Elder statesman of track and field Thomas goes for third Pan Am medal

Fred Sturrup is currently in Lima, Peru, as a part of a 2019 Pan American Games journalistic program. Following is his Sports Scope column from the games:

LIMA, Peru — About 15 years ago, I got a call from Elva Russell-Rolle. She informed me of a young cousin who had excelled in basketball, but found out following a friendly bet that he had a special gift to get over the high bar, at an appreciable height.

The college track coach found out about Donald Thomas’ high jump effort. The rest is history. He advanced from a collegiate star to a fourth place finish at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Ever since, he has been an elite performer, succeeding at every major event at the gold medal level, with the one exception of the Olympics. However, he has been an Olympic finalist.

Now, at 35, and 13 years in as one of the world’s best and most consistent athletes, Thomas is set to compete for a third Pan American Games medal, to add to the gold in 2011 and the silver in 2007. His resume includes, also, of course, the World Championships gold in 2007, Commonwealth Games gold in 2010, Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games gold in 2010 and 2018, and the International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) Continental Cup gold in 2018 and silver in 2010. He has gone as high as 2.37 meters (m) – 7’ 9-1/4”, and last year, registered another 2.30m-plus effort, 2.32m (7’ 7-1/4”).

This year, Thomas is coming off an injury and has a season’s best of just 2.15m (7’ 0-1/2”), but says his expectation is high for the Pan Am Games. In an exclusive pre-games interview, Thomas detailed his challenges so far this year, his historic relationship with the Pan Am Games, his longevity, future goals, and he sent out a message to young Bahamians.

“The year has been a steady grind. I’m still working to get in top shape for Doha (Qatar, where the 2019 IAAF World Championships will take place from September 27 to October 6). I had a few hiccups this season. While in Cuba, I suffered a hamstring injury attempting to jump 2.40m (7’ 10-1/2”). I slid through the box and basically, I had to start from the ground up again. I have since recovered from the injury and I’m looking forward to the Pan Am Games, and representing The Bahamas. I’m in a good place physically and mentally to perform at a high level,” he said. Thomas has fond memories of being associated with the Pan American Games.

“The Pan Ams is very special for me. I’m honored to be taking part. It was at the Pan Am Games that I won my first senior medal and it was a stepping stone to the world championship,” reminisced Thomas.

The 6’3” resilient performer has a direct focus on the next two years and considers himself blessed to have lasted so long at the top. He is aiming to continue his career into the next Olympics (2020 in Tokyo, Japan) and beyond.

“I’m grateful to have had such a long and prosperous career. I don’t take anything for granted. I work day in and day out to make sure I’m not just a person on the start list. It’s important to me to be a contender and a danger once my name is attached. Medals are always my goal. The next two years are very important and I’m aiming for the podium,” he said with conviction. He has been quite the role model for young Bahamians and has evolved into a quality elder statesman outside of his performances. The men’s high jump final is scheduled for Friday, August 9.

Thomas’ message to the youth of The Bahamas is one of encouragement.

He said: “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something or you won’t be anything in life. You are in control of your destiny. Don’t be afraid to try different sports, to explore different fields. Take that leap of faith. Work toward your goals. Write out your goals and aspirations. Look at them daily and before you make any decisions in life, ask yourself if a decision is pushing you closer or further away from your objective. Be blessed.”

That’s sound advice from one of the greatest sons of our soil. I extend continued best wishes to the native Grand Bahamian.

Go Donald! Go Team Bahamas!

• To respond to this column, kindly contact Fred Sturrup at e-mail address or on WhatsApp at (242) 727-6363.

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