STARKVILLE — Curtis Thompson had an idea of what it would feel like to be a national champion.
The Mississippi State track and field athlete fell short in 2015 as a freshman, but that fueled him even more. So when he went to the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships last week in Eugene, Oregon, he was ready to improve on his performance as a freshman and etch his name into history.
“It’s emotional,” Thompson said. “But it’s really something that I’ve thought of plenty of times and I’ve imagined it. For it to actually happen, it’s kind of like a relief in a way.”
It did happen. The sophomore won the javelin national championship last Wednesday at Hayward Field.
Thompson advanced to the finals with a throw of 240-11. His winning toss checked in at 254-9. The Florence, New Jersey, native held off Texas A&M’s Ionnis Kyriazis (253-5) and Middle Tennessee State’s John Ampomah (250-9).
Thompson finished third as a freshman with a throw of 247-05. Oregon’s Sam Crouser (259-09) took the title. The performance gave Thompson, who earned All-American honors as a freshman, the confidence that he would eventually win a national championship.
“After nationals it really clicked in my head that I can actually come in here and win a national title,” Thompson said. “Once that clicked, it was really nothing that was going to stop me. I was just going to keep working hard for it.”
The performance at the NCAAs wasn’t the only sign of things to come for Thompson. He placed first at the Jace LaCoste Invitational at the Mike Sanders Track Complex on the MSU campus with a throw of 225-10 last spring. He placed fourth at the Southeastern Conference Championships at his home track. At the time, he threw a personal best 248-01.
As the freshman season wore on, assistant coach April Thomas saw Thompson become more and more self-assured.
“I felt like as a freshman, there were some freshman jitters and a little bit of pressure,” Thomas said. “Within the year’s time, he’d gotten a lot better.”
Thompson broke the school record with a throw of 265-10 to claim the title at the Florida State Relays in Tallahassee, Florida, March 25. He also broke the Mike Long Track facility record.
He placed third at the SEC Championships in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with a throw of 235-07. Thompson didn’t have his best showing at the NCAA East Preliminaries in Jacksonville, Florida, but he finished seventh with a throw of 228-04 to qualify for the NCAAs.
With how Thompson competed in Eugene as a freshman, Thomas felt like Thompson was going to have a good showing. With the way he performed as a sophomore, Thomas thought a national title was attainable.
“He had his competitors throughout the year that was giving him a little run for his money,” Thomas said. “But on paper