Kareem Streete-Thompson went to the 1999 Seville World Championships expecting to compete in the long jump, but ended up in the 100m final. SPIKES speaks to the Cayman Islander to find out why if you've seize the moment in athletics, anything is possible.

The year was 1999. The world was on the cusp of a new Millennium and 26-year-old athlete Kareem Streete-Thompson was primed for the Seville World Championships.

His long jump form was good. Two weeks before the championships he leapt a season's best 8.15m in Monaco to place third. On arriving in the Spanish city he told his association president not to enter him in the 100m as he wanted to focus on his number one event – the long jump. But just two days before competition was about to begin at the Estadio Olimpico, he received a bolt from the blue. 

“A reporter from L’Equipe said to me ‘I see you are doing the Carl Lewis double’,” recalls Streete-Thompson.

“I’m looking at him saying ‘you are kidding, right?’ Sure enough, he showed me the entry list and I was down for the 100m and the long jump.

“Next I’m discussing with the president why she has entered me. I know I have to now show up in the 100m otherwise I don’t get to compete in the long jump later in the championships. She tells me there is the option to false start.”

To false-start would have been the ultimate cop out, and that was not Streete-Thompson's style. The Cayman Islander took to the track for some block work the day before the 100m heats.

“I hadn’t done any specific sprint training to the point,” he admits. “I had no idea what I was capable of.”

Kareem Streete-Thompson ()

NO SLOUCH: Streete-Thompson (left) in 100m action in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, in 1997, the same year he set his 9.97 PB

His morning heat went well. He blew out the cobwebs as he finished third in 10.24 to advance to the quarter-final that evening. In his second round race, Streete-Thompson crossed the line in a national record 10.14 (he ran his PB 9.97 while representing the USA) behind Great Britain’s Dwain Chambers to qualify for the semi-finals.

“At this point I’m still sat on the fence thinking ‘in a few days time I have to prepare for the long jump’,” he says. “Part of me is thinking ‘just put me out of my misery’.”

That night at the team hotel he received a call from his coach, Dan Pfaff, telling him Frankie Fredericks (the top Namibian sprinter) has pulled out of Streete-Thompson’s semi-final because of a back injury.

“I didn’t really give it too much thought and just concentrated on my own game plan for the semi-finals,” he says.

In the call room ahead of his semi-final, Streete-Thompson was surprised to find the Cuban Freddy Mayola did not show. Then Australian Matt Shirvington committed two false starts and was DQd. It left just five men – Streete-Thompson, US duo Maurice Greene and Tim Montgomery, and British pair Darren Campbell and Chambers – chasing four places and a spot in the medal shoot out.

“At this point I’m starting to take notice,” explains Streete-Thompson. “I’m now thinking, ‘all I have to do is beat one person’.”

Kareem Streete-Thompson ()

Streete-Thompson notched his 8.63m long jump PB in '95 in Linz. His biggest medal came in '01, when he won world indoor silver.

When the race began, defending champion Greene charged off into the distance, followed by Chambers. Little separated Streete-Thompson in lane one, Montgomery in lane six and Campbell in lane eight.

“I get to about 70m or 80m and I start peaking,” says Streete-Thompson. “I can see Tim [Montgomery] and I are neck and neck and Darren [Campbell] is slightly behind.

“From that point on I just did whatever I could to get to that line in the top four. It was like going back to high school.”

Streete-Thompson lunged for the line and waited nervously for the results to come up on the scoreboard: third, Tim Montgomery, 10.14; fourth, Streete-Thompson, 10.14; fifth Darren Campbell, 10.15. He had made it by 0.01 and equalled his national record in the process.

“I was in shock, thinking ‘is this really happening?’ I then had 90 minutes to get ready for the final.”

"I just did whatever I can to get to that line in the top four"

The Cayman Islander was set to line up alongside his training partners Bruny Surin, of Canada, and Obadele Thompson (no relation), of Barbados. It was a huge victory for Pfaff’s group. Yet while warming up for the biggest sprint race of his career, Streete-Thompson received a rude awakening.

“My legs were just not responding,” he says. Any hope of helping his two training partners in the final had vanished.

“I am in the call room and Obadele is running lane one and I am lane two. He knows I am a good starter and he is hoping this will help him get out of the blocks. My only response is a non-verbal, ‘I ain’t got anything for you’.”

Seven men prowled intently on the start line moments before entering the blocks for the final, with the eighth wearing a rather less serious game face.

“I was introduced the crowd grinning from ear to ear, just happy to be there,” he says.

Streete-Thompson has few memories of the final. He finished eighth in 10.24. Greene defended his title in 9.80 from Surin, who took silver. Obadele was fourth, just 0.03 outside of the medals.

Unfortunately, a tendon injury sustained while running the 100m badly hampered Streete-Thompson’s long jump. Four days later he leapt 7.75m and failed to advance to the final. Yet he has no regrets about his unexpected journey in Seville.

“In many ways I was a reluctant sprinter, but there was no way in hell I could have false started twice,” he recalls. “If I had, I would not be having this conversation with you now. I’d rather run honestly and let the chips fall in their place, which is exactly what I did.

“It was a life lesson. If you have a gift, the worst thing you can do is to try to avoid it.”