Over a magical eight-week period in 2019, a young javelin thrower put his tiny island nation on the map by winning a gold medal in a hemispheric games, then expanding his repertoire to do the same on the world stage. Cue several fairytale stories of the new Pan Am Games and Worlds champion having come from nowhere to upset the favourites — when a closer inspection reveals a résumé littered with titles, medals, and annual progression over a seven-year career.
For Anderson Peters, standing on the top step of the podiums in Lima and Doha — making the Grenadian anthem ring out once again — was the culmination of inspiration, an incredible support system, hard work, and staunch belief that resulted in a positive trajectory year upon year. It was also a direct answer to the one-hit-wonder theorists, and something that bodes well for the expectations of his long-term success.
If the world’s media seemed shocked, Peters’s post-event aura of calm confirmed his conviction that he came to win. “After the first throw, I believed it even more, consistently telling myself that I would become the World Champion . . . and eventually I became the World Champion,” he said after his win in Doha. Then he reminded himself that while Grenada celebrated his achievements, there were other immediate tasks to be undertaken. His sobering reality statement “I have an exam on Tuesday” referred to the world champion’s return to Mississippi State University, the place that became his finishing school in the specialist world of javelin throwing.
“To me, it was always a natural thing to throw,” says Peters. “As kids we used to regularly throw rocks to get mangoes and golden apples.” But though he had the best arm among all his friends — and broke his school record the first time he tried the javelin at ten years old — the young Anderson’s ambition was to run on the track, inspired like so many Caribbean youths at the time by the invincible performances of a certain Usain Bolt. He was good enough to run the 4x100m relay for his country, but by the age of fourteen he’d started getting recurring injuries, so he returned to the javelin.
While his compatriot Kirani James sent Grenada into raptures with the country’s first Olympic medal (gold in the 400 metres) at the 2012 Games, Peters focused on another regional gold medallist. “Keshorn Walcott had a big impact when he won the London title,” he recalls. “It was an eye-opener for the Caribbean. Young athletes no longer had to think the only way they could become champions was in track events.” Peters maintains a healthy competitive rivalry with the Trinidad and Tobago thrower — “for years I’ve compared his stats against mine,” he says — while observing Walcott’s influence and legacy. “We all depend on each other more than we admit.”
An unprecedented run of five CARIFTA Games titles interspersed with podium places at the junior Pan American and World level kick-started Peters’s dreams of Olympic gold. It’s almost an oxymoron to consider this lofty target against his background in the small village of St Andrew, but it keeps him level-headed, along with strong support from his family. The parental factor extends further, and by good fortune, forged the bond that has been crucial to Peters’s success: his mother Antoinette is a close friend of his coach Paul Phillip. “Myself and his mom went to school together,” says Phillip, “so she has given me the right to become a ‘parent’ as well.” The golden outcome is Peters’s total belief in Phillip’s regime, from their first meeting in 2011, as well as Phillip’s total belief in his charge’s ability to become one of the greatest javelin throwers of all time. “Injury is the only thing that can stop Anderson,” he says. It’s a match made in sporting heaven.
A teenage life of travelling to high school, training, travelling back home, and repeat, bore immediate results. By the age of twenty, with a Junior Worlds bronze in his pocket, Peters attended his first senior championships, the 2017 Worlds in Britain and the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. The former provided exposure and experience, as a nervy Peters finished twentieth — “I was naive and disappointed,” he says, “it was my coach who showed me the positives out of that” — but, being a quick learner, he bounced back with bronze at the Commonwealths. The world started to take notice.
During this time, he exchanged his fantastic Grenadian support network for that of an equally close-knit family at Mississippi State University, a school so keenly associated with their prowess in the field discipline that it’s also known as “JavU.” There could be no better place for a wannabe World Champion to ply his trade. It proved to be mutually beneficial: Peters’s scholarship gave him access to education, technique, and biomechanics, and he provided them with back-to-back national titles in the prestigious NCAA competition.
With a full season of competition in those arms, he flew to Peru for the 2019 Pan Am Games and took gold with his first throw. The man one step below him with the silver medal? Keshorn Walcott. “Keshorn was Olympic champion at nineteen years old,” explains Peters, “so I wanted to be World Champion at nineteen years old.” Peters was no longer a teenager, but the words were partially prophetic, as he focused on the bigger prize in Doha.
“There’s only one other gold medal that I can win, which is the Olympic championship,” Peters says. There is absolute confidence in his bold statement. And his coach has an even bigger mission. “I would be very disappointed if we stop at Anderson,” says Phillip. “I want Grenada to build a dynasty in javelin. We have it in our gene pool.”
“What I love about the javelin is the uncertainty of how far it can really go,” says Peters. “The world record is 98 metres, but I still think a javelin could go further. This drives me to work even harder, to see if one day I could throw over 100 metres.”
That’s what the rest of the world will be up against at Tokyo 2020.
The next generation of Caribbean field athletes
Anderson Peters isn’t the only young Caribbean talent to watch on the field as the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics draw near. Here are five more rising talents poised to break the gold barrier
A Mississippi teammate of Anderson Peters, the Tobagonian has four CARIFTA titles as well as a silver at the Commonwealth Youth Games. He’s hoping to emulate compatriots Shakeil Waithe and Keshorn Walcott as a world-class javelin thrower.
Guyana’s most decorated CARIFTA athlete is now a long jumper for the University of Texas, with ambitions to make the qualifying mark for Tokyo 2020. An all-rounder, she has also competed for her country in the triple jump and 400m.
The reigning U20 World Champion is eager to make his mark for Jamaica at the senior level in the discus throw. A first-year University of the West Indies student, he should also attend his first Olympics in 2020.
The current CARIFTA champion is seeking a career on the professional circuit after completing his scholarship at Nebraska College. Qualification for the 2020 Olympics will be an important step for the Barbadian triple jumper’s ambitions.
The Jamaican triple jumper currently holds the CARIFTA and U20 Pan Am titles, which should ensure a Tokyo 2020 place for experience of the big time.