Updated 9 August 2008
Derrick ATKINS, Bahamas (100m)
Born: 5 January 1984, Kingston, Jamaica
1.85 / 88kg
Coach: Mike Holloway
Manager: John Regis
When Asafa Powell finished third in the 100m at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, he wasn’t even the fastest member of his family. Until the beginning of that season, it had been a little-known fact that the World record holder at the time had a sprinting second cousin, Derrick Atkins.
Rarely has an athlete transformed performance from one World Championships to the next as Atkins did in Osaka. Eliminated from his first round heat in the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, clocking 11.57 for sixth place, he set a Bahamian record of 9.91 for silver in Japan behind World champion Tyson Gay (9.85)
As emphatic as Gay’s victory was, Atkins didn’t see it that way. “I don’t care what anyone says, if the race was a little longer I would have got Tyson,” he said. How many metres more did he need? “Five more - less than that because it looked like I was closing,” Atkins insisted. But the day will come, he thinks, when he will be No.1.
Yet sprinting is not Atkins’ greatest talent, or so he would have us believe. He is, apparently, a wizard at Monopoly, the property acquisition board game. “I love to play board games,” Atkins said. “I am the only person all my friends know who is nuts about Monopoly. It is about the only thing I toot my own horn about. In track I’m good, in Monopoly I’m great. I am trying to get my track game as great as my Monopoly game.”
Atkins was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but the family moved to Bahamas when he was two. “They felt that being there would give us the opportunity to have a better life,” Atkins said. He started to show an interest in athletics at junior high school, realising he had speed “when we were kids running around”.
Recalling that he was “one of the top two in the class”, Atkins explained that the only one quicker was his best friend to this day, Aaron Cleare, who would go on to represent Bahamas in the 4x400m at the 2004 Athens Olympics, finishing sixth. “He always used to beat me until we were in high school and I took it more seriously,” Atkins said.
A student at C.R. Walker High School, Nassau, Atkins moved on to Dickinson State University, North Dakota. “It was the school that offered me a scholarship, to get my education and at the same time run,” Atkins recalled. But the weather there proved a hindrance. “It was impossible to train because it snows like six months of the year,” he added. An exaggeration, perhaps, but the point is sincere.
In 2006, Atkins finished runner-up to Churandy Martina, of Netherlands Antilles, in the Central American & Caribbean Games, in Cartagena, Colombia, clocking 10.13 in the Final after a PB 10.08 in the semi-finals. He regards this as his ‘breakthrough year’, having suffered injuries in 2005 – hence his first round demise in Helskinki - but the weather in North Dakota and the lack of coach were against him.
“At the time I was coaching myself,” Atkins said. “I knew that, if I went with a coach, the possibilities were endless. I coached myself to 10.08 – a hit and miss kind of thing. I thought that, with a coach who knows what he’s doing, the sky’s the limit.”
So, in November 2006, Atkins left North Dakota for the University of Florida, to be trained by Mike Holloway, former coach to 2007 World 400m Hurdles champion Kerron Clement. It meant leaving behind his young daughter (Jayden Harmony Atkins, born 27 January 2007) having separated from her mother. “But we still see each other,” he said.
The following season, in 2007, Atkins, never previously under 10sec, broke the barrier three times. Not only did he do so in the World Championships final (9.91) but also in races in Athens (9.95) and Berkeley (9.98). However, in December, his hopes for 2008 were dealt a blow when, suffering severe stomach pains, he was admitted to hospital for an emergency appendectomy.
“Everything was going perfect,” Atkins recalled. “Training was going well, everything going well, then one afternoon terrible pains. I went into the emergency room and they said I needed an appendectomy. First question was: ‘How long am I going to be out?’ But I just had to step back for a bit and relax.”
Admitting that he found relaxing difficult, it might have helped Atkins had he been told the story at the time of Abebe Bikila, the Ethiopian who retained his Olympic marathon title in 1964 six weeks after an appendectomy.
“Wow, I never heard that before,” Atkins said at the 2008 Golden League meeting in Oslo, where a victory marked his return, in June, at the top level. “Six weeks? They were telling me six to eight months before I could fully get back my strength.”
Atkins underwent the appendectomy on 3 December. “I could barely walk around and I took that week off,” he said. “Then, the following two weeks, I started to do light mobility stuff, went crazy with it, and came back in the New Year. I was trying to go at it but I was like: ‘No, take it slow’. At the end of January I was able to go back on the track and start running again but not full out. I pretty much I started training in February.”
An early-season personal best for 200m (20.44) proved that Atkins was on his way back. As he pitched into the 100m, he followed his Oslo victory with runner-up spot in another of the pre-Olympic Golden League meetings, in Rome. Then, in the last World Athletics Tour meeting prior to the Olympics, he set a season’s best of 10.02 when placing fourth at the Herculis meeting, in Monaco on 29 July.
Atkins is related to Powell by virtue of the Jamaican’s mother being the niece of the Bahamian’s mother. Of the relationship between the sprinters, Atkins said: “I was talking to my mum about it - she was the one who told me about it. We (Powell and Atkins) spoke a few times about it but not really in detail because he was like nonchalant about it, like ‘I never heard of this before’. That’s like someone coming to you and saying: ‘Hey, I’m your distant cousin from so-and-so and, off the back, you would be like ‘whoa’. I didn’t push anything or try to talk to him about it. I didn’t try to get into depth about it.”
Of his own character, Atkins said: “I am a good person and I work hard. The biggest thing for me, when I leave track and field, is to leave a great legacy behind that people look up to. It is part of the mission - to keep the sport in a positive light. They say that what you do in the dark will come out in the light.
“When I leave the sport, I want to leave no asterisks behind (denoting doping offences). I wouldn’t say I particularly admired anyone in track and field because, as a kid, I just used to run. But I want to be that person that someone says they want to be like because I didn’t find a role model out there who really suited me.”
100m: 9.91 (2007)
200m: 20.44 (2008)
100m: 2001: 10.75; 2002: 10.66/10.60w; 2003: 10.30; 2004: 10.36; 2005: 10.21; 2006: 10.08/10.03w; 2007: 9.91/9.83w; 2008: 10.02
2003 SF Central American & Caribbean Championships
2003 Heats Pan American Games
2005 5th Central American & Caribbean Championships
2005 3rd Central American & Caribbean Championships (4x100)
2005 Heats World Championships
2006 2nd Central American & Caribbean Games
2007 2nd World Championships
2008 2nd Central American & Caribbean Championships (4x100)
Prepared by David Powell for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2008.