At the press conference held in Stockholm’s Olympic Stadium a day before it hosted the sixth IAAF Diamond League meeting of the season, Jamaica’s affable giant of a discus thrower, Fedrick Dacres, was asked: “Were you just a skinny kid when you started?"
"I would say slim," he responded, with a wide grin.
He is slim no longer; nor are his chances of finishing the season as a winner of the Diamond Trophy, and an IAAF World Championships medal, following a superbly consistent sequence of early season performances which culminated in him earning his first Diamond League win at the arena that hosted the 1912 Olympics.
With only one round of the Diamond League to go for discus throwers after the Stockholm leg of the competition – in London on July 9 - the 24-year-old who tops this year’s world list with 68.88m has already booked his place in The Final, which in the case of his discipline will take place in Brussels on 1 September.
Dacres’ win in the Swedish capital, courtesy of a fourth-round effort of 68.36m, came in what was only his third IAAF Diamond League meeting, and just three days after he had finished second in Oslo behind Sweden’s Daniel Stahl with a throw of 67.10m.
What pleased Dacres in Oslo was the fact that he had headed the two most recent Olympic champions, brothers Robert and Christoph Harting, as well as Poland’s world champion Piotr Malachowski.
“I feel good coming out and competing with the big guys and despite coming second, I got a good throw over 67 metres,” he said. “I am now setting my sights on medalling at the World Championships.”
In Stockholm he initially trailed Stahl, desperate for a win on home soil, and early leader Andrius Gudzius of Lithuania before taking control of the competition. Stahl saved his best until last in response – but at 68.13m, it wasn’t quite enough.
On this occasion, Germany’s Harting brothers Robert and Christophe were fifth and seventh with 66.20m and 61.75m, either side of Malachowski, whose best was 64.60m.
“It was pretty windy but it was OK,” said Dacres. “I came out and I executed my technique well. I wanted a big throw but I was OK with 68. I was stable on 67 so I am thankful.
“I was given an awesome reception. The crowd was lively and I could hear the Jamaicans in the crowd. I love their vibe.
“Jamaica is known for sprints and speed so to have a big strong thrower is not really our thing but hopefully I can help. It is great to compete with the big guys, and these are who I have looked up to.”
Next stop for Dacres is the national trials – and as he told The Gleaner, he is just where he wants to be right now.
"This is my best ever season,” he said. “The conditions were a bit shaky at first, but became really good, and I'm not really shocked with the distance because my body felt good, and when it feels good, I normally do well.
"It's good, Stahl’s an awesome competitor and it's good that I beat him, but he'll be back, no doubt, to fight it out again. It was a very rough fight from the get-go, with the guys throwing bombs in the first round, but I held my composure and made it out on top."
Building on early career success
His performance in Stockholm is emblematic of his career in the last couple of seasons, as he has recovered from a disappointing performance in last year’s Rio Olympics where, hampered by a late-season hand injury and by wet conditions that made the throwing circle slippery, he failed to reach the final.
That was a big jolt in a career that had been progressing very satisfactorily from a hugely promising start.
Dacres won the IAAF World Youth (now U18) title in 2011, and followed up in 2012 by adding gold at the IAAF World Junior (now U20) Championships. His senior breakthrough came in 2015, when he won the Pan American Games in Toronto and finished seventh in the world final in Beijing.
This season, however, he has fully recovered his momentum, setting a national record of 68.67m in the Big Shot Invitational meeting in January, and extending it to 68.88m on February 11.
He told The Gleaner that his consistency had come from a return to the basics he learnt in his earlier days in the throws events at Calabar High.
"I just went back to my high school technique, and it's been doing well," he noted.
Indeed, his latest national record was also set at school – at the King of the Ring throws meeting held at Excelsior High.
As he now moves on to the national championships where he intends to book his place for August’s IAAF World Championships he is confident of throwing further – but not just yet.
"We're not peaking for trials, we're holding the load through until Sir King Julian (his coach Julian Robinson) decides to sharpen up for the big game," Dacres joked.
Fiercely competitive by nature
Behind the smile, though, is a formidable competitor.
In 2011, after he had earned his first global title, his mother Claudette Morgan told The Gleaner that he had developed a winning mentality while at junior high school.
"Fedrick is a very competitive child from long since,” she said. “He is not afraid of competition. I remember one time his teacher called me telling me that he was in tears because he came third, and from then I realised that he has the mind of a winner.
"Nothing stops him. Last year, his father died two days before he went to the trials, and he still went and won, and later went to the Carifta Games and broke the discus record," she said.
Morgan added that every morning, she prepared a hearty breakfast for her son of cornmeal porridge mixed with coconut milk, peanuts, and oats - his favourite.
No wonder the slim lad was soon a figure of the past…
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF