Many sportspeople dream of one day representing their country in the Olympic Games. For first year University of Edinburgh student, Che Richards, this could be a reality in four years’ time at the Games in Tokyo after his graduation in 2020. Back in Trinidad and Tobago, where Richards grew up, he was making a name for himself as an athlete from a young age on. It all started when Richards was in primary school.
He recalls: “The P.E. teacher, Mr. Young, was going around the classes asking ‘who’s interested in competing for the school?’”
The 6”8’ student athlete says that long jump was always his natural calling: “I started sprinting and then I went back to the long jump and I’m still in the long jump.”
As a result, Richards had his first taste of international success at the 2013 CARIFTA (The Caribbean Free Trade Association) Games in Nassau, Bahamas, obtaining the bronze medal for Trinidad and Tobago in the Boys under-17 long jump competition.
Speaking on competing at these prestigious Games, Richards laughs and then says: “It was a good experience, it was my first CARIFTA under-17 and to compete for my country and win a medal, I was happy because I jumped over seven metres, so that was a memorable experience.”
It was the first time that Richards had jumped further than seven metres, adding to the significance of the occasion. To put his achievement into perspective: just two under-17 boys recorded jumps of over seven metres in the UK in 2013. After this feat, Richards was now firmly on the map.
Over the three years following on from Richards’ first CARIFTA Games appearance, he has continued to improve and this year jumped 7.53 metres to top the rankings in Trinidad and Tobago.
“This season was the best season I’ve had so far because my coach, medical staff and I managed injuries so that I didn’t have as many injuries as I had in 2015 and then [we continued with the] same training, same programme, but I went into 2016 with a different mind-set, more focus on what I wanted to achieve.”
In March, Richards competed in another CARIFTA Games in the under-20 category and narrowly missed out on a medal, conceding that, “fourth place is the worst thing in track and field – you’re so close yet so far”.
Despite having a great year in the field, Richards narrowly missed out on qualification for the World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland earlier this year. He is not letting it get him down: “I believe that everything happens for a reason, so jumping 7.53m twice in one meet, missing World Juniors by 2cm is hard and I felt it but looking back at the season it’s all smiles and looking forward to 2017.”
This year Richards has set himself the goal of jumping 7.70 meters while competing for the University of Edinburgh. The University was not his original choice but the sporting opportunities were a major draw: “I got an academic scholarship from my government.
I could have gone anywhere to study and it was my dream to go to England to study Law but then I broadened my horizons to choose Edinburgh given the sporting opportunities. The facilities here are great, [as are] the staff and the group that I train with.” Adjusting to a new club in a foreign country has been easy for Richards who says that “there is the same friendly atmosphere” in Edinburgh as at his club Oasics in Trinidad and Tobago.
As for long-term goals, Richards’ are clear: “Well I think any athlete’s goal in Track and Field is to make it to the Olympics so my coach and I set 2020 as our goal so we’ll be working towards that but before 2020 so are the World Championships and things like that [sic]. It’s my first year as a senior athlete, so just making the national team for Trinidad and Tobago is a stepping stone and 2020 will come, but it’s a process.”
Perhaps the long jump is not as popular as the sprints at the moment, which might be down to a certain Mr Bolt. For example, do you remember the 2016 Long Jump Olympic champion Jeff Henderson? No? Then you better remember this name: Che Richards.
Image courtesy of Paul Edrell Voisin