Had he run in a different era, Wendell Mottley could have earned a handsome living as a professional athlete.
But in the mid-1960s, despite having earned two Olympic medals and a reputation as one of the finest sprinters of his time, the opportunity to earn money running track was very limited. In 1967, as the reigning Olympic silver medalist in the 400m, he ran his last races and hung up his track spikes for good. He went on to a successful career in business and international investment banking. He is now a Managing Director with Credit Suisse bank in New York City.
As a Dean’s List economics major at Yale who had earned a masters degree from Cambridge University, Mottley certainly knew how to do a cost-benefit analysis on the value of continuing his track career.
“There may have been some people making some money running track but I wasn’t one of them,” he remembers. “I never earned a dime running and I even paid part of my expenses to the Tokyo (1964) Olympics, so it was an easy decision to retire from running to pursue my career in business.”
As a youngster in Trinidad, Mottley grew up as one of four brothers who all showed early promise competing in track. But he was also fortunate enough to be a student at Queens Royal College high school, an elite public school for boys that valued academic excellence as much as athletics. QRC counts among its alumni those who have distinguished themselves in many fields, including a Nobel Laureate for literature, the novelist V.S. Naipaul. Mottley credits QRC with giving him the foundation in both sport and studies upon which his success has been built. “At Queens Royal College solid excellence was the rule, not the exception.”
As college approached he planned on matriculating in the U.K. but a volunteer track coach at QRC, ironically an Englishman, encouraged him to consider Yale. Other American schools that were recommended to him were Stanford and Tufts but Mottley felt that the academic reputation was most impressive at Yale and applied only there. A case of unshakable confidence? Hardly. Mottley blames his gamble on simple ignorance about the level of competition. “I was totally naïve about the odds of getting accepted. But luckily, in the end it worked out.”
Mottley’s acceptance worked out for Yale and track coach Bob Giegengack as well. Mottley went on to become the fastest 440-yard runner in Ivy League history. His personal best time of 45.2 still stands as the Ivy League record for the 440y/400 meter event.
His accomplishments in Ivy League track include winning the 440y in each of the three Heptagonal Games Championships in which he competed (1962-64). He continues to be the Yale record holder in the 500m/600y event. In his time he was not only the best long sprinter in the Ivy League but also one of the best in the world. In 1964 he set indoor world records for the 400-, 500- and 600-yard distances.
Months after receiving his diploma from Yale he represented Trinidad & Tobago in the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo where he and his teammates earned the first-ever Olympic medals in their sport for their country. Mottley took Olympic silver in the 400m dash and teamed with his countrymen to win bronze in the 1600m relay.
After graduating with honors from Yale, Mottley attended Cambridge to earn his masters degree in economics and continued competing for the Cambridge university track team as well as racing on the European circuit. In 1966, his 4x440y relay team set a world record at the Commonwealth Games, a performance which was not bettered for many years, and is considered one of the most outstanding moments in the athletic history of Trinidad & Tobago.
Upon completion of his master’s degree, Mottley worked in London for a couple of years before returning to Trinidad in 1969. He launched what became a very successful business career there, primarily in developing housing. His work in this field started him on a 15-year career in government service beginning in 1981 when he was appointed by the Prime Minister to be the Minister of Housing. He was later named Minister of Industry and served in that post until 1986. After five years in opposition while his party was out of power, he returned from 1991 until 1996 as Minister of Finance.
During his time as a cabinet minister Mottley is proud of the reputation he earned as a “green” politician and continues to champion environmental causes. He is former board member and current member of the World Wildlife Fund, a member of the Asa Wright Beard Foundation, the leading environmental group in the Caribbean, and sits on the leadership council of the Yale School of Forestry.
Since leaving government service, Mottley has worked with Credit Suisse since 1996 first as an advisor, and currently as a managing director in investment banking. He oversees Credit Suisse’s financing projects in the Caribbean.
Although it has been four decades since Mottley last competed as a world-class athlete, he continues to enjoy the legacies from his track career. In terms of his athletic accomplishments, his performances wearing the colors of Trinidad & Tobago made him one of his country’s most revered athletes.
The two record-setting performances that endured the longest are particularly dear to him. The Commonwealth Games 4x440y relay performance and 440-yard Ivy League record. After standing for many years a team from the United States pulled together an all-star team and staged a race specifically to capture the 4x440y record. Once they succeeded in breaking it Mottley says that his Ivy record became even more precious to him and he is very proud of it.
But it is the personal relationships that linger from his running career that he values most. During his stint captaining the Cambridge track team he became friends with his counterpart from Oxford — Jeffrey Archer who would go on to become the famous novelist. The two have remained friends over the intervening 40 years and are still in touch.
And Mottley spent a recent weekend at the Penn Relays participating in a reunion of his Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games medal-winning relay teams. “It is the friends I made from participating in track that was an invaluable part of my experience.”
This story was written by Meredith Rainey Valmon in 2007 in conjunction with the Ivy@50 celebration.