Curtis Thompson didn’t feel like running one day during a track practice when he was a freshman at Florence High and he thought attempting to practice with the throwers would get him out of doing sprints.
So Thompson walked over to Florence’s throwing coach at the time, Rodney Roberson, who handed him a javelin.
It was the start of the making of an Olympian.
Thompson, a 2014 graduate of Florence, was informed on July 1 that he would be representing the U.S. in the javelin at the Tokyo Olympics.
He had finished first in the javelin during the U.S. Olympic trials with a throw of 271 feet, 7 inches (82.78 meters). Even though he was the top U.S. finisher, Thompson didn’t meet the Olympic standard of 278-10 (85 meters) However, many others didn’t either. Only 11 hit that mark.
There are 32 competitors in the Olympics and Thompson’s throw easily qualified him among the top javelin throwers in the world.
The men’s javelin competition in Tokyo begins Tuesday night.
“It is a feeling that’s almost unexplainable but I guess the way I continue to look at it, I celebrated at the moment, but it is time to get back to work and be ready for the next goal, which is performing the best I can to represent the U.S.,” Thompson said in a phone interview with The Inquirer.
When Thompson got the call that he indeed made the team, it was a validation of all the work he has done to become an Olympian, even though he began throwing the javelin as a way to get out of doing work in practice.
Thompson had a good laugh recalling how he began throwing the javelin.
“I joined track to get faster for football but one day as a freshman I just didn’t want to run,” Thompson recalled. “I looked to coach Robe and said ‘I want to throw,’ and he handed me a javelin.”
Coach Robe is Rodney Roberson, who was the throwing coach for Florence at the time. Thompson then made an immediate impression.
“I threw the javelin off to the side and coach [Roberson] was like, ‘you are good, you can join the rest of the group,’ ” Thompson said. “I went off from there.”
Roberson vividly remembers that first encounter with Thompson.
“I remember that day well, actually,” Roberson said. “Runners came over to throw a lot, practice wasn’t as strenuous as you can imagine. I let him try a jav just to see what he could do.”
What he could do amazed Roberson.
“No warm-up or anything, he let it fly,” Roberson said. “Usually the runners would quickly get discouraged and head back out. Curtis stayed, his arm was strong and he was an athlete. ... Never made it back to the track after that.”
Thompson was a dominating football player at Florence, as a defensive lineman and fullback. He played three years and his final game was Florence’s 23-17 double overtime win over Shore Regional in the 2012 Central Jersey Group 1 championship. In that game Thompson scored two touchdowns on short runs.
“I had great memories playing football,” he said.
His track potential was growing to the point where Thompson decided not to play football as a senior at Florence to concentrate on track. Thompson played for legendary football coach Joe Frappolli, who has been guiding the Flashes since taking over as head coach in 1974.
We are all so, so proud of Curtis Thompson and all his accomplishments,” Frappolli said. “He was a super player for us and even better -- a class young man.”
Frappolli’s only regret is that he didn’t get to coach Thompson as a senior.
“We were disappointed obviously when he left football his senior year to concentrate on his javelin dreams and get his college scholarship,” Frappolli said. “It was a tough decision for him to make but he made it with a dream, goal in mind. Now he’s doing, not just dreaming it.”
As a senior, Thompson not only won the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Meet of Champions in the javelin, but set a state record of 224-10. He was named The Inquirer’s 2014 South Jersey boys’ track and field athlete of the year,
He then attended Mississippi State on a track scholarship and the success continued both in the classroom and in athletics.
Thompson earned a degree in mathematics and as a sophomore at Mississippi State in 2016, he won the NCAA javelin title with a throw of 254-9.
» READ MORE: Florence stops Shore Regional in C.J. Group 1 final
That same year he finished second in the U.S. Olympic trials with a throw of 271-11 (82.78 meters), but didn’t qualify for the Olympics. The Olympic standard that year was 272-4.
“I missed making the team by 12 centimeters,” Thompson said.
Thompson said his near-miss served as even more motivation.
“I just kept wanting to improve,” he said.
Thompson says he gets back to South Jersey as much as he can, but he lives in Birmingham, Ala. and is a member of USA Javelin Project, a group of post-collegiate javelin throwers training together.
Thompson isn’t sure what his future beyond the Olympics hold, but he insists that his days competing in the javelin are far from over.
“I plan on doing this as long as possible,” he said. “There are quite a lot of years ahead for me.”