Success welcomes those who fearlessly face failure –
writer Nitin Namdeo.
FOR two-time Trinidad and Tobago Olympic medallist Keshorn Walcott, his inability to qualify for the men’s javelin final at last year’s Tokyo Games was the most devastating moment of his career.
His furthest throw, from three attempts in the qualifying round at the Japan National Stadium, was 79.33 metres; just over three metres short of the advancing 12 finalists.
This was the first time in Walcott’s Olympic career that he did not progress to the medal round. At his Olympic debut eight years prior in London, he shocked the world by winning gold (84.58m) and then captured bronze (85.38m) at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Diehard fans believed he was TT’s most eligible prospect to secure an Olympic medal in Tokyo.
In Walcott’s first public interview since his Olympic performance, he details the events which led up to that fateful day in Tokyo, what happened at the stadium and how he recovered from what he says was a life-changing experience.
“The problem was, I was hurt (injured). In June, while I was in Portugal, I started feeling some discomfort in my right Achilles. The last two competitions I did in Europe before the Olympics were too close together.
“Despite my chiropractor (Dr Alban Merepeza) coming to Tokyo, it never recovered. After that, my training went down because I was not really able to throw a lot. At the Games, my mind and eyes were there but my body did not answer. It was difficult for me,” he said.
The pain in his right foot increased significantly after he competed. Following two back-to-back pre-Olympic meets in Finland and Switzerland, where he threw 89.12m and 85.16m respectively, Walcott may have overworked himself.
But with the Games four weeks away, it was too late to turn back.
Walcott continued, “I knew it was going to be a problem in Tokyo. When we warmed up outside the stadium before the javelin event, it took more than 45 minutes to reach inside to compete. I tried my best to stay as warm as possible but my foot was like ‘no.’
“By the time I got inside, I was limping and immediately knew this wasn’t going to go well. I tried my best but there was only so much I could do. If you look at the videos, I was slower in everything; running and throwing.
“After a while, I told my coach that ‘I can’t, I’m trying but it’s not happening’. Everybody was disappointed. I was disappointed because I know the possibility (of me medalling) was there but it is what it is.”
After his performance, Walcott was dejected. He returned to his hotel room and did not come out until the following night. He couldn’t believe it. Having medalled at the past two editions, being eliminated in the first round was never a part of the plan.
Walcott was also crestfallen for his coach Ismael Lopez Mastrapa and Merepeza, who worked diligently to ensure he was in the best possible form to compete on the biggest stage.
“I’ve had bad days in my career but that was the hardest pill to swallow. Not getting into the final was devastating. I went there already thinking about getting a medal. It was hard to digest because I felt like a failure.
“I felt like I failed myself, my coach and my chiropractor because we worked to see how best we could have made it happen. They were the only ones who really saw what I was going through, the pain and all the ups and downs.
“I just let my thoughts go, all the feelings I had to feel, whether you have to cry, whether you have to shout, and seeing everything for what it is, in the moment,” he added.
Owing to covid19 countermeasures, athletes were mandated to leave the Olympic Village within 48 hours after their respective events.
When Walcott and Mastrapa arrived at the airport a few days later, the Olympic men’s javelin final had just concluded with India’s Neeraj Chopra capturing his nation's first gold medal in track and field, with an 86.85m effort. The TT/Cuban duo was shocked, and even more disheartened, to see the winning distance.
Walcott stressed himself on Chopra's golden distance because just one month prior at a meet in Finland, he bagged silver by throwing 89.12m. His personal best is a mammoth 90.16m throw achieved at the 2015 Diamond League Meet in Lausanne, Switzerland.
It took a toll on him, but naturally, he had to move on.
“The best way to deal with things is you have to understand that it’s already gone and you can’t do anything about it. Carrying that trauma would only lead to disappointment in the future.
“That (discouraging) feeling went away when I left Tokyo. If it’s one thing that I’ve learnt throughout my career is that there is always disappointment. We don’t have anything small when it comes to a competition. Every competition is big and everybody wants to win.
“One thing I always do, whether in or out the sport, naturally in my life, I try to feel everything I need to feel in the moment. I don’t try to harbour anything and carry it. I left those feelings behind and had to focus on what’s to come. I don’t carry that with me today.
“What gave me a lot of motivation is that last year, my season wasn’t terrible, and my Olympic performance was only one moment. I needed to look at the positives in the year. Olympics might have been a big negative but I had a lot of positives and I took those as stepping stones for the year to come,” he added.
When asked how he coped with the public’s criticism of his mediocre performance at the Games, Walcott was and remains unbothered. Only he and his coaching staff knew the events which led up to the men’s javelin qualifiers and what they endured to churn out a result.
He was most critical of himself and affirmed that people’s expectations do not hamper his athletic prowess.
“A lot of people don’t understand me and how my mind works. I have had a goal since I was 16 years old which has always been to win three Olympic gold medals. I knew that was a far-fetched goal.
“But at the end of the day, from that age, I have been setting my goals so high that I know when I achieve lower than that, it’s still going to be a success. People can’t put pressure on me because the pressure I put on myself is five times what anyone can put on me.”
“The Olympics was hard because it’s just about the goal I have for myself and my coach. I had no additional pressure from outside. Those things don’t matter to me. For me, this is love. And once I feel that I love what I’m doing still, that’s all it’s about,” he closed.
Prior to the Tokyo Games, Walcott competed in six meets in Europe from May 19 to July 14, 2021, after a 19-month absence from competition owing to the pandemic. The Tokyo Games began on July 30 and the javelin qualifiers got underway on August 4.