COLUMBIA — Whenever Valerie Thompson needed to find her son, Kareem Streete-Thompson, she looked outside. Somewhere in George Town, Cayman Islands, he was running or jumping or making up games with friends. He preferred playing under the Caribbean sun rather than being cooped up inside.
“I was kind of a hyperactive kid,” Streete-Thompson said.
But in the summer of 1984, 11-year-old Streete-Thompson was spending more time inside. He watched the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles religiously on television. And when Carl Lewis competed, he couldn’t look away. After Lewis won the long jump — one of four gold medals he earned that summer – Streete-Thompson sprinted into his living room and leapt over the sofa.
When the summer games came to a close, Streete-Thompson knew he wanted to run and jump like Lewis.
“He was the inspiration for me,” Streete-Thompson said.
Versatility was what Streete-Thompson admired most about his childhood idol. Sprinters were “movie stars,” ready to unleash a short burst of speed and power on cue. Success in the long jump, on the other hand, was an “art form” based on technique.
At an early age, Streete-Thompson made up his mind. He wanted to compete in both areas of track and field. Later that year he joined a George Town team.
Quickly, Streete-Thompson discovered track and field could take him places. In his senior year of high school, he accepted a scholarship from Rice University in Houston. As Streete-Thompson moved into a professional career as a sprinter and jumper, the list of destinations he visited grew.
One place track and field had not yet led him to, though, was the Midwest. In 2010, it finally did. After retiring from professional track and field in 2007, Streete-Thompson waited and waited for an opportunity to break into the collegiate coaching ranks. For three years, he worked as a volunteer assistant coach at Florida State University. Before that he volunteered at the University of Florida. At Missouri, Streete-Thompson saw the opportunity he had been waiting for.
“Everything I thought I needed to succeed at this level, Missouri already had,” Streete-Thompson said.
Missouri head track and field coach Brett Halter thought the last name Streete-Thompson sounded familiar. And after doing a little research, Halter understood why.
During his nearly two-decade long career as a sprinter and jumper, Streete-Thompson’s resume included three Olympic Games, seven World Championships, and the unofficial title of the only man besides Carl Lewis to jump longer than 28 feet and sprint 100 meters in under 10 seconds. More than the Olympics or World Championships, it was this distinction Streete-Thompson shared with his childhood hero that came up.
“I’ve heard it a lot,” Streete-Thompson said with a laugh.
Halter was intrigued by Streete-Thompson’s resume. But could he coach?
Halter’s question was answered by an email he received from Dan Pfaff, the legendary track and field coach whose runners have won championships at the NCAA, national and Olympic levels. Pfaff coached Streete-Thompson in the latter years of his professional career. After retiring from competition, Streete-Thompson accepted a job under Pfaff as a volunteer assistant coach at Florida.
“After I talked with Coach Pfaff, I knew Kareem would be a great fit,” Halter said.
When Halter finally met Streete-Thompson, he felt reassured.
“Kareem was just a likable guy,” Halter said. “If you’re going to connect with people in the Midwest, you have to be a genuine guy."
So Halter offered Streete-Thompson the job.
“It was a no-brainer,” Streete-Thompson said.
Now in his third season as Missouri’s sprints and jumps coach, Streete-Thompson is starting to see everything come together. Last winter, freshman Markesh Woodson finished fifth in the 60-meter at the NCAA Indoor Championships.
“We’re starting to get looks from those top-notch recruits,” he said.
The Missouri sprinters and jumpers are preparing for the Southeastern Conference Championships set for Thursday through Sunday at Audrey J. Walton Stadium.
Streete-Thompson and his athletes kept the mood light in practice Wednesday by exchanging playful jokes.
Asked if he could beat his coach in the long jump, senior Malcolm Pennix began to smile.
“Right now, yeah,” he said.
His smile quickly faded into a more serious expression.
“But not back in the day.”