Giving Up the Olympic Dream

Concordia Student and Sprinter Joel Jacobs Turned Away From 2016 Summer Olympics

  • Joel Jacobs is turning away from the Olympics and embracing coaching. Photo Jonathan Caragay-Cook

  • Joel Jacobs is turning away from the Olympics and embracing coaching. Photo Jonathan Caragay-Cook

It’s not a stretch to say that every competitive athlete’s goal is to make the Olympics. Years of training and hard work are required. Sacrifices have to be made to progress in your athletic career.

Not everyone makes it.

For Concordia student and sprinter Joel Jacobs, closing the door on his Olympic dream was the most difficult and disappointing decision he had to make, after years of arduous work and dedication to the sport he has loved since the day he was born.

“It wasn’t a good feeling,” Jacobs said. “It was hard. I cried. I actually had tears. It’s not something I wanted to give up right now.”

Since arriving in Canada in 2009, the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines native has been a trainer at Le Gym. A year later, he enrolled at Concordia as an independent student, and later in the therapy recreation program, before finally switching to leisure studies.

Despite having to balance school and work, Jacobs’s main priority remained obtaining a spot at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro summer Olympics.

It wasn’t just about having the title of Olympian—Jacobs truly desired to succeed and compete at a high level with the best of the best.

If his focus was solely on the superficial nature of an illustrious title, his life probably would have taken a different path. Prior to fully engaging in sprinting, he represented his country as a professional cricket player at nationals. In fact, he was under contract with the Saint Vincent cricket team, and was supposed to travel to New Zealand. All he needed was a work visa. His application was denied, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I wasn’t so sure I wanted to play cricket, even though I was good at it,” Jacobs said. “I realized that I didn’t really want to go to New Zealand. For me, it was more like ‘I wanna run, I wanna run, I wanna run.’”

While becoming an Olympic sprinter topped the list of his priorities, he was also committed to a full-time course load and working at the Concordia fitness centre to make ends meet. According to him, the combination of all his responsibilities contributed to his setbacks, as he often found himself injured.

“It was a hard transition to go to a different country,” Jacobs said. “When I leave to go to Saint Vincent or Jamaica, I don’t have to work. I just basically train. It’s easier.”

Furthermore, he experienced difficulty adapting to the cold, Canadian climate. In his native country, where temperatures range between 22 C and 30 C depending on the season, he rarely experienced any problems training as he reached peak levels of performance.

“Back home, we can be outside all year training and that’s important,” Jacobs said. “It makes a big difference. When I train in the cold, I don’t run well.”

Last year, he was forced to face the facts. While training in Jamaica for six weeks, everything seemed to be going according to plan. Although he was not competing, his performance during training was at a high level. However, an all too familiar situation occurred when he came back to Canada.

“After two weeks, my body started to decline again, so I start losing speed, because I’m back in the cold,” he said.

Having given much time and effort into his sprinting career, Jacobs was left feeling empty. Former coach and Olympic sprinter Joel Mascoll helped him come to terms with the hard reality.

“The Olympics is a four year build-up,” Mascoll said. “Pretty much three years, because in the fourth year, you show what you’re made of. You can see that it takes lot of time in preparation. That’s why not everyone makes it.”

“I helped him see what he should have done when he was at a certain point, when he was supposed to push through, but he didn’t. Those steps are the reason it didn’t happen.”

Despite the disappointment, Jacobs finds himself in a good place today. While he is no longer in the pursuit of an Olympic medal, he has embraced the role of coach to help a younger generation of sprinters achieve their dreams.

“I love coaching,” said a smiling Jacobs.

Currently coaching three Canadian sprinting prospects, Jacobs finds himself back in familiar territory. Fresh out of high school, he coached primary school kids at the tender age of 18—giving him almost ten years of sprinting and coaching under his belt. His time as a trainer at the Concordia fitness centre has allowed him to expand his knowledge to weightlifting, an area of he was not familiar with in the past.

“If you just know about coaching and you don’t have a good background in weightlifting, you wouldn’t know what to give your athletes. You can just suggest stuff,” Jacobs said. “The fact that you have both of them, [they] work good together so that you can be a better coach.”

According to Jacobs, the best coaches are those who used to be athletes, making him an excellent candidate. His athletic past allows him to train his athletes with more realistic goals.

“I know what it feels like,” Jacobs said. “I know how much to give to them, and how much to tell them to push. And they can’t fool me [with tricks] because I used to try [the same thing] on my coach,” he said, laughing.

Deondra Green, who ranked first in the youth category during the Hershey Canadian Indoor Championships this past February, is already reaping the benefits of Jacobs’s guidance.

“He helped me work on my starts and how to get a better run-outs,” said the 15-year-old. Green would like to represent Canada at the Olympics one day.

Meanwhile, the newly married Jacobs is working hard to finish his degree, and finds himself in a period of transition. Without a doubt, he will do whatever it takes to help Green and other sprinters achieve what he could not: becoming an Olympian.

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