Lone female Jamaican shot putter just misses in Rio

Archival Photo 23 year old sports recreation and management graduate student Danniel Thomas was the only female jamaican shot put candidate for the Rio Olympics and barely missed the qualifications to compete.

Archival Photo 23 year old sports recreation and management graduate student Danniel Thomas was the only female jamaican shot put candidate for the Rio Olympics and barely missed the qualifications to compete.

Alyssa Schmitt

Danniel Thomas steps into the shot put circle on Day 7 of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She tosses the shot in her hands, left to right to left again. She’s telling herself to calm down, she has done this hundreds of times before.

With a large whirl, she tosses the 4 kilogram (8.8 pounds) shot into her dominant hand above her head and positions it behind her head. She pauses briefly, making sure her body is still so she doesn’t risk a foul. Her left heel slightly rises and suddenly her body is twirling, and within seconds the shot flies through the air.

While the Jamaican native has called Kent her home, she donned the Jamaican colors as she flew off to Rio. Her journey to the Olympics began years ago in high school, when she suffered an injury.

“The only reason I started throwing was because I couldn’t run anymore,” Thomas said. “When I was in high school, I started off as a sprinter, but I ended up hurting my groin and I couldn’t bring my knees up.”

Instead of her coach getting rid of her, he handed her the discus.

“He gave me the discus and I started throwing it … so I didn’t pick up the shot put right away,” Thomas said.

By the time she was about to graduate high school, the emerging athlete had popped up onto coach Nathan Fanger’s radar.

Fanger is Kent State’s track and field associate head coach. He only talked to her twice over the phone, but he knew two things: her shot put reached 46 feet and her discus reached 167 feet.

Fanger met Thomas for the first time in 2012, when she stepped off the plane from Jamaica ready to start studying physical education at Kent State.

At 5’5”, she’s short for an athlete throwing shot put. In fact, Fanger wanted her to throw the hammer, but it was shot put and discus that she continued to excel in. As the two worked together on and off the field, Fanger could see the drive behind her power.

“You’re not going to step in the ring and want second place,” Fanger said. “(Thomas) isn’t afraid when she steps in the ring. She’s not going to hold back in fear of stepping out and getting a foul.”

You would think being an Olympic athlete at 23 would be a high enough achievement, but for Thomas, her pride comes from being one of only women to throw for Jamaica.

“One of my friends from high school said ‘Girl, don’t you realize Jamaica doesn’t have any female throwers?’ And I think that stuck with me the whole time,” Thomas said. “I wanted to be one of the first to compete at this level and to compete at the best of my ability.”

This year, Jamaica had a record number of five women throwing in track and field. One for hammer, three for discus and Thomas on shot put. Team USA had 12 female throwers.

When her shot hit the ground in Rio at 16.99 meters, about 55.5 feet, she was disappointed. She was less than a meter shy of the entry standard to go on to the next round.

As she completes her master’s degree in sport and recreation management, her goal is to return to the Olympics in four years.

Alyssa Schmitt is a senior reporter, contact her at [email protected]