Perseverance, Faith ,Commitment. These are the words that come to mind that when describing Cherelle Thompson’s aquatic journey. Her calm demeanour belies an unwavering will to succeed.
The year 2019 saw her take down two national sprint freestyle records and now in the first month of 2020 she sees herself writing her ticket for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Last year saw the Eagles Aquatics swimmer moving past the all time national records of Siobhan Cropper set back in the 1990’s.
In the 25 metre pool she became the first woman from the twin Island Republic under the 25 seconds. In doing so she lowered the former national standard of Cropper of 25.32. Siobhan Cropper set the national mark during the heats of events 2000 NCAA Division I Championships while competing for Stanford. She would place fifth in the B final with a time of 25.65.
Cropper is the only swimmer from the CARIFTA region either male or female to lift NCAA Division I crown in the 200 and 400 yard medley relays. She accomplished the feat in her first year of collegiate action with total times of 1:37.80 and 3:33.61 in 1998. She also ended her career with those titles in times of 1:38.43 and 3:32.43 in 2001. The latter performances broke the NCAA,NCAA Championship Record and US Open record she set with her team in 1998 as freshman. Her older brother Dr Andre Cropper was a star swimmer for Howard University during his career from 1981 to 1984
The mainstays on both team were Cropper who handled the anchor freestyle legs and Misty Hyman who shocked the world to win the 200 metre butterfly Gold at the Sydney Olympics.
The only other swimmers lifting NCAA Division I medley relay Gold are Olympic Gold Medallist Anthony Nesty with the University of Florida in 1991 in the 400 in a time of 3:10.23 and Dylan Carter with his USC Trojans in the shorter medley in 1:21.82.
The year 2019 would not close without Cherelle bettering yet another national record. In December she blazed her way to a time of 25.52.That also took down the Cropper mark of 25.89.That record was set at the 1997 edition of the CCCAN Championships.
Draftingthecaribbean spoke to the new Trinidad and Tobago Queen of Speed in early January as she chronicled her journey as the twinIsland Republic’s greatest of all time.
She first spoke to us about the injury that she had that dogged her for a number of years and would have curtailed the ambitions of any athlete
“In January 2012, at the start of my college career, I had surgery to repair a torn labrum and bicep was detached in my right shoulder. It was an overuse injury”.
Thompson swam for the University of Tennessee Volunteers from 2012 to 2016. On Feb 18,2015 she she eclipsed another Cropper standard to become the fastest woman from her country in the 25 yard pool. Cropper set her best yard time as a freshman for the Cardinals at the 1998 NCAA Divison 1 Champs placing eighth in 22.54. Thompson recorded 22.43 in the heats of the SEC Championships.So Thompson is unquestioned all time best in all pools 25 yards, 25 metres and 50 metres.
She also divulged how she managed to recover from that injury setback to be even faster now
“In the years following the surgery I was very careful in the weight room and at practice, giving priority to shoulder health. Technique correction also played a role because mine was an overuse injury. Thankfully, It’s been a few years now since I’ve had any problems with the shoulder really”.
She also speaks to weight training as a sprinter
“I’ve actually been out of the weight room for a year now. We took a risk and focused all my work to the pool work”.
Draftingthecaribbean enquired about a typical week and what the technical aspects of her national record breaking exploit at the meet in December
“I swim once per day Mon- Sat. Calisthenics 3x weekly and cycling mixed in once or twice depending on the week. In this race I didn’t quite nail the breakout that I wanted- a sleek but powerful transition through the surface but stroke rate and underwater kicks have come a long way since July, my last long course race”.
We also asked her about her faith in this journey to the top
“There is something I say to myself both in training and before races that serves as a psychological cue for my body to get into race mode. “Time to JUMP” meaning Jesus Undertake My Plans. I strongly believe that it without the many prayers prayed before practice sessions and for my shoulder, my return to competitive swimming would not have been as successful or meaningful as it is now. My faith in God has allowed me to have a purpose much bigger than myself and I’m excited to see how He undertakes my plans for the next 6months”.
With every great performance there is a team and she spoke about them as well
“Too many to name but core members include my coaches, family and friends a couple of whom are former T&T Olympians for swimming. The extended support group include those who have support my fundraisers in aid of training and competition expenses. I am so grateful for them…..even the local market vendors”.
What adjustments did you make from to get from the 26s consistently to record pace.
“I benefitted alot from the increased race pace training and attention to my start work (underwater and breakout) I’m glad to say that there is still alot more areas to improve”.
Would competing at the US TYR Swim Series and FINA World Cup help you to sharpen up for the Olympics?
“Most definitely! These meets would help sharpen my preparation both intrinsically and extrinsically. First because I could really benefit from the experience of competing among stiff competition and sharpening my race strategy overall. The latter, because the exposure to the higher level competition would also prepare me for the environment expected at the Games Venue”.
What are your thoughts in pushing for more senior relays to include mixed relays to try for 2020? Even if you don’t get in the top 16 what do you think about those efforts to raise the profile of swimming more relays at senior meets and making a concerted relay push for 2024 and other Games in that new Olympic Cycle?
“Relays are always alot of fun and mixed relays that much more. The way I would like to see this done is by the elevation of the level of swimming across the board as opposed to just making up numbers for representation. My hope is that I would inspire the longevity of the swimming career for more senior swimmers and have a competitive relay team representing our country in 2024”.
Since that time Thompson has lowered the national mark once again but also bettered the Olympic B standard of 25.51. This national effort would come at her old University Pool The Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Centre in Tennessee on Sunday January 19 at the TYR Pro Swim Series Knoxville.
We caught up with her coach Stephen Mendoza on the the same and got his reaction to his charge’s Olympic and national record breaking feat and the way forward
“I am elated. I cannot put into words the joy I feel. We had a plan to make the B standard in December at the ASATT meet but we were satisfied with her performance. We will enter a high quality meet the TYR Pro Swim Series meet until the month of May. We also will compete in two local meets.
He also spoke to some of the team Cherelle has around her.
“ I do not think all the knowledge lies within me and we have on board technical consultant Franz Pouchet along with coaches (with experience at the NCAA Division I ) Olympian Sharntelle McLean (past student of the University of South Carolina , home to current star Bahamian Albury Higgs and Christian Homer (2010 Youth Olympic gold medallist and former Florida Gator). Persons who have her best interests at heart.We also have nutritionists among others”.
Mendoza manages the process and said no expense had been spared in helping her progression.
In terms of training Cherelle he has been working in short micro cycles . Working on her aerobic base, translating that to power and transferring that power to speed in the pool. If sprinting is a game of inches propelling Cherelle will come in increments. In December 25.52 was the base with yet another national record effort 25.39 is the new base. Mendoza said breaking down the race into discrete segments has been the game plan and there has no weight training .This was a conscious decision as Cherelle puts on muscle very quickly and that is not the aim but rather going through the water as quickly as possible.
Thompson gave us her reaction to making the B standard
“It’s exciting and relieving. After having swim the race 3 times here in Knoxville before finally making the cut on the 4th try. And no better place to have done it than my alma mater. My heart is so full being back here”.
|Arianna Vanderpool -Wallace||BAH||24.31||2014|
With the swim Cherelle now rockets to second place of all time in the ranking CARIFTA region greats of female sprinters . With these great performances behind her one has to believe sub 24.77 and the stamping of her ticket to Asia is not too far off.