertram is with him in Israel, along with coach Maurice Faria. However, Blackman's mother Denise is cheering on her son at home in Trinidad.
She spoke to her son on Wednesday and encouraged him. "I spoke to Nikoli yesterday, he said, 'Mummy I want to win.' I said, 'Well you know what to do, you have the training and you know exactly what to do. Get in there, you relax, you streamline, you hit the water and you know how to execute.' That is exactly what he did."
Minister of Sport and Community Development Shamfa Cudjoe congratulated the TT swimmer on his latest accomplishment.
Cudjoe told Newsday, "I am ecstatic and I kept saying look out for this guy," she said.
"He is very passionate about his craft and dedicated to what he does. I know he has had some challenges in the past and he has reached out for different assistance."
Cudjoe said Blackman is an inspiration to others. "He continues to just blaze the trail. We have so much to look forward to in Nikoli Blackman. He has a bright future ahead of him."
The sport minister, who is satisfied that many of the athletes are excelling in their studies, said, "These are the role models that other young people should be looking up to and I am happy that we get to see this and experience this in our lifetime."
Cudjoe commended his parents for showing "family support."
"I kept looking at his performances and I kept saying, 'That guy is going to be world champion.' I am happy to see it."
Cudjoe said during the Commonwealth Youth Games, she saw something special in Blackman.
"I went to Commonwealth Youth Games specifically to see his (50m freestyle) race where he placed first and (TT swimmer) Zarek (Wilson) placed third. These youngsters are doing wonderful things in their sport and I am happy with what I am seeing."
Blackman will return to the pool on Friday in heat ten of the 100m freestyle at 3.54 am, TT time.
Tyla Ho-A-Shu is also performing creditably for TT at the world swim meet. She did not medal, but she broke her own national open record in the women's 50m breaststroke.