The accent is musical, definitely island, with alternating notes of British, American, and even Australian. Sion Brinn is the latest in Jamaican sprinting, but contrary to the Ben Johnson types Jamaica is famous for, his element is quintessential beach bum.
"I was born in Kingston, but I live in Montego
Bay," says 23-year-old Brinn, who also studied in the United States.
"My dad's English, my mother's Jamaican, and she lives in Australia,
so I'm really a mish-mash."
Competing on his second World Cup circuit, last
year he went to Sheffield, Malmö, Imperia, and Gelsenkirchen. Brinn
is what you could call a global competitor. December saw him competing at
the U.S. Open in San Antonio, where he won both the 50 (22.39) and 100 (49.41)
freestyles. Shortly afterward he showed up at the British Championships
in Sheffield to eclipse the 100 freestyle in 48.95 a time that ranks him
fifth in the worldand place second in the 50 (22.49).
He then went all out on the World Cup circuit,
starting in Hong Kong and Beijing, flying back to England to train "wherever
I can get in the pool," and sweeping through the Espoo, Malmö,
and Glasgow meets.
"Ultimately I'm using this World Cup series
as a preparation for the Short Course Worlds in April," he says, "and
I'm taking the chance of losing some money to try and make some."
"It's a lot of fun," he says, "and
I'm getting stronger each time. It does get a little stressful at times,
and it's going to be hard to win a category because I don't have that third
event (the 200 free). I just have the 50 and the 100, so if I don't do well
in one of them it's almost all over."
Life for many swimmers from small swimming nations,
money is tight, and Brinn has had to borrow from family and friends to support
such endeavours as the World Cup. The Jamaican Federation gives him "what
they can," but it is hardly enough to cover all of his training and
living costs. "I'm hoping to do well enough here to merit some support,"
he says. "A lot of money goes to track and field in Jamaica. I'd like
to show the Federation that I'm not just wasting my time."
He has also had to get used to going it alone at
most of the far-away competitions, and he gets high marks for independence.
Everything from meet entries and logistics, to technical meetings, to securing
some support from the hosting Federationsit's been entirely up to him. "I
keep in contact with my coach (Jeff Cavana of LSU), but it's difficult because
of the expense," says Brinn. "In Europe we'll be in contact every
day. Even though he can't see me swim, he knows me pretty well."
"You're looking at a coach, swimmer, and official
all in one," he smiles.
Brinn started out as an age group swimmer in Jamaica
but first got onto the international scene in water polo. In 1991, at the
age of 18, he went to the Pan American Games for water polo. Then, as his
sprinting improved, he decided to go back to swimming and concentrate on
the 50 and 100 freestyles. He got a scholarship at Louisiana State University,
where he studied Kinesiology. Of his decision to go there, Brinn says, "I
had some friends there. It's a good school with good support, and it's got
a very laid-back atmosphere, which I like. Also, I don't like the cold,
so that was a factor!"
In 1995 he went to the Short Course World Championships
in Rio, and then took the spring semester off in 1996 to concentrate on
the Olympics. The second Jamaican swimmer to go to the Olympics (Andrew
Phillips went in 1984), he finished fourth in the B final of the 100 freestyle
"The swimming part was good in Atlanta as
I had a pretty good 100, but as far as the general atmosphere was concerned,
I have to echo what the press said," he said. "There was way too
much commercialism. The emphasis was on the public and the spectators rather
than the athletes."
"I had originally planned to retire after
1996 and concentrate on graduating, but because I was still improving I
thought I'd go to the Commonwealth Games, and then on to Perth," he
continues. "If I'm still doing well I'd like to make it to 2000."
Brinn has a British passport and says that he could
technically swim for Britain, where swimming has a much higher profile,
"but I like Jamaica. It's a loyalty thing. I'm not swimming for money.
I'm doing it for myself," he says.
Despite his laid-back island personality, Brinn
admits to being somewhat of an exercise maniac. "Before the Olympics
I was training six to seven hours a day (up to 10 times per week in the
water). I lift three to four times a week and do a lot of flexibility work.
I also play racquetball and tennis, and when I have time I get on the stationary
bike and ride just so I can sweat like a madman for an hour or so."
"I don't play much polo now, but I like triathlons,
and I love windsurfing. I just love runnin' around," he laughs. "I
like to do as much as I can, all the time."
As for the World Cup, Brinn won the 50 free in
Hong Kong and Malmö (in a personal best of 22.33) and won the 100 free
in Beijing. He led the men's Sprint Freestyle category until his final meet
in Glasgow, and finished with 63 points, placing second overall behind Australian
Michael Klim and claiming $3500 in prize money.
"It's the first time I've been up at this level and it feels good," he says. "I feel a lot more confident."