One might say that experiencing the Olympic Games is a dream come true and indeed it was. Every moment leading up to the games was spent carefully preparing and anticipating such a historical and important moment in my career and life. People who know me were proud of the fact that I had qualified for the games because they knew that I had worked extremely hard to get the opportunity to run for a country that is not known for distance, but more so sprinting.
From arrival in the Jamaican camp to the ending of the 2016 Rio Olympics, the experience was extraordinary. The Jamaican camp was an adventure in itself. Having heard that things weren’t well in Rio, for example, people talking about Zika and high crime, I myself was shocked when I did not even see one mosquito while I was at the camp and I was surprised that throughout the duration of my stay, I only saw two mosquitoes.
The hospitality of the Brazilians at the camp was quite welcoming and they made sure that the Jamaicans were taken care of and provided for. However, it was quite uncomfortable having so much security around with guns that I did not imagine I would ever see throughout my whole life. We stayed at a hotel close to the airport and trained at a naval base, which was about 30-40 mins away. The drive to this base was sometimes quick and other times it was slow. Whenever we would leave for practice there would be security escorts guiding us to the base. This made me comfortable, but also had me thinking about why we needed so much security.
One of the most amazing moments at the Jamaican camp was having our own Jamaican chef available to cook us food that we would normally eat in Jamaica, and this was a huge deal for me because I train and live in America, so it was good to be reminded of home while I was away from home. From breakfast to dinner we would make sure that we eat our fill, but also keep in mind the goal at hand. I remember one morning I was the first to head to breakfast and (Usain) Bolt walked in. We had dumplings, ackee and saltfish, steamed cabbage, and fried plantain. I had two dumplings on my plate and Bolt looked at me and said, “Dumplings, A wah dis, chef cook dumplings today. Seems like the chef wanted us to get fat.” I couldn’t stop laughing because as he said that he ended up taking three, and I remember even laughing about it for quite a while.
Being around such elite athletes at a camp and remembering that I was there for the Olympics, I felt proud. I felt like I was in the great company every time I saw a Jamaican athlete in a walkway or just in the dining area. We were constantly reminded of that too because outside the hotel stood media every moment of the day waiting to interview someone from the Jamaican team, preferably Usain Bolt. I was awestruck by the number of people who would stand outside just to get a glimpse of Bolt and that made me even prouder to be associated with the Jamaican athletes and there was a feeling of pride.
Leaving the hotel was a moment of excitement for me because I knew that this was a step closer to competing and I was happy, but as I entered the bus, it dawned on me that I was a few steps closer to competing at such a high level.
Entering the village, I was overjoyed to see what this place was going to be like. Hearing all the complaints in the media, I braced myself for the worst. All I heard was negative things being said, so I didn’t know what to expect. However, upon entering the village, my perspective changed. I saw somewhere that would be my home for the next sixteen days and I was excited to go explore around and meet new people.
My experience in the village was both pleasant and unpleasant. On our first day of checking in things weren’t as smooth as I thought they would have been. We had trouble getting our rooms, but luckily being patient is one of my best traits, and soon enough that little problem was resolved.
As soon as we got to our room my roommate and I stood at the door wondering and betting that the room was going to look like a disaster, but to our surprise the rooms in the apartment were nothing I could have imagined. There were two rooms in the apartment, two bathrooms, a living room, and both rooms had two twin beds. I was pleased with the rooms because I was not expecting them to be nice at all and my roommate was also pleased. It was our first Olympic games and we were excited to be there and represent to the best of our abilities.
The village atmosphere made me feel like quite the athlete because everyone would look at the gear I wore and they would ask if I had Jamaican Pins to exchange. Knowing that people admire Jamaica so much made me feel special. I loved the village because it facilitated an environment where I could interact with athletes and get to hear about their sports. I had the opportunity to be in the presence of the world’s fastest man and it just confirmed the question that I had been asked so many times, “Is Usain Bolt a nice person?” I have met him many times before interacting in Rio, but this was different because I got a chance to really be around him as one of his teammates at such a place.
Bolt’s room was directly below mine. My roommates and I frequently would just pop by to say hi or just hang out for a little and he was cool about it. I watched them play FIFA once but didn’t play because I was no good at it, but it was great nevertheless. My place for meeting new people was the cafeteria because I knew they had to eat too. I got the chance to meet many great athletes there. For me, I thought the experience of meeting so many new athletes at this one place made the food better. I got to meet Missy Franklin, David Rudisha, Allyson Felix, the American Gymnastic team, and many more.
This was indeed a place of talent and I was mystified by just trying to figure out who everyone was and what they did. Many times it was just me and my roommate who had dinner and we would try to get pictures with as many famous athletes as we could.
For training leading up the games, I did most of my runs around the village on a bike trail, and all around there would be distance runners and walkers from all over the world. I would go out early in the morning to get my run in and I would see distance runners and walkers doing the same, so I felt right at home. In the days leading up to the race I started doing shorter runs and I could see other runners doing the same, so I knew then that things were starting to become real and I would be competing soon. I got nervous thinking about the race because these athletes were as good or had more experience at racing than I did.
The day of the race was the most fascinating. I woke up early to take a shower so that my muscles would feel relaxed and also to continue hydrating myself like I was doing the night before. I went for breakfast early because my race was at 10 AM. After I ate breakfast and ran to the bus, I saw the athletes that I would be competing against, and even though I was determined to do my best no matter what, I still got nervous looking around and seeing them.
At the track, as I warmed up, I saw many famous athletes getting all different types of work done. Some were training, some were warming up, some were getting treatment, some were cooling down, but one similar thing was the look on the faces of these athletes. They all looked focused and also a bit nervous, so within that moment, I felt much calmer because I knew that I was not the only one feeling this way. The first call of the call room came and I was already warmed up, but I did not enter the call room at that time because I was still relaxing my legs and focusing on the task at hand. The second call came and I slowly made my way to the call room. When I entered I was surprised to see all the athletes there just sitting down.
Everyone started to strip down to their racing gears and I got really nervous, so I looked around again and I could see some of the athlete’s hands trembling just like mine. I told myself that I have prepared for this moment all my life, but it was unbelievable to think that the years of preparation would just trickle down to thirteen minutes and something seconds and that all these guys were probably thinking the same thing that I was thinking too.
The walk to the track with the officials seemed like a long walk and so many mixed feelings rushed in mind. As I set foot on the track the nerves were all gone. I did a stride and told myself that this is it, this is what I am here for. I heard my coach Mark Coogan yell my name and I looked over to see him reminding me of the plan that we had entering the race and the strategy that we would use to make sure that I did well in my heats and make it to the finals. Inside the stadium, there was upbeat music playing and it was a hot day, but as we gathered to the starting line everything went quiet and it was all about racing.
I got 10th in my heat and didn’t qualify for the finals, but I was not discouraged because as the names unveiled on the big screen I started to see that the heat I was in was filled with great athletes who had made the Olympics before and that became the highlight of the games for me. I am a Jamaican distance runner who gained the experience I needed from this race and will use it to my advantage to become one of the greatest athletes and to open the eyes of many in Jamaica so that they know they can make the Olympics one day, but not only by sprinting.