For a 16-day period in 2015, everything fell into place for Trinidad and Tobago sprint hurdler Mikel Thomas.
On July 24, in Toronto, Canada, Thomas seized Pan American Games men’s 110 metres hurdles silver in a national record time of 13.17 seconds. And on August 8, in San Jose, Costa Rica, he stopped the clock at 13.23 — a new meet record — to capture the North American, Central American and Caribbean (NACAC) Open Championship title.
The Toronto podium finish remains the highlight of Thomas’ career.
“Your first international medal. That’s your baby. You’ll always remember that one. For me it was Pan Am. I’m going to back track. The year 2014 was a rough one for me. Commonwealth in Glasgow, Scotland was one of the Games where I had some heartache because of the funding structure. But because of all of that turmoil, 2015 was a real head-banger year. I ran like I had nothing to lose.
“The actual final at Pan Am was a re-run. There was a timing malfunction, and I ran the whole race. At the last hurdle, I’m looking across, thinking why is no one else running, and I fell and bruised my hip. I stumbled across the line, just in case. And then, 30 minutes later, they told us we had to run again. I went into my race like I have nothing to lose. If I finish, maybe I’ll get a round of applause.”
Thomas recounted his Pan Am 2015 experience during the latest episode of the online series, “Athlete Talks”. Thomas and one-lap hurdler Emanuel Mayers were guests on the show, which was hosted by 2013 400m hurdles world champion Jehue Gordon and retired quartermiler Zwede Hewitt.
“That was the first time,” Thomas continued, “that my mom, sister and nieces were actually able to see me compete internationally. I grew up in New York, so they were able to make the trip to Toronto. I glanced and was able to see my people. I was like, we have nothing to lose. All the fast races in my career were effortless. I just floored it, and we end up breaking the national record.
“My mother gave me my flag for the lap. That is a beautiful moment. That has to go down as my favourite moment. When your mother comes out the stands and is putting the Red, White and Black on your shoulders, it reminds us that that’s what I’m doing. I’m representing us. To the world! That’s my favourite moment.”
The Pan Am Games story moved Gordon to tears.
For Thomas, the joy he experienced at the 2015 Pan Am Games carried over to the NACAC Open Championships. But then there was sorrow on August 26 in Beijing, China, the T&T athlete crashing out of the IAAF World Championships.
“I was hot. I medalled at Pan Am, won NACAC, and went into Worlds actually being recognised as a potential medallist. But I fell at the prelims, at the first hurdle.”
In a Trinidad Express article, headlined Screeching halt!, Thomas spoke about his Beijing heartbreak. He looked back at the interview during his “Athlete Talks” appearance.
“That was a hard, hard interview to do. I remember Kwame Laurence doing a great job of helping me express myself in that moment. T&T loves you when you’re hot, and Pan Am is nice, NACAC is nice, but the World Championship, an Olympic medal, is like yuh reach. Yuh GT (get through) in a sense, so to fail at Worlds in the year when I felt I had one of the best opportunities...
“The thing about these heart-breaking moments, especially at a major championship, is you know you have to talk to somebody about it. You’re going through the bull pen, and you see the journalist, and it’s like ‘give me a second’. And then you have to speak because this is your moment to go beyond just the results and actually tell people what’s going on.”
Though Thomas was disqualified after hitting the first hurdle hard and crashing into the second barrier hands first, he picked himself up off the track and went over the remaining hurdles.
“God gave me the grace I needed for my race. That day was to get up and finish to discover what a champion really is, beyond just the results. There have been years when I’ve been injured and I’ve had to pick myself up.
“The beauty of hurdles,” Thomas continued, “is that it’s a wonderful analogy that we clear obstacles for a living. I needed to be able to translate that message that I’m preaching physically to myself, and that has allowed me the endurance to keep going.”
The next episode of Athlete Talks, featuring coaches Antonia Burton and Arlon Morrison, is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday), from 8 p.m., at www.zoom.us (ID: 811 8288 5098). Hewitt and retired half-miler Jamaal James will co-host the show.