Updated 02 August 2012
Richard THOMPSON, Trinidad and Tobago (100m/200m/4x100m Relay)
Born: 7 June, 1985, Cascade, Trinidad
Coach: John Smith
Manager: Emanuel Hudson
Nicknamed “Torpedo Thompson”, and silver medallist behind Usain Bolt’s 100 metres World record at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Richard Thompson is now the fastest Trinidadian sprinter in history, moving ahead of quadruple Olympic medallist Ato Boldon. And therein lies a story.
On August 13, 2011, Thompson completed a hat-trick of men’s 100 metres titles at Trinidad and Tobago’s National Championships with a blazing 9.85 seconds run. The scorcher broke Boldon’s 13-year-old record of 9.86, and catapulted Thompson into the top-ten all-time list.
But Thompson was not an outstanding teenage sprinter and didn’t make it either to World Youth or World Junior Championships. It was not until 2006, at the age of 21, that he represented Trinidad and Tobago for the first time and it was a barely noteworthy debut, as he finished fifth (10.42) in the 100 metres at the North America, Central America and Caribbean (NACAC) U23 Championships in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
However, in 2007, Thompson stepped up and won the NACAC senior title (10.33), in San Salvador, El Salvador, having already that season taken a big chunk off his PB with a 10.09 run in the semi-final round at the National Championships in Port of Spain. But, carrying an injury into the World Championships in Osaka, six weeks after San Salvador, he finished eighth in his quarter final (10.44).
However, 2008 would prove a brilliant year for Thompson. It began indoors, as the Louisiana State University (LSU) student won the NCAA 60 metres title in Fayetteville and shared the fastest time of the season (6.51) with Nigeria’s Olusoji Fasuba. Outdoors, in June, he added the NCAA 100 metres gold medal (10.12) in Des Moines, Iowa, as a precursor to his second place (9.89) behind Bolt (9.69) in Beijing. Prior to 2008, Thompson had never broken 10 seconds.
Thompson’s performance was witnessed in the Bird’s Nest Stadium not only by his parents, Ruthven and Judith, but also by several members of his family.
“All of my uncles on Mum’s side were there, some of my aunts, my brother was there,” Thompson said. “My uncle (Ronald Clarke) was there to throw the Trinidad and Tobago flag to me after I had got the silver medal. They were prepared and afterwards he called out to me and he threw me the flag that I made my victory lap with.”
It was a time which only Boldon (9.86) had beaten among compatriots. Boldon, the 2000 Olympic 100 metres runner-up and 1997 World 200 metres champion, had made a lasting impression upon Thompson from the day that his hero visited his school.
“He has definitely been an inspiration,” Thompson said. “There’s a funny story which I reminded him of, and which he remembered, but he didn’t remember me being the person involved. We went to the same primary school (Newtown RC Primary) and, just like I went into the school and talked to the youngsters after the Olympics, he did the same thing when I was in primary school. He came into the school to talk to us, and he came to my class in particular. My teacher told him I was the fastest boy in the school at the time and he was like: ‘Really? Well, when I was at Newtown RC School I was the fastest boy here, so now I take my crown and I pass it on to you.’ And he took his imaginary crown from his head and put it on my head.
“He was Ato Boldon so obviously I remembered it and he remembered doing that but he didn’t remember me being the person – I didn’t expect him to. But, when I told him, he just laughed about it and said: ‘Yeah, I remember doing that but I don’t remember you being the person.’
“In terms of advice I remember that, during the indoor season, he sent me a message on Facebook and he told me that he believed that I would run sub-10 outdoors, that he believed that I could win a medal in the Olympics, and that he would give me advice on things that he did before the Olympic Games, how he got himself prepared mentally. And, while we were in the Olympic village, I asked what he was doing the day before – if he was up and about, moving around, or if he was relaxing in his bed. I took some of his advice and was able to do the same thing while in Beijing.”
Thompson was 10 when Boldon visited his school.
“It just felt like a huge honour to know that he was the champ while he was in Newtown and now he was taking his crown and passing it on to me. He was in such a rush that day, too, because he had to go round to all the classes and he couldn’t sign autographs for everyone – you are talking about a school with maybe 800 people. But, because my teacher had called me up to meet him personally, I was able to ask him for an autograph. He gave me his autograph and I still have it to this day – I stuck it up on a wall in my room.”
Now, the imaginary crown has been passed on.
“I have given it to a youngster by the name of Jeffrey Parker,” Thompson said.
Going into the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, Thompson found himself in a similar situation to that which Boldon was in – with one man dominating the 100 metres. In Boldon’s day it was Maurice Greene, the triple World champion, 2000 Olympics gold medallist and former World Record holder.
“I think Usain’s dominance is more prominent than Maurice’s because Usain is just making it look absolutely easy and effortless every time he runs,” Thompson said. “He’s just so far ahead of everyone else. He’s making 9.8s/9.7s look like a breeze. Maurice at least had days that he would run 9.9/10.0, which wasn’t too far off what everyone else was running.
“But, in terms of accomplishments Maurice Greene is by far the best sprinter of all time. If you look at how many World Championships titles he has, from world titles to World Records - he had the World indoor record, he had the World Championship title indoors, he had the World Championship titles outdoors, Olympic titles, Olympic records, World Championship records – he did it all. Usain will get there.”
So Thompson’s not going to stop him?
“It’s a nice thought but he’s so far ahead right now.”
Which makes Thompson sound like he is training to be the world’s second best 100 metres runner.
