For this first episode of In The Know: Extreme Lengths, we met with Olympian Anthony Watson, who, following a serious knee injury that ended his track and field career, never thought he’d have a career in sports again.
At first, he felt pressured to give up. But even after trying to pursue other areas that he was strong in, Watson could not shake the feeling that he should be an athlete.
“Being an Olympic athlete, to me, is everything,” Watson told In The Know. “The biggest thing it takes to get this far is dedication.”
After some research, Watson found skeleton racing — an extreme sport that wouldn’t cause too much strain on his knee, and could also still feed his competitive nature.
Skeleton racers sprint while pushing their 70-pound sleds for about 40 to 50 meters to the top of the course, which is a frozen track. Then athletes must pack their bodies (head-first) as tightly and efficiently as possible onto the sled, typically keeping their foreheads close to the ice and eyes upwards so they know where they’re going.
Unlike bobsleds, skeleton sleds have no steering mechanism, which means the athletes must adjust their knees and shoulders to control the sled. The sleds travel at a speed between 75 and 85 miles per hour.
It’s an extreme sport that requires a lot of precision, strength and speed.
Watson got into skeleton racing because, along with bob sledding, it was the only Olympic sport that allowed tryouts. But even after spending three years training with Team USA, it wasn’t a glamorous lifestyle.
“It costs almost $100,000 to compete a season,” Watson said. “It gets very difficult. There were days I didn’t have a place to sleep, I had to sell my car for eating money.”
It wasn’t enough to deter Watson from continuing. After placing on the alternate team for the North America circuit, Jamaica — where Watson has dual citizenship — recruited him to be their first-ever male skeleton athlete.
“It was everything I had hoped it would be.”
Things got even better: Watson was invited to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics on behalf of Jamaica, making him the first athlete to represent the Caribbean nation in the sport.
“The best feeling ever was being next in line, hearing your country being called, and then being to walk out in front of everyone,” Watson said. “You can’t even put it into words.”
Watson finished in 29th place in each of the first three heats and reached a top speed of 75.4 miles per hour. His total time disqualified him from the final race.
To understand how competitive and precise skeleton racing is: Watson’s time was only 10 seconds behind South Korea’s Yun Sung-bin, who won the gold medal.
Watson still isn’t finished. Making history once as the first Jamaican representative in the skeleton race wasn’t enough. As a hopeful for the 2022 winter Olympics, he wants to make his mark again.
“Now after competing and representing Jamaica in the Olympics, I’m representing my mother’s country of Puerto Rico to be the first Olympic skeleton athlete and skeleton for Puerto Rico as well,” Watson said. “To have the opportunity to represent both sides of my nationality in the biggest platform of athletics is the new goal for me.”
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