COLUMBIA — Nickie Peters is unusual for an Olympic runner.
The 30-year-old MU graduate student did not participate in any organized sports until his last year of high school in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a small nation of 32 islands in the southern Caribbean.
Peters decided he should participate in at least one athletic event before graduation. He chose to compete in a 1500-meter race at a track meet, but not because he thought he could win.
“There were only three guys in that race,” Peters said. “So I figured even if I came in last, I would get a medal.”
Peters won the race, his first step toward the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he will represent his home country.
His win caught the eye of running coach Keith Joseph, the General Secretary of The St. Vincent and the Grenadines National Olympic Committee.
Joseph tried to convince Peters that he should take running seriously.
At first, Peters was not interested, but when Joseph started mentioning athletic scholarships, Peters got on board. A year later, Peters was competing in regional Caribbean and international meets.
As a representative runner for his country, Peters met coaches from several universities. He accepted a scholarship to Coppin State University in Maryland as an art major, later changing his major to chemistry. Upon graduation, he enrolled as a doctoral student in chemistry at MU.
While at Coppin State, Peters was offered a chance to compete in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney for his home country, but he opted out, since he did not want to miss a semester of school.
In 2004, he again had the chance to be an Olympian with another spot on the St. Vincent and the Grenadines team. Peters accepted and started to train. However, during a workout, he injured a hamstring, which kept him from competing. While doing 200-meter sprints with small recovery times, he felt the strain.
“I kind of went into denial at first, thinking it was nothing,” Peters said. “But halfway through my next 200 I knew I was done.”
Peters said he is certain he will be in Beijing for this summer’s Olympics. He said he has learned from his mistakes and has a good training program that should allow him to peak late in the summer.
“This is going to be on TV and the whole world is watching,” Peters said, laughing. “I want to look good for my country.”
That shouldn’t be a problem.
Peters’ personal best in the 800-meter run is 1 minute, 47 seconds. He plans to take at least a second off that time for the Olympics. Yuriy Borzakovskiy, the winner of the 800-meter run in the 2004 Olympics, won the gold in 1:44.45.
“No matter what place I get, I just want to know that I did the absolute best that I could,” Peters said.