“You have to train to be the best,” Thompson said. “You don’t train to be second best. I don’t think anyone who trains has that in mind but sometimes you have to be realistic and you look at someone’s ability, talent and work ethic and so far, in terms of natural ability, there isn’t anyone else out there like Usain Bolt. So, it’s going to be hard to perform to the same level as someone like that. It is not that I want to be the second best, or the third best, or the fourth best, or anything like that – everyone is aiming for the top spot – but, being realistic, Usain is just so far ahead it is going to take a lot of work to get myself to the level that he is at.”
Things have changed a bit, though, and Bolt seems vulnerable going into the London Games. The once invincible Jamaican was beaten in the 100 metres and 200 metres events at that country’s Olympic trials, his training partner Yohan Blake winning both sprints.
Thompson has also had his challenges in 2012, battling to overcome an injury. But a fine run on the anchor leg for a victorious Trinidad and Tobago 4x100 metres team at the Aviva London Grand Prix, in mid-July, suggests that the injury problem is behind him, heading into the Olympics.
However, since he has not yet found his best form this season, the “Torpedo” is flying under the radar.
“Being under the radar is okay with me. It allows me to focus on the task at hand and not have to worry about outside distractions.”
Thompson’s early interest in sport was nourished by a competitive spirit between himself and two friends, Shayne Cooper and Jabari St Rose. Keen on both athletics and football, they would support each other and, as Thompson rose to the top, his friends continued to encourage him.
“Right after the Olympics both of them called me while I was in China to congratulate me and they felt as though they had won the medal too,” Thompson said.
Given his “Torpedo” nickname by the Trinidad Express newspaper in 2007, Thompson said of it: “At first I thought it was a bit corny but it caught on and I actually have it as my nickname on Facebook now.”
In 2009, Thompson struggled to break 10 seconds. But it was hardly surprising, since he was injured in a car accident in Trinidad, on 1 January that year.
“It was serious,” he said. “I was unable to train for a month and I was unable to life weights for a month and a half to two months.
“I was going up one street and this guy was coming across and he collided with the front of my car which spun it around and I ran straight into a wall. The front of the car was completely damaged. I don’t remember anything at the time because I was unconscious for about seven minutes – but there was a girl in the car with me (Monique Cabral, a sprinter from Trinidad) – she is at LSU as well - and she said that, when she went into the ambulance, the guy was like ‘when we arrived on the scene and we saw the car we thought for sure that the people in the car would be dead’.
“I got whiplash and cuts and bruises on my knee, my lower back, my neck, my upper back as well. Sometimes I still wake up in the morning and feel back and neck pains.”
So when Bolt had his car crash in May 2009, overturning his BMW into a ditch, Thompson was especially sympathetic.
“I sent a message asking if he was okay and, at the same time, I was wondering if there was a blight on the Olympic 100 metres medallists,” he said.
Thompson proved himself to be a championship sprinter, producing his first 2009 sub-10 run in the semi-final round at the World Championships. He followed up that 9.98 dash with a 9.93 clocking in the final, the Trinidad and Tobago sprinter finishing fifth.
Thompson then anchored Trinidad and Tobago to silver in the 4x100 metres relay in a national record time of 37.62 seconds.
There were no 9-point clockings for Thompson in 2010. And in 2011, he worked hard, battling to regain his sub-10 form. It all came together at the National Championships, Thompson producing the 9.85 seconds sizzler to move into the number one spot on the all-time Trinidad and Tobago list, and joint ninth on the all-time global list, alongside Americans Justin Gatlin, Leroy Burrell and Mike Rodgers, as well as Fasuba. Gatlin has since moved up the list, the American clocking 9.80 seconds to win at the US Olympic trials, in June this year.
Unfortunately, Thompson could not repeat his 9.85 run at the World Championships, in Korea, two weeks later, the Trinidad and Tobago track star bowing out in the semis. As it turned out, the National Championship scorcher was his only legal sub-10 clocking for all of 2011.
In the off-season, Thompson switched camps. He left his LSU coach, Dennis Shaver and is now living in Los Angeles, where he trains under the watchful eyes of John Smith, the man who guided Greene to the top. Smith also coached Boldon, T&T’s most prolific Olympian.
Will Smith make the difference, and steer the “Torpedo” from under the radar and onto the Olympic podium? That question will be answered on 5 August in London.
100m: 9.85 (2011)
200m: 20.18 (2008)
100/200m: 2004: 10.65; 2005: 10.66, 10.61w/21.73; 2006:10.27, 10.26w/21.24; 2007: 10.09, 9.95w/20.90; 2008: 9.89/20.18; 2009: 9.93/20.65; 2010: 10.01, 9.89w/20.37; 2011: 9.85/20.85; 2012: 9.96/20.80
2006 5th (100) ** NACAC Under-23 Championships (Santo Domingo) 10.42
2006 3rd (4x100) ** NACAC Under-23 Championships (Santo Domingo) 39.98
2007 1st (100) ** NACAC Championships (San Salvador) 10.33
2007 3rd (4x100) ** NACAC Championships (San Salvador) 39.92
2008 1st (4x100) *CAC Championships (Cali) 38.54A
2008 2nd (100) Olympic Games (Beijing) 9.89
2008 2nd (4x100) Olympic Games (Beijing) 38.06
2009 5th (100) World Championships (Berlin) 9.93
2009 2nd (4x100) World Championships (Berlin) 37.62
2011 6th (4x100) World Championships (Daegu) 39.01
* CAC = Central American & Caribbean
**NACAC = North America, Central America & Caribbean
Prepared by David Powell and Kwame Laurence for the IAAF ‘Focus on Athletes’ project. Copyright IAAF 2012