Ace swimmer Cherelle Thompson became TT’s second swim athlete to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
At the TYR Pro Swim Series in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Sunday, the 27-year old athlete achieved the official Olympic ‘B’ qualifying time of 25.51 seconds, by clocking a blistering 25.39s in the Women’s 50m freestyle.
Thompson’s impressive showing also saw her splash to a new national record, wiping away her own previous time of 25.52s, set at an Amateur Swimming Association of TT (ASATT) Invitational Meet at the Aquatic Centre, Couva, just one month ago. This dominant display sees her join Dylan Carter (100m freestyle) in Tokyo.
Speaking to Thompson’s coach, Stephen Mendoza, on Sunday, he expressed elation but said there was still much work to be done.
“This is exactly where we wanted her to be at this time,” said Mendoza after returning from Tennessee just two hours prior. “Between now and July, we’ll have enough time for her to improve to get the ‘A’ qualifying time (24.77s). She’s on that timeline and improving consistently. The aim, by March-April, is to enter the 24-second bracket. From there, we’re working towards the lower half of the 24-second mark. The goal is medalling and not just going to the Olympics.”
According to the seasoned coach, their team has already planned for one local and one foreign meet per month to achieve the intended targets. He believes once Thompson maintains competitive consistency over the coming months, she will continue dropping her times.
In November 2019, the talented swimmer smashed former TT Olympian, Siobhan Cropper’s 19-year 50m freestyle record of 25.32s, when she touched the wall in 24.89s at the National Open Short Course Swimming Championships. Thompson then followed up with another record-breaking showing in December, shattering Cropper’s 22-year 25.89s reign, with a sleek 25.52s performance at the long course meet.
“Only last year, Cherelle has been breaking Cropper’s longstanding records, now she’s breaking her own (records). Every month, we have scheduled one local and one foreign swim meet for her to consistently better her performances. We’re working with her and testing it. That’s the trajectory we are on right now,” the coach added.
Mendoza, who has been coaching Thompson for over a decade, credited his coaching staff for the athlete’s recent successes. He said after she missed out on the 2016 Games in Brazil, Thompson strongly considered retiring. However, with the motivation injected by former TT Olympic swimmer Sharntelle McLean (2004, 2008), ex-national swimmer Christian Homer, technical consultant Franz Pouchet and Mendoza, they were able to change her mindset.
“This is a team approach, “ Mendoza said.
“A group effort caused her to come out of retirement. I asked if her dream was still there when she didn’t make the 2016 Olympics – she said yes. I said, ‘Well you’re alive, so let’s do it.’ And here we are.”
Thompson concluded her studies at the University of Tennessee in 2016 and is now enrolled at the University of the West Indies to study medicine. However, she has since taken a year off to pursue her Olympic dream.