Sometimes in athletics you need to experience the pain before the pleasure and for triple jumper Thea LaFond – the former arrived like a juggernaut at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Representing the tiny Caribbean island of Dominica and making her Olympic debut, LaFond was not expected to threaten the podium but a hamstring problem picked up just days before qualification seriously derailed her prospects.
Struggling for confidence in the biggest competition of her life, LaFond placed 37th and last with a modest best of 12.82m – the best part of a metre down on her PB at the time.
“Rio was one of my least favourite memories of my track career,” explains the naturally vivacious LaFond. “The worst part was I was in a lot of pain and didn’t feel capable (of producing my best). It was rough. I had a few nights of tears that that feeling forced me to make some drastic changes.”
Within a few months of her return to her base in Maryland, USA, she hooked up with new coach Aaron Gadson, in what has proved a career-altering move.
Some four years on from her Rio pain, LaFond is an athlete transformed. In 2018 she won her country’s first ever Commonwealth medal in Gold Coast and earlier this year secured an Olympic qualification mark during the indoor season with a national record 14.33m – a mark which elevated her to joint-fifth on the world indoor lists of the abbreviated 2020 campaign. The best of the journey for the rapidly developing LaFond, you sense, is only just beginning.
Born in Roseau, the capital of Dominica, her family re-located for a new life in the US when LaFond was six – initially settling in New Jersey before later moving to Silver Spring, Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC.
Inspired to start athletics after watching Usain Bolt’s stunning gold medal-winning successes at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she took up the sport as a high school freshman and gravitated towards the speed and power events.
SOURCE: Steve Landells for the World Athletics