Sixteen-year-old Solomon Maragh from Millhouses not only made history when he became the first person to represent the country in canoe slalom at the Junior World Championships in Slovenia last week, but “did himself proud” with his performance, said thrilled dad Dean.
The International Canoe Federation was so impressed with the former UTC pupil’s efforts in the K1 (single kayak) event they asked him to compete in an ‘extreme slalom’ contest, which involved navigating obstacles in choppy waters while racing other canoeists, rather than simply being against the clock and passing under poles suspended overhead.
Despite no training, he qualified for the knockout heats and finished third out of four. The winner of Solomon’s heat was eventually crowned the overall champion.
"He did very well out there with his international debut,” said Dean.
"He did himself proud, he did Jamaica proud, he did Sheffield proud and his local club, Manvers [Waterfront Boat Club].”
Solomon, an engineering apprentice at the OSL Group in Attercliffe, qualifies to represent Jamaica through his grandmother Rose, a member of the Windrush generation who moved to Sheffield in 1962.
The teenager practiced in Millhouses Park Boating Lake during the first lockdown last year while his regular training bases were closed – an experience he said helped him hit the ground running when they reopened.
And while other athletes at the Junior World Championships were helped by professional support teams, ‘Team Jamaica’ consisted of Solomon and his proud parents Dean and Julie who admit they were learning on the job.
Still, the teenager was happy with how things went.
Solomon said: “It was really good, I really enjoyed it. It was a good atmosphere, even with Covid and it was a good experience for me.
"No one had ever seen Jamaica at this event before. When I was on the water training people were watching me to see how I was doing and get an idea of my strengths and weaknesses.
"At that point I felt under pressure not to make a mistake, but I think I did well.”
As the country’s only canoe slalom athlete, Solomon is also able to represent Jamaica at senior level – and plans to race against Olympians and world champions at the British Open in October as preparation for next year's Junior World Championships in Italy.
His ambition is to represent Jamaica at an Olympic Games in the future, with Paris 2024 in his sights.
Dean said: "He put in a good performance and it’s something to build on. He’s got a solid platform. At 16, he’s got two more Junior World’s then the Under-23s [World Canoe Slalom Championships].
"He’s got a lot more ahead of him.”
Solomon added: “I feel really proud to have represented my country, and I’ve done the best that I can do for a developing nation.
“I have the responsibility now to set the standard for other Jamaican athletes within canoe slalom when opportunities come along.”