Derrick Atkins envisions himself, a little less than four years from now, bursting out of the starting blocks at João Havelange Stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
It’s a specific picture to paint. But there is nowhere else Atkins wants to be in August 2016 than The Marvelous City on Brazil’s eastern coast. The Dickinson State graduate’s sights are set on representing his native Bahamas in his third consecutive Summer Olympics.
The road there, however, won’t be easy.
At the 2012 Olympics in London last summer, Atkins was one of the few elite track and field athletes competing on the world stage without corporate sponsorship.
The 100-meters sprinter learned the difficulties of trying to navigate the ultra-competitive sport without the help of sponsors after Adidas, a worldwide athletic apparel company, dropped their sponsorship of him in 2010. He had all but disappeared from the international track scene in mid-2010 because of knee injuries and didn’t compete in 2011.
“If you don’t really have a major shoe company or a major sponsor, it’s kind of difficult to maintain the level of performance you need to because of upkeep,” Atkins said. “That’s where most of the expenses go.”
Despite being his own coach and sponsor, the 28-year-old Atkins said his isn’t considering his career on the downslide.
He fell short of his goal of reaching the Olympic finals by six-hundredths of a second and his time of 10.08 in the semifinals was his best since 2008. Atkins finished 12th at London — not bad considering it was his first major event since the 2009 World Championships, where he didn’t even make it out of his heat.
He said qualifying for the London games was more difficult than it was when he went to Beijing in 2008 and fell short of the finals — and in more ways than one.
Because of his lack of sponsorship, Atkins only ran a handful of qualifying races before London and paid for the majority of his traveling, entry fees and training on his own.
“I didn’t have as many races under my belt, but that’s another thing that came down to having the finances to go and be able to compete at the higher-level meets,” Atkins said.
Atkins lives and trains in Atlanta and is forging ahead while seeking sponsorships wherever he can find them. He trains at a high school where Bahamas 200 meters recordholder Dominic DeMeritte is an assistant coach. The two work together often, Atkins said.
Because of his age, Atkins is at a crucial turning point in his career as a professional sprinter.
He can now longer concentrate solely on running races.
Fitness, diet and staying free from injury all play just as great of factors as the 10 seconds he spends sprinting down the front stretch of a track.
“The key is to stay healthy,” Atkins said. “You can do anything as long as you possibly can if you stay healthy, in the right condition and in the right state of mind.”
Pete Leno, the director of the Ben C. Frank Human Performance Center at DSU, works with Atkins when he returns to Dickinson. Atkins spent nearly a month in Dickinson following the Olympics to spend time with his daughter.
Leno said Atkins’ personality is ideally suited to training in what are the golden years of some sprinters’ careers.
“What somebody that age needs to do and be good at is one of Derrick’s biggest strengths,” Leno said. “Derrick has always been very in-tune with his body. Little changes in function, he’s just so aware of. Twenty-eight, in some ways, is old. But 28 isn’t that old.”
Leno helped evaluate Atkins and together they focused on what the sprinter needs to work on to make a run at the 2013 World Championships in Athletics that will be held in Moscow next August.
“We were able to identify a couple of things he should work on, a couple training concepts he should probably not use,” Leno said. “Derrick is a very determined young man who wants to be very involved in planning his training and implementing his training. Some guys want guidance. Derrick just wants reassurance more than he wants guidance. Is this a good idea? Is this not a good idea?”
While Atkins’ top priority is to return to the Olympics in the 100 meters, he also plans on helping organize a consistent Bahamas 400-meter relay team.
The country fell short of qualifying for the London Olympics in the event, but Atkins believes there is enough time and talent for the Bahamas to put together a solid relay team over the next four years.
Their top time in 2012 was 39.36 seconds, a strong performance when they ran it in May, but not good enough to qualify for Olympics.
“We were close at the beginning of the year because it was still wide open,” Atkins said. “When crunch time came around, you really have to run on a specific time. We had a few opportunities. I don’t think we capitalized well on it because we didn’t have the right personnel in place. That’s what comes these next few years. We have to have the right personnel in place in order to get it done. You can’t just put four or five guys on the track and expect a miracle to happen.”
Atkins would like to be a part of the Bahamas 400 relay team that attempts to qualify for the 2013 World Championships. If the Bahamas can get the relay off the ground and qualified for those games, he said it could make it easier to stay competitive internationally until the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and the 2016 Olympics.
“Once you’re in there, it’s kind of easy to stay in there,” Atkins said.
Though Atkins maintains his career is far from over, he said there is at least one part of his career that makes him feel like an old man.
The seven-time NAIA national champion and a member of two of DSU’s three national team title winning teams will each be inducted in the NAIA Hall of Fame during the outdoor track and field national championships on May 22, 2013, in Marion, Ind. Also being inducted is Trevor Barry, Atkins’ DSU teammate and a Bahamas Olympic high jumper.
Atkins said being inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame is an honor he never thought he would receive and just as amazing to him as DSU winning three national championships.
“Who ever thought a school from North Dakota would be able to win back-to-back-to-back championships?” Atkins said with a smile. “I never really thought about it. I’m 28. That’s fairly young to be in the Hall of Fame. Mostly they give it to people when they’re well off into their other career.”
Atkins said transitioning into coaching runners is among his long-term goals. It starts with himself.
“Right now, I want to coach myself and I’m learning a lot about myself as well and how to train an athlete and how to be very in-tune with what’s going on,” Atkins said.
At the end of the day though, he has Rio on his mind.
“That’s the end goal,” Atkins said.