Richard “Torpedo” Thompson: ready to fire

Trinidad sprinter Richard “Torpedo” Thompson tells his story to Kwame Laurence

Richard Thompson. Photo by www.sporting-heroes.net

My first Olympic memory is being in front of the TV with my family for the final of the Atlanta Games 100 metres final with Ato [Boldon]. I was ten at the time and in standard five at Newtown Boys’ RC school.

I really started loving track and field around that time. I always had a passion for track. I would run races in primary school and realise I was faster than the other boys. By standard four I was the fastest at Newtown.

I remember Ato coming in to talk to us in standard five, after he had won his medals, and my teacher at the time, Mr John, told him that I was the fastest: so he took his imaginary crown and passed it on to me. I said I would follow in his footsteps. When I returned to Newtown in 2008 I passed that crown on to Jeffrey Plaza. I’ll be looking out for him in years to come.

There are several athletes who influenced me to be an Olympian/medallist, including Hasely [Crawford], Frankie Fredericks, Donovan Bailey, Michael Johnson. But the heaviest influence came from Ato and Maurice [Greene, the American sprinter]. I followed them closely and was a huge fan. Even in college at LSU [Louisiana State University] I had posters of them in my room, because my goal was to be like them and dominate the sprint world some day.

My goal as a freshman in college in 2005 was to make it to the Olympics. I drew closer to realising that goal every year, with steady improvement; but in 2008 things really took off. After I had won NCAA [National Collegiate Athletic Association] titles, indoor 60 metres and outdoor 100 metres, and had under 10 seconds in the 100, I knew my chances of a medal were very strong.

I absolutely loved running in the [Beijing] Olympics. It’s still by far the biggest crowd I’ve ever run in front of. Ninety thousand people screaming, jumping, singing. There was so much energy in the stadium, and I really fed off it.

Surprisingly, I was not nervous at all in the final, because I felt I had nothing to lose, only something to gain. I was only nervous for one race the whole time, and that was the 100 metres semi-final, because I wanted to be in the final badly.

When I crossed the line [in the final] I knew I had taken second. When I look back at the tape of me jumping, hopping and throwing my hands around like a mad man I just laugh, because I don’t even remember doing it. It’s almost as though I had a temporary case of insanity as I crossed the line.

As I lay on the ground the first thing I did was make the sign of the cross and raised my hand up to the Lord to thank Him. Right before I dropped to the ground, I looked up at the scoreboard and saw my name and 9.89 seconds next to it and that’s when it really hit me and I held my head and dropped. It was a dream come true.

I must admit that beating [American sprinter Walter] Dix for the silver medal made it a little sweeter. You always want to beat your rival and I got the better of him at the two big meets that year in the 100.

If I had to bet my life that Dix and I would ever become training partners I would be in a cemetery six feet under right now. But I’m glad it happened and I think that both of us will benefit from it.

It’s understood that he wants to win and so do I, so what we have to do is use each other to bring out the best in each other. We’ve seen that with Ato and Maurice, and now with Bolt and [Yohan] Blake. We share information with one another and push one another because we know as one gets faster, so will the other.

Walter and I are friends now, but that doesn’t change the little rivalry we have going on the track. I wouldn’t say that our goals put a strain on our relationship. We make it no secret that we all want to be the best, so it’s not like

we need to hide that from each other or the other sprinters in the group. We all get along, but it’s understood that everyone is gunning for the top spot.

I was really happy about the [Olympic] relay silver because of the fact that it was a team effort and it really showed the world how talented our country really is.

However, I must admit that the 100 silver medal outweighs the relay medal significantly for me. When you train, you train with your individual event in mind and that’s always your top goal, to achieve the highest in that event, so medalling for me individually made my hard work and sacrifices all worth it. The relay was the icing on the cake.

Usain Bolt deserves the hype he gets. He’s great, and he has proven himself to be the best ever. He’s definitely the favourite for London, based on what the world has seen for the last couple of years. I think, though, that that makes it easier for someone else to sneak in there and take it all. The underdog position is always an easier task because you have nothing to lose.

I have a hefty task ahead of me in trying to win the gold, but I am just doing everything possible to give myself the best chance of achieving it. Anything is possible. I just have to focus on myself and improving my race. Not worry about others and what they have done previously, because all that matters is what you do on the day itself.

Preparations for London have been going well thus far. I have a great training group, a great coach (John Smith), and a family that has been very supportive of me with everything. God spare health and strength, you will see an improved and stronger “Torpedo” in London.

Whatever time it takes to win is what I’m shooting for. Times are all relative to conditions. On a perfect day, I would say 9.80-85 and 19.7 would secure you a medal. I would love to run a lot faster than that, but we will see how the season progresses.

My London goals are to medal in every event that I compete in. Dream results would be three gold medals, but I think that’s a bit of a stretch, to be honest. I like to keep my goals realistic, and I think the 200 is still an event where I have a lot of learning to do and experience to gain. There are guys already running 19.1 and 19.2 and I haven’t ever gone under 20 seconds, so making the 200 final I think is a realistic goal. I will go out, give my best, and if a medal comes with it I will be extremely happy.

Hasely definitely needs some local company in the Olympic Gold club. It would be an honour for me to join him. I believe that Kelly-Ann [Baptiste] and Jehue [Gordon] both have a realistic shot as well. The men’s relay team’s chances look good as well.

Competing in Beijing was an experience I will never forget. My heart was filled with so much national pride, and it was truly a delight to be draped in the national flag after the races. I saw video clips of the local celebrations after my 100 and the 4 x100. I sat, watched it and couldn’t stop smiling. It almost brought tears to my eyes to see the joy we brought to the nation. I will be trying my hardest to restore that glory to the Red, White and Black in London this year.