London bound: Swift advances to Olympic Games for Barbados

July 2, 2012

The strong winds earlier in the day began to settle. Eight men stood at the starting line, sweats off, awaiting instruction from the starter. With the words "Indiana State" embroidered on his blue running vest and shorts junior hurdler Greggmar Swift focused his mind on one goal, to be the third qualifier for Barbados to the Summer Olympic Games.

"There was quite a bit of pressure on Greggmar," ISU men's track and field head coach John McNichols said. "He was in the spotlight; a lot of people knew his situation."

The starter spoke his first command. "Gentlemen, on your mark."

Swift stepped forward from behind his blocks and raised both arms up to the sky before dropping to his hands and one knee as he settled into the starting blocks. He lowered his head, his body taut.

In reverence, the crowd stilled. The "premiere event" of the Barbados National Track and Field Championships 2012, the men's 110-meter hurdles final was seconds away from starting.

"Going into the preliminary rounds I had doubts that I would be able to hit the standard," Swift said. "But after I jogged 13.67 in a (6 mph) wind I thought it would be easy for me to qualify today."

The starter spoke his second command. "Set."

"Everyone was very anxious," McNichols said. "He should be on the Olympic team."

Swift raised his hips and balanced his weight on his fingers as his body tilted forward. Silence.The starter's pistol hung in the air for a moment before a loud crack pierced the silence.

"Greggmar blasted out," McNichols said.

With the starter's signal, a deafening, torrent of screams and cheers flooded the stadium. Without reservation spectators emptied themselves of all the pent up excitement from before the race. Below on the track, combining speed and grace Swift glided over the hurdles and led the race coming up to the fourth hurdle. His main competition then pulled even with him. The 2009 International Amateur Athletic Federation World Champion Ryan Brathwaite and Texas Tech All-American Shane Brathwaite battled it out with Swift."I was maintaining my speed during the middle part of the race, then I found a new gear and after that it's a blur," Swift said.

With a lean, Swift finished second in the race behind Ryan. However, place was not the priority, Swift and the crowd were more concerned about the clock. He had to run at least 13.52 seconds to qualify for the Olympics. "It felt like we were waiting forever after the end of the race," McNichols said.

The announcer gave the verdict to the anxious crowd, 13.52 seconds. The crowd grew loud with excitement. The ISU hurdler and Barbadian native qualified to represent his nation in London at this year's 30th Olympiad. Usually, Swift does not like to think about a race no more than two hours before the event. However, in regards to the Olympics, he has set a goal of making it out of the preliminaries.

"If I ever get in a heat with Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles that will make my day," Swift said of the 2004 Olympic gold medalist from China and the 2008 Olympic gold medalist from Cuba respectively.

While Swift may have had earlier doubts about the race, his supporters didn't, especially his mother Margaret Eastmond.

"His mom and step dad had already purchased tickets to London back in May," McNichols said.

Back in the United States news spread of his accomplishment. Swift called ISU assistant men's track and field coach Jeff Martin.

"[I] felt a sense of relief and an overwhelming sense of joy and happiness," Martin said.

Swift is the first current or former ISU student-athlete to make it to the Olympics since Brian Leturgez, who raced with the U.S. bobsled team in 1992, 1994 and 1998.

As a Sycamore

Swift, an insurance and risk management major, arrived at Indiana State in the fall of 2010 after Martin recruited him. The Barbadian hurdler had 18 universities vying for him but he considered ISU the best fit.

"[Indiana State] showed more interest than all the 18 universities put together," Swift said.

Indiana State has produced some high caliber hurdlers under McNichols' 29-year tenure as head coach, including seven-time All-American Aubrey Herring and four-time All-American Chris Lancaster.

Martin said that he contacted Swift almost once every week after getting the Barbadian athlete's information from a fellow countryman on the track team.

His freshman year proved difficult for Swift. In addition to having to adjust to a new country and a new way of life, tragedy struck only a few months after his arrival. In late fall, his father died. The sudden death made Swift desire to return home and look after his mom. However, Eastmond consoled and encouraged him to remain and see this opportunity through.

"I was basically running because of him," Swift said. "My mom told me to be strong in these times and we were going make it through together."

The year did not get any easier. An injury the second meet of his freshman year took Swift out for most of the season. However, he was no stranger to the sometimes stark fluctuations of highs and lows in the sport.

From early on in his career, Swift met adversity. As a secondary school student at St. Leonard's School for boys in Barbados hurdles didn't come easy and making it in track and field seemed too difficult. He said during that time he felt as if the sport was not for him because of his rough neighborhood's background. He admitted to moments when he wanted to quit.

"[I] felt like it was a rich man sport," Swift said. "Saw people parents picking them up after practice and I'm waiting on a bus."

Swift said if it wasn't for his mom's encouragement he would not have made it through and progressively began to prove his skill to others. Swift said bouncing back from disappointments is an important part of the sport.

"I know how it feels to come in last," Swift said. "I don't want to come in last again. I don't want to get beat again. I try to shake it off, put it in the past and come back stronger."

And stronger he returned. Swift chopped away at his time with each passing day. Between the end of freshman year till the national meet in Barbados he dropped his personal best time from 13.89 to a 13.49 (wind-aided) time at the 2012 Missouri Valley Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

"One thing I reminded him of [before the Barbados Nationals] was the finals at our conference meet," McNichols said. "He just blasted out the blocks, just established his dominance from the very first hurdle."Swift said a lot of what he does in preparation for a race is mental. On the line, he focuses on the mission to get out and fly over one hurdle at a time.

"You can't tell somebody to treat it like another race when you are at the Olympic Games," McNichols said. "The individual needs to work on ‘Where do I go?' mentally."Before his trip to the Olympics Swift will be competing for Barbados in the North American Caribbean Central American Championships (NACAC) in Guadalajara, Mexico. Then, it is off to London where the preliminary round of the men's 110 - meter hurdles is scheduled for 10:10 a.m. Aug. 7.

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-vKzNwXc/0/L/i-vKzNwXc-L.jpg - Greggmar Swift

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/Sports/Track-and-Field/2012-Track-Field-Headshots/i-fXL6K7C/0/L/013312trackfieldheadshots-1965-L.jpg - Greggmar Swift

Photo: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/i-mGLCKFv/0/L/i-mGLCKFv-L.jpg - John McNichols

Writer: Ernest Rollins, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3743 or erollins@sycamores.indstate.edu