Thomas vents frustration after trying season
Guardian Sports Editor
Published: Sep 10, 2013
Donald Thomas finished 2013 as the sixth best high jumper in the world – a remarkable accomplishment for the former world champion who battled a nagging back injury for most of the season, and who is still relatively new to the sport.
His sixth place finish at the Moscow World Championships, in which he accomplished a season’s best of 2.32 meters (m) - 7’ 7-1/4”, was the second highest individual finish for The Bahamas, following Shaunae Miller’s fourth place finish in the women’s 200m. It was certainly respectable, considering that he almost wasn’t on the team in the first place.
Thomas, 29, was the final member of the 25-member at the world championships, to qualify for the global event, and even that, he said, didn’t go without turmoil. He failed to get the automatic qualifying height of 2.31m (7’ 6-3/4”) at the June nationals in his hometown of Freeport, Grand Bahama, but finally got the mark at the Ernie Sims Track Invitational in Tallahassee, Florida, in July.
“First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for the continued support. It's been a long year for me, but I have to thank God for health, strength and travel mercies,” said Thomas. “At the nationals, I was ready to jump and compete in front of my people, but that didn’t go as planned. Before heading to Freeport, I e-mailed the BAAA to see what time and date the high jump was scheduled for. I got confirmation that the high jump was that Saturday at 5 p.m. I showed up to the track that Thursday for my final practice. As I was leaving the track, Bernard Newbold who was working at the meet, had a schedule which I looked at and saw 5:30. He told me that was the final schedule.
“On Saturday, my mom was flying in from vacation to watch me compete, and I was excited and ready to go. I showed up at the track at 4:20, and to my surprise, the high jump was almost finished.
I was in panic mode. I went looking for Bernard thinking he would confirm that there was a schedule change or something, but he looked me in the face and said, ‘I told you 4:00.’ I went to the meet promoter who directed me to a jury of appeal. I presented my case, and won the appeal, and was given 30 minutes to warm-up and compete on my own. I didn't know what to do because competing on your own is very difficult, especially under the stress I was in, but the end the result wasn't bad. I jumped the ‘B’ qualifier for world championships with the spectators exiting the stadium. I'm a very emotional jumper, and I feed off the energy of the crowd. I didn't get to compete against the other jumpers but my result was good for second. Me and [National Champion Ryan Ingraham] cleared the same height, but he won on count back. It was like a train wreck. My mom didn't get to see me compete. I think she was more upset than I was.”
Thomas said that he later got word from Bahamas Association of Athletic Associations’ (BAAA) officials in New Providence that his result didn’t count, and asked how is that possible seeing that he went through the proper channels, won his appeal and registered a clean series of jumps.
“At this point, I was so frustrated I could have just ended my season. My back wasn't 100 percent, but I was out there giving it all I had and I felt like I had to battle for everything. At the end of it all my result stood and I was second at nationals, but it didn’t end there,” said Thomas. “One week later, I was on the CAC team which traveled to Mexico. I canceled two Diamond League meets to travel with the team to Mexico. The BAAA had already selected Ryan to the world championships team because he finished first at nationals with the ‘B’ qualifier, and I respected that decision because I knew it was up to me to get the ‘A’ standard. The BAAA initially named myself and the third place finisher from nationals to the CAC team to give us a chance to qualify for worlds.
“Here I was, in Mexico, getting in the mind frame to compete, and I get an e-mail from the team manager stating that the top two finishers at nationals will compete in Mexico, and that I'll be competing as an exhibition jumper. I called the team manager, and he said, ‘You were not top two at nationals and you're competing as exhibition.’ This means I'm in Mexico competing for fun and not for a medal? I called Ralph McKinney, and he said the coaches in Mexico need to have a sit down with me and sort it out. At the end of it all, Mr. Gardiner (coach Rupert Gardiner) granted me a spot on the team. By this time, I was mentally exhausted and could not perform at my best.”
Thomas failed to clear a height at the Senior Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Championships in Mexico, but less than two weeks later, he got the automatic qualifying mark in Tallahassee.
“It felt like a dump truck was pulled off my back. I went home rejoicing. I had qualified,” said Thomas. “Two days later, I got a call asking if I knew someone by the name of Bernard Newbold. I said ‘Yes I know the name.’ The person on the phone said that Bernard is sending e-mails requesting video evidence and the series of jumps of the competition. On top of that, the individual said he also started a forum discussion on a website requesting information. Mind you, this Bernard guy is the same guy who told me the wrong time at nationals. I could not believe that my countryman is going to great lengths for whatever reason. At the end of it all, I was placed on the world championships team, and I was on my way to Moscow.”
Be that as it may, the meet in the Floridian capital where Thomas qualified was an IAAF sanctioned meet, meaning that there would be no need for video evidence. Once all of the meet requirements are met, the result would automatically be submitted to the IAAF, and accepted as legit.
Newbold, who is no longer an executive in the BAAA, is reportedly out of the country, and was unavailable for comment yesterday. BAAA executive members were in a meeting last night, and were also unavailable for comment.
Thomas, who has traveled the world over this year alone, covering both the indoor and outdoor seasons, is back at his home base in Auburn, Alabama. He was under new coaching management and a new training program this year, under the guidance of American Dan Pfaff, the education director and jumps coach at the World Athletics Center, in Phoenix, Arizona.
According to Thomas, his frustration actually started at the beginning of the outdoor season, as he learnt that his subvention from the Bahamian government might be cut.
“Initially, I was congratulated by the Director of Sports Tim Munnings on a successful indoor campaign. After the indoors, I got back to work, preparing for the outdoor season,” said Thomas. “While training in Doha, I picked up an injury to my back. I was already overseas and had a few competitions lined up, so I decided to compete with the nagging injury. Things didn't go as planned and I didn't jump well in Doha. I then competed in China, and the result was worse. A few days later, I got an e-mail from the Mr. Munnings stating, ‘We are aware of your current performances, and your subvention might be decreased or taken away.’ I was never so angry. Here I am in China with a back injury at the beginning of the season, and on top of that I got this ridiculous e-mail. I spoke to a few of my Bahamian track colleagues to see if they received the letter as well. Some did and others didn't.
“After a few hours of frustration, I let it go. I flew back home, put my season on hold and got medical attention. For the next six weeks, I was getting treatment on my back. Within this period, here I am trying to get in contact with the minister of youth, sports and culture, and the director, and it was like trying to walk into the White House and have a sit down with the Obamas. I know they are busy individuals, so I just kept trying. With no success, I gave up and started training like Rambo,” added Thomas.
The former world champion said that it was only through hard work and perseverance that he was able to continue and eventually qualify for the world championships.
“Growing up, I was always told, ‘The battle is not yours, it's the Lord’s,’ so when you know where you have come from and what hurdles and obstacles you've overcome, the only thing you can do is look to the heavens and say, ‘Thank you.’ I salute you, Bahamas; I salute you, Eight Mile Rock, and I appreciate your support,” he said.
Thomas said that he is never discouraged from ever going out there and giving his best effort for The Bahamas during his competitions. Despite the turmoil he suffered in 2013, he said that he is looking forward to the 2014 season, and once again rising to the top of the world in the men’s high jump.