Jamaica's O'Dayne Richards, winner of the shot put at the Commonwealth Games (© Getty Images)
At the IAAF World Championships, Beijing 2015, Jamaica finished second on the medals table with seven gold and 12 medals in total. It’s the country’s second-best tally ever, after the 2009 edition in Berlin. But this time, it wasn’t just sprinters and hurdlers who led the charge.
Two Jamaicans made history in Beijing: 21-year-old Fedrick Dacres was the first ever Jamaican discus thrower to make a World Championships final, while 26-year-old O’Dayne Richards won his country’s first ever World Championships medal in a throwing event, taking bronze in the shot put.
But how were these two throwers able to nurture their talent in a country where most of the attention in focused on sprinting?
Richards was a good football player, a goalie, and a rugby player, until a high school coach saw potential in the 17-year-old athlete and suggested giving throws a try. From then on, Richards – who was nicknamed ‘Fred’ after Fred Flintstone for his love of throwing rocks – decided to stick with athletics.
Richards was soon dominating the national collegiate ranks, and in 2011 he made his mark on an international level, winning the World University Games title with a PB of 19.93m.
Dacres, on the other hand, wasn’t into sports at first.
“I was a nerd, the bookworm in the family,” he laughs. “But my brother was a thrower. He invited me to join him at a training session and I never looked back. I liked weightlifting, getting stronger every day. For someone who was once a skinny kid, it’s a good feeling.”
Dacres didn’t have to wait long before success came his way. He won the world youth title in 2011 and the world junior title in 2012. After those feats, Dacres was sought after by US collegiate coaches, but he decided to stay in Jamaica for good.
“They achieve decent results with their athletes,” he said. “But the level I want to be at in my event, it’s not in the USA. The throwers I’ve been looking up to are Robert Harting, Piotr Malachowski. And, of course, Jason Morgan, one of the pioneers of the discus in Jamaica, as well as my coach Julien Robinson.
“In fact, Jamaican coaches are getting more advanced,” he added. “My coach is a reader, he’s getting more and more knowledge, he applies it well and we’re getting the results.”
Fast forward a couple of years, and both Richards and Dacres were approaching Beijing – Dacres’ first World Championships and Richards’ second – with reasonable medal hopes.
Richards won the Commonwealth Games gold in 2014 and followed it up with the Pan American Games gold just a month prior to his trip to Beijing, setting a national record of 21.69m. He has also become a familiar face on the IAAF Diamond League circuit, gaining valuable experience in competing against the best in the world.
Dacres had thrown 66.40m this spring, which put him in the top 10 in the world this season, and won the Pan American Games gold.
The second-best throw in the world this season, 68.19m, belonged to another Jamaican and one of Dacres’ role models, Jason Morgan. But Morgan hurt his back mid-season and wasn’t at his best in Beijing, failing to make the final.
Which Richards was more than satisfied with his bronze medal in the shot, Dacres was disappointed with his seventh-place finish in the discus final, especially after leading the qualification round with 65.77m, a distance that would have been good for a medal.
“He did great for himself,” said Richards, who was cheering for his friend from the stands. “First of all, he made the final. I couldn’t do it at my first World Championships. And today he threw about 90% of his ability. If you scored 90% at an exam, it would’ve been great, right?”
Both throwers already know what they will be working on ahead of the Olympic year. For Richards it’s efficiency and overall conditioning; for Dacres it’s more time in the gym.
“I have to get much stronger,” said Dacres. “The guys I’m competing against are way ahead of me.”
In the javelin, several of the world’s best throwers – including Trinidad and Tobago’s Olympic champion Keshorn Walcott and Kenya’s world champion Julius Yego – train outside their home country. In the same vein, Richards wouldn’t be opposed to exploring that approach.
“We definitely have capable coaches in Jamaica, but I don’t think we’ve learned everything about the sport as of yet,” said Richards. “I don’t think that any coach in their right mind would turn down some advice.”
Back home in Jamaica, Dacres and Richards also don’t expect to get as much attention as the country’s top sprinters.
“Jamaicans are not used to throwers throwing far,” said Dacres. “They are used to sprinters running fast, so they expect more from them, but sprinters also definitely get more love.”
But Richards and Dacres are already inspiring the next generation. The special throws-only meeting in Kingston, the Big Shot Invitational, celebrated its 10-year anniversary last year and the participation throughout this period grew from 10 to about 500 athletes, most of whom are still in high school or college.
“The pioneers of throws in Jamaica – Michael Vassell, Julien Robinson, my coach Linval Swaby – started it as a way to push the throws,” said Richards. “It helps to raise the standard because it’s now the centre of attention. Last year, we even had Reese Hoffa in the field, which helped to get some international attention.
“I know now that other throwers are looking at Jamaica as one of the big throwing countries,” he added. “We are slowly growing to the status which, say, Germany or Poland has. In the near future, we should be at or near that level.”
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF