Sprinter Jereem Richards' intention to honour his fallen colleague Deon Lendore at the men's 400 metres final of the IAAF World Athletics Indoor Championships at the Stark Arena in Belgrade, Serbia, yesterday ended in an emotional but joyful moment.
Knowing it would take something special to honour his colleague who was killed in a vehicular accident in January, "The Dream", as he is commonly called, busted out from the start and maintained a consistent speed throughout the race, to cross the finish line in a championship record time of 45 seconds flat for the gold medal.
"This was my actual race plan and I stuck to it to a T. I did everything I needed to do to win. I knew going into the race these guys are all quarter-milers. What I had against them was my speed and I used it to pull them out of their comfort zone," he said during an interview shortly after.
"I trained a lot with quarter-milers this year, longer than I usually would. My training partner Wayde van Niekerk helped me every single day, he was excellent. If I had a bad day he told me to keep my head up, saying I could do it.
"I want to thank him. That was very beneficial for me this year.”
Richards entered the race bent on easing his mind from the deaths of a few loved ones that threatened his stability, saying apart from Lendore, who died on January 10 in the United States and was buried on March 3 in Trinidad, he lost others.
"It was extra motivation for me. Deon was one of the pioneers of my generation, he motivated a lot of us in T&T, proving to us that it is possible to run fast, possible to run fast and get an education and be a professional athlete. So with the passing of him, I just wanted to come out there and make him proud.
"Also, I lost my grandmother, I lost my grandfather's brother earlier this year, so with all that on my mind I just wanted to go out there and make them all proud," Richards said.
Lendore, also a 400m sprinter, twice came within range of winning a gold medal at that event in the past, as he claimed the bronze medal in Birmingham, England, four years ago, and also in Portland, Oregon, in 2016.
400m champ Jereem Richards in Serbia.
Richards' gold medal now means he is the first T&T sprinter to have won that event.
A world 200m bronze medallist in London five years ago, Richards ran the race of his life, first during the opening 300m ahead of the field to receive the bell lap. He then used his advantage in speed coupled with his determination to cross the finish line ahead of the USA's Trevor Bassitt, whose personal best time of 45.05 seconds earned him the silver medal. Sweden's Carl Bengtstrom was third in 45.33.
Last month, at the World Athletics Indoor Tour Gold meeting on Staten Island in New York, USA, Richards powered across the line against a strong field to crush his indoor 400m personal best and win in 45.83. He again did his close friend proud and clinched the title in record-breaking style in Belgrade22.
Pres Weekes: All of T&T salutes you
President Paula-Mae Weekes congratulated Richards on his outstanding achievement. "You have done your country proud, Jareem, and all of Trinidad and Tobago salutes you."