For someone who has landed a trio of major javelin titles over the past three months, it is perhaps little surprise that Anderson Peters has long known of his ability to throw things far.
Yet what may be more of a surprise is the first indication he had such a talent came from pelting rocks at mango trees as a youngster growing up on the small Caribbean island of Grenada.
“To me it was always a natural thing to throw,” says Peters. “As kids, we used to regularly throw a rock to get mangoes and golden apples. Our mango trees were really high,” he adds with a smile.
Since those early days, his right arm has been reprogrammed to throw more for length than height and now the 21-year-old is among a crop of younger javelin throwers poised to take on the world.
Based in the US, the Grenadian has this year mounted a successful defence of his NCAA crown, won the NACAC U23 title, and hurled the spear to a national record of 87.31m en route to gold at the Pan American Games.
A tilt at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 awaits, where the Mississippi State University athlete should not be dismissed, despite his relative lack of international experience.
Picking up a javelin for the very first time at the age of 10, he set a school record. However, this did not prompt Peters to immediately pursue throwing; instead he initially preferred the allure of sprinting.
“Usain Bolt was also on the scene at that time, so I wanted to be a sprinter,” says Peters, who clocked a wind-assisted 10.89 as an U20 athlete in 2016 and was good enough to compete in the 4x100m for his country at the Carifita Games that year. “But in form two I picked up a few injuries so in form three (around the age of 14) I returned to javelin.”
Erasing thoughts of following in the rapid footsteps of Bolt or indeed his compatriot Kirani James, the 2011 world and 2012 Olympic 400m champion, Peters focused his thoughts on becoming the next Keshorn Walcott, the 2012 Olympic javelin champion from Trinidad and Tobago.
“Keshorn has had a big impact on my life,” he says. “For years I’ve compared his stats against mine.”
Facilities for throwing the javelin in Grenada – also known as ‘Spice Island’ – were limited. Peters typically trained on a grass field without a track and he only had access to two or three javelins.
“Coach used to joke that regularly retrieving the javelins was good fitness training,” he adds with a laugh.
And it was Peters’ good fortune that coach happened to be the highly respected Paul Phillip, the man who also guided Grenadian decathletes Lindon Victor and Kurt Felix to javelin PBs in excess of 70 metres.
“Paul has been a big influence on my career and he still has a big influence in my life,” says Peters. “He is more than just a coach; he is also a father figure. We still have a really close relationship and are in daily contact.”
His first big moment on the international stage came when finishing ninth with 67.98m in the final of the 2013 IAAF World U18 Championships in Donetsk, Ukraine. It was a promising debut performance on the global scene and more importantly it gave the Grenadian exposure to the world’s best for the first time.
“It was first time I was up against the Finns,” recalls Peters of the nation regarded as the world’s pre-eminent javelin force. “I didn’t beat them, as they finished fourth and fifth that day, but the experience was pretty useful.”
He continued to make a steady improvement in 2014 and 2015, before his career was elevated to a higher plane under Phillip’s wily guidance in 2016.
The pair had targeted the twin goals of the Carifta Games and World U20 Championships as the principle targets for the year and Peters successfully delivered.
Competing in front of his home fans at the Carifta Games, he set a national senior record of 78.28m to strike gold. Then, at the World U20 Championships, he extended the mark by a further 1.37m to take the bronze.
“It was an enjoyable moment (to earn bronze) but I was also a little disappointed,” he explains. “I remember throwing 79m but then a South African (Johannes Grobler) guy added six metres to his best and took silver with 80m.”
Attracted to the US collegiate system by their extensive medical support and competitive opportunities in January 2017, he started life at Mississippi State University, where he came under the coaching wing of April Thomas.
Thomas had first watched Peters compete at the 2015 Pan-American Junior Championships in Edmonton, where he won silver, and she was hugely impressed.
“He was awesome,” she recalls. “Watching him throw, he had a lot of pop and clearly lots of ability. I said to myself, ‘I’d love one day coach this kid’.”
Redshirting his first summer, he nonetheless made more gains in 2017. Still aged just 19, he set three national records including a best of 84.81m and finished 20th in the qualifying round on his World Championships debut in London.
Under Thomas’ official coaching from August 2017 – although he is also co-coached by Phillip – Peters continues to thrive. The 2018 season delivered a Commonwealth Games bronze medal with 82.20m and a first NCAA crown with 82.82m.
Once again he demonstrated an unerringly ability to produce his best when it counted.
“A lot of the preparation is done by my coaches April and Paul (Phillip),” he explains. “They decide the best road and options for me as an athlete. They focus on which meets are important and plan very seriously around those meets.”
Tip of the iceberg
Juggling six days’ training a week with his school commitments, the business administration major made a number of technical advances during the winter months which have contributed to his best season to date.
In March he hurled the spear out to a national record of 86.07m – a performance which he felt he could improve upon by at least two metres.
At the NCAA Championships in Austin he unleashed a 86.62m effort for gold to lead home a Mississippi State clean sweep of the podium before going on to climb to the top of the podium at the Pan American Games with a national record of 87.31m in Lima, where he claimed a memorable scalp.
“It was my first time beating Keshorn Walcott (who picked up silver with 83.55m), which was an honour and one of my long-term goals.”
Peters, who cites his arm as his great strength, now moves on the World Championships in Doha confident he can still be at his best after starting his season back in March.
His coaches have organised his training schedule to reach a second peak for the year at the World Championships, where he has realistic expectations.
“At my first World Championships I did not make the final, so for me to firstly make the final in Doha is most important,” he explains. “Once I make that final, then anything is possible.”
In the longer term the Grenadian boasts some big ambitions.
“What I love about the javelin is the uncertainty of how far it can really go,” he says. “The world record is 98m but I still think a javelin with the current specifications could go further. This drives me to work even harder, to see if one day I could throw over 100m.
It is a possibility his coach has not dismissed.
“Watching the way he throws and knowing Anderson is such a student of the sport, what we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg,” adds Thomas. “I definitely believe with his dedication he has the possibility to one day break the world record.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF