Richson’s Olympic dream run

RMI sprinter Richson Simeon, center, competes with a runner from Palestine (left) and Guinea in a 100m preliminary heat at the Olympic Games in Rio.
RMI sprinter Richson Simeon, center, competes with a runner from Palestine (left) and Guinea in a 100m preliminary heat at the Olympic Games in Rio.

KATY ATKINSON and SIMON THOMPSON, The Reporters’ Academy

Richson Simeon, 18, broke his personal best sprint time as he recorded a time of 11.81 seconds in the Men’s 100m at the Olympic Stadium in Rio last week. After his moment under the spotlight, Simeon mulled over his race: “There weren’t many expectations on me today, other than to come out here and run my fastest, which I have done,” he said.

Simeon was happy with his performance, and understandably too, as it was only the fifth time the teenager had competitively run in an event. “I never thought I’d do this in a million years and to beat my personal best is a dream come true,” he said.

It’s been a surreal journey to get to Simeon’s current position, and that was rounded off when the young man was joined on the training track by none other than Olympic champion, Usain Bolt, who was keen to know the story of the Marshallese athlete.

Relocating with his family from the Marshall Islands to Sacramento, California as a child, Simeon became a prominent high school football player at McClatchy High school. His speed as a football running back was recognized and he was approached to participate in time trials for the 100m and 200m sprints. Specializing in track and field following his graduation from high school in 2015 felt like the direction where Simeon could excel with further training and brought him to this Olympic moment.

“Richson is one of those athletes you know will be committed to a challenging training schedule,” said MINOC Secretary General Terry Sasser.  “His family is very supportive of his efforts and attending college in the US will afford him some great coaches and competition opportunities.  MINOC will certainly invest in his efforts.”

Simeon added, “A lot of people I’ve never spoken to before just started contacting me. It’s been amazing, I am lost for words.”

Kenneth Kramer, President of the Marshall Islands National Olympic Committee, was full of praise for Simeon: “It’s a fantastic performance, from an athlete representing a nation that doesn’t have the global sporting prowess, and it’s a performance which adds to the success of Marshallese athletes throughout these games.”

Meanwhile, day seven of the swimming competition saw 17-year-old Colleen Ferguson break her personal best on her way to winning Heat 4 of the Women’s 50m Freestyle. Her time of 28.19 seconds left her delighted.

Speaking afterwards, Furgeson commented, “I’m very happy with the Personal Best, this is exactly what my coach and I wanted.”

The teenager, who was making her Olympic debut, explained that before the race she was feeling nervous with such a big event about to take place. Then there was the added pressure of being the fastest qualifier in her heat. Furgeson indicated this had made her more determined to win.

The sound of the on looking Marshallese contingent in the crowd could be heard in the Mixed Zone underneath the stands and all around the Olympic Aquatics Stadium. Sharing their joy, the teenager added: “I had a blast! The 28 seconds felt like eight!”

“It’s inspiring performances like these that keep our young athletes motivated and continue to strive for success,” said NOC President Kenneth Kramer.

Most of the hard work leading up to the Games was on Kwajalein Atoll where Furgeson lives. She was quick to thank Coach Sarah Stepchew, the Marshall Islands Swimming Federation, the Marshall Islands National Olympic Committee, Kwajalein Swim Team and her family that got her to this position in her career. Furgeson also benefitted from an Olympic Solidarity-funded pre-games training camp in America.

Furgeson, was also extremely thankful to her teammates and gave notable mention to swimming colleague Giordan Harris, who after his personal best performance yesterday, was on-hand before the race to try and keep Furgeson as calm as possible.

Furgeson will soon turn her attention to working towards the World Short-Course Swimming Championships in Canada.

Read more about this in the August 19, 2016 edition of the Marshall Islands Journal.