You could understand if Curtis Thompson was frustrated or upset or even angry.
Not only did he uncork one of the best javelin throws in the world this year, not only did he break the U.S. Olympic Trials record, not only did he post the sixth-best mark ever by a collegian, he placed second in the Olympic Trials, the meet that in theory determines the U.S. Olympic team.
Yet when the javelin begins at the Rio Olympics next month, Thompson won’t be there.
A couple rules conspired to work against Thompson, a Florence High School graduate who just finished his sophomore year at Mississippi State.
Thompson, competing in his first Olympic Trials on Monday, opened with a monster throw of 271-11 and led most of the way until Cyrus Hostetler broke a seven-year-old PR with a throw of 273-1 to break Thompson’s meet record and ultimately win the event.
Thompson finished second but still won’t go to Rio because he fell five inches shy of the Olympic qualifying standard of 272-4.
In metric terms, the Olympic standard is 83 meters, and Thompson threw 82.22 meters.
Hold your hand up, and the distance between your thumb and pink is about the distance that kept Thompson from becoming a U.S. Olympian.
“I thought it was enough, but it was 12 centimeters shy from the standard but that’s OK,” a gracious Thompson said. “I came here. I wanted to do my best and that’s what I gave. I gave it my all. To PR is actually great. I love it here. The fans here are really supportive. It just gives you that adrenaline.
“It’s not frustrating. It just means you have to come out and have to throw the standard. I’m not upset about my performance. I’m actually really happy about how I performed today.”
In past years, athletes who finished in the top three at the Trials but missed the standard in their event had a window – usually about two weeks – in which they could chase the standard. USATF, the governing body for track and field in the U.S., has banned that practice this year, which means that Sean Furey – who placed 11th in the Trials with a throw of 227-10, more than 40 feet worse than Thompson’s best throw – will represent the U.S. since he threw 272-6 on June 6, 2015, on the sixth day of the qualifying window.
So Furey gets in based on a throw more than a year ago despite throwing 40 feet worse than Thompson on Monday.
Thompson’s progress has been remarkable. His high school best at Florence was 224-10 to win the Meet of Champions. Last year, he threw 248-1 at the SEC meet. So he’s improved more than 46 feet in two years and more than 20 feet in the past year.
Here’s a look at his year-by-year progression going back to freshman year at Florence:
2016 271-11 [2nd, U.S. Olympic Trials, Eugene, Ore.]
2015 248-1 [4th, SEC Championships, Starkville, Miss.]
2014 224-10 [1st, Meet of Champions, South Plainfield]
2013 203-5 [3rd, New Balance Nationals, Greensboro, N.C.]
2012 188-9 [1st, Burlington County Open, Maple Shade]
2011 175-7 [3rd, Parochial A States, Old Bridge]
Thompson followed his 271-11 with a 238-5, foul, 236-7, 253-1 and 256-1.
“Getting that throw in the beginning, I was really relaxed,” he said. “I really started to try and go get it and when I started to try too hard that’s when it didn’t go as far.
“It’s just a learning experience for me. When you throw a big one, you just have to find a way to relax and actually continue how you are throwing and not change a thing.”
Thompson is the NCAA champ, runner-up at nationals, all-time No. 17 in U.S. history and top-30 in the world.
But he’s not done yet.
He’ll throw in the NACAC Under-23 Championships in El Salvador, later this month.
The NACAC – the North America Central America Caribbean Association- championships are scheduled for July 15-17 at Estadio Nacional Jorge “El Magic” Gonzalez in San Salvador.