Haiti team hoping Youth Olympics can help it overcome earthquake trauma

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Beatrice Derose doesn't gaze upon the Youth Olympics venues or Singapore's gleaming skyscrapers with awe and wonder.

She looks up with fear.

The petite, 16-year-old Derose becomes depressed when comparing Singapore to her earthquake-ravaged Haitian hometown of Port-au-Prince. She admits she often looks up anxiously during her 1,000-meter races.

"I have to look up everywhere to see if something is going to fall," said Derose, who will compete again on Monday. "I'm still scared that might happen."

The quake on Jan. 12 that destroyed the commercial center of Haiti's capital and left an estimated 300,000 dead also left the sports system in tatters.

Fritz Gerald Wong, the head of the Haiti delegation, said the quake killed several athletes and coaches, including the head of the girls' soccer team. It also destroyed many training facilities and prompted authorities to turn the country's only stadium into a tent city for homeless survivors until recently.

And for many of the 22 athletes at the Youth Olympics, the memories of the quake are still fresh in their minds. Some have struggled to return to training and at least one — an equestrian competitor — abandoned plans to make it to Singapore because of the trauma, Wong said.

"We're talking human beings, so you are going to have all sorts of reactions," said Wong, a member of the country's Olympic Committee who owns a gym in Haiti.

"You had some athletes completely discouraged. Some of them gave up," he said. "At the same time, that situation can help motivate some of them. Some of them will say if God could give me life, I should testify and fight to accomplish a lot of things."

Until recently, Haitian athletes had little to show for their trip to Singapore.

But the boys' soccer team rallied for a dramatic 2-1 victory over Vanuatu on Friday that sent it to the semifinals against Singapore on Sunday. The team was formed only six weeks ago and lost its first game 9-0 to Bolivia.

"It's more than a victory," Wong said. "Any single thing that a Haitian accomplishes is amazing. It finally brings happiness."

Haiti coach Sonche Pierre predicted the team would reach the final.

"You haven't seen anything yet. We're just a bunch of guys, just enjoying ourselves," Pierre told the games news service. "Now we have to go a little bit further."

Haiti captain Daniel Gedeon said he was delighted with the way his team bounced back from its rout at the hands of Bolivia.

"It's the best match I've ever been involved in," he said. "It was like a cup final. It was difficult to lose 9-0 in the first game, but we're still in the championship and that makes me very proud."

Signaling the team is still struggling to recover from the quake, the coaching staff refused to let any players be interviewed about the disaster. They said they were afraid the players would become distracted ahead of the Singapore match.

Derose, too, said it's impossible to put the quake behind her. Her family remains in a tent camp after their house was destroyed. She was forced to take her exams in a tent because her school was damaged. She trains along Port-au-Prince's clogged roadways because the stadium remained off-limits to athletes.

And her family faces the prospect of being homeless after the owner of the camp threatened to evict all the families staying there.

"It's still very difficult," said Derose, who also lost three cousins in the quake. "We have nowhere to go. It's hard because the owner threatens us and people are always trying to take our stuff."

But like many of the Haitians competing in Singapore, Derose hasn't let the quake derail her dreams of reaching the London Olympics in 2012.

"My goal is the same," she said, flashing a brief smile. "I pray to God that sports like running will help me have a new life."