Trinidad and Tobago’s Jereem Richards emerged on the scene as a leading global sprint force by taking 200m bronze at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. Not unsurprisingly, the 24-year-old speedster relives the thrill of his podium dwelling experience as his high moment and draws from a dispiriting experience the previous year for his low moment.
At the Hampton Games Heats, my last race before departing for the University of Alabama in May 2016, I stepped off the track heartbroken. I had just recorded 50.61 for the 400m – which was the first time I had record a 50-second time for three or four years (Richards’ PB at the time was 45.91).
I felt broken because I pushed so hard in that race. To try to make up for the disappointment, I ran the 200m straight after, which was a big mistake because I ended up recording 21.80 into a big negative wind (-3.7m/s). Everything had gone against me that day and with the Olympic Trials coming up the following month, I was seriously worried about how my season would progress.
The background to reaching that point was in the fall of 2015 I had graduated from my junior college to sign for the University of Alabama. Because of a lack of funds, they weren’t able to accept me at that time and I had to sit out a semester. This was very frustrating, so I decided to head back to Trinidad to continue training.
I didn’t want to be a financial burden on my family, so I took up a job working afternoons as a personal fitness trainer, sometimes until as late as 9pm. It was hard to get up early, train, head back for lunch, work and then repeat the cycle the next day. I was juggling too many things and I was getting insufficient rest. This is what was contributing to my poor form.
After the difficulties I’d endured in the first half of 2016, it is hard to believe some 15 months later I was stood on the podium celebrating a bronze medal in the 200m at the 2017 World Championships.
My journey to that point accelerated as soon as I arrived at the University of Alabama in mid-May 2016. There I started working with my coach Blaine Wylie, who has been like a father figure to me. We worked so hard, I had access to the best facilities and we could see improvements.
I ran 46.02 in the 400m at Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic Trials in June to make the 4x400m squad for Rio. I didn’t get to compete in Rio, but the experience was like no other. I was exposed to many high-calibre athletes and it really sparked something in my heart and acted as a real motivation for the future.
I took encouragement from my teammate Machel Cedenio running a national 400m record (of 44.01) to place fourth in Rio. He is from the same borough I’m from in Trinidad and I thought, ‘if he can do it, why can’t I?’
I wrote down a list of my goals for 2017 on a board and returned back to training. I knew my hard work started to pay off when I ran 20.57 indoors for 200m in my first race of 2017. At that point my outdoor PB was 20.58 and my indoor best was 21.06. From the beginning of the indoor season, I was a different athlete.
Going into the World Championships in London, my expectation was that I wanted a medal. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I wanted to make a name for myself.
I progressed smoothly through the rounds and in the final I wanted to remain relaxed and calm. I came off the bend in sixth, thinking I still had some work to do. But I didn’t panic and as I came down the home stretch I realised I had a chance for a medal. Closer to the finish line, I leaned. It was very close between Wayde van Niekerk and he edged me out of silver but I had secured bronze.
To climb that medal podium in London was electrifying. I’ve looked up to Ato Boldon (the 1997 world 200m champion) since I was a little boy and to emulate my countryman and stand on the medal podium at a major championship was something very special.
Growing up, I wanted to be just like Ato. I used to flex my muscles just like him, which is funny because I am a little, skinny guy. I really look up to him. He is one of the most phenomenal athletes we’ve ever had. To be even mentioned in the same sentence as Ato in Trinidad is a great achievement.
Steve Landells for the IAAF