Four years ago, Derrick Peterson, a former Missouri runner, almost walked away from track.
Disappointed in his performance in the 800 meters at the 2000 Olympic Trials in Sacramento, Calif., Peterson said he didn’t want to continue training, the 2004 Olympics seemed too far away. Peterson finished fifth in his semifinal run at the trials in 2000, missing a chance to advance to the finals and a possible Olympic berth by one-hundredth of a second. He came back to finish third at July’s Olympic Trials, earning an Olympic berth. Peterson competes in the opening round of the 800 today.
Peterson had reached what seemed like the highest peak in his running in 2000, and he questioned his post-collegiate career.
“To have something bring you to a point where you were probably going to walk away from the sport, and then to turn right back around and reach that motivation over the next four-year period, it’s just kind of strange to explain,” Peterson said.
Missouri assistant coach Jared Wilmes, who has worked with Peterson for the past three years, said Peterson’s decision to train for 2004 had a lot to do with the team atmosphere at Missouri.
Peterson, who graduated in 2000, was able to continue training with the team while lending a hand as a volunteer assistant coach, which helped provide needed structure in Peterson’s life and training.
“Things are going well for him now, and that’s why he’s been successful,” Wilmes said.
With the past behind him, Peterson’s decision to keep running paid off July 12 at the Olympic Trials in Sacramento.
Peterson placed third in the 800 in 1 minute, 45.08 seconds. “I’m just so overwhelmed right now and filled with excitement,” Peterson said. “At that point, I was just so elated to be finishing in the top three, because the minute I crossed the finished line, I knew I had done what I set out to do.”
The goal was obtained in Sacramento, but the real challenge begins tonight. Peterson left for Athens on Aug. 10 to participate in the opening ceremonies three days later. On Aug. 14, U.S. track and field team traveled to the Island of Crete to escape the hype that surrounds the Olympics and focus on training for competition.
“I’m really excited about just experiencing the whole Olympic movement as an athlete, so you know, I’m looking forward to checking out some of the other events,” Peterson said.
When it comes to competing in Athens, Wilmes said Peterson is confident and excited to represent his country. Wilmes and Peterson have focused on recuperating for the Games by increasing mileage and strength training.
“It’s almost like starting over again; my coach and I decided that one phase was to get to trials, and then from there we would just go back to the basics and start over again,” Peterson said.
Khadevis Robinson, who took second at the trials in 1:44.91, and Jonathan Johnson won in 1:44.77, join Peterson in the 800. Robinson, 28, is a former Texas Christian standout, and Johnson, 22, is a senior at Texas Tech.
Peterson and Khadevis have raced quite a bit since Peterson turned professional four years ago. Peterson said he is getting to know Johnson, who was the 2004 NCAA Champion, an accomplishment Peterson earned at the 1999 NCAA Championships in Indianapolis.
Peterson is ranked 21st in the world, and according to Wilmes needs to run 1:44 to make it into the top 10. Peterson is excited about his opportunity and confident in his potential.
“I would say I’m up-and-coming,” Peterson said. “I don’t necessarily like being the favorite because it just adds more pressure to you, but I prefer the underdog role because nobody knows you and you can come up with the surprise factor at the end.”
Peterson’s laid-back approach to running is what will guild him in Athens. He plans to take each race as if it were the finals and have fun with it.
“I’m just going to continue doing what I’ve been doing and you know, if I make finals, you never know what could happen,” he said.