Former USF track star heading to Olympics

In the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Kemel Thompson fell less than one second short of earning a spot in the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles.

Four years later, the former USF athlete finds himself ranked second in the world in the event by Track and Field News with his sights set on returning from the 2004 games in Athens with a medal.

Last October, Thompson visited the USF men’s track and field team and USF coach Greg Thiel. Thompson could not be reached at his home in England this week, but he said during his return to Tampa last year that representing his native Jamaica this year will be a chance at redemption.

“(The Sydney games) were a disappointment because I had worked so hard and knew I was capable of more, but it has also created a little extra motivation for me to show the world what I can do,” Thompson said.

Thompson attributed his 2000 performance to the change in environment, traveling to Australia, where he said cooler weather caused cramping for several athletes.

“(Competing at Sydney) was weird because the conditions there made competing difficult,” Thompson said. “Because the weather was different (in Sydney in September and October), a lot of the best runners were struggling because (the cool weather caused cramping).”

Thompson, 29, was at USF for four years as an athlete and as assistant coach before, with Thiel’s urging, he left to further his track career.

“I encouraged him to go to England to further his career,” Thiel said. “Sometimes, change is what is best for someone. He needed to get out of here and put his talents to use, and it was my responsibility (as a coach) to put my ego aside and let him do what was best for him.”

Now, Thiel said, Track and Field News is likely to project Thompson winning a medal in this year’s games.

Thompson is one of two Olympic athletes to train at USF under Thiel. The other is another Jamaican, sprinter Llewelyn Bredwood, who also competed in Sydney. Thiel downplays his own role in the athletes’ success, though, saying that it was determination and commitment that brought them where they are.

“Kemel is someone who knows what he is capable of and is determined to do whatever it takes to achieve everything he can,” Thiel said during Thompson’s visit in October.

Thompson, who finished fifth last year at the Track and Field World Championships, won the 1996 Conference USA championship in the 400m hurdles. He also still holds or shares several USF records, including the fastest 400m hurdles time (50.50 seconds in 1996) and the fastest times in the 4×100 and 4×400 relays (41.10 and 3:10.38, respectively, both in 1996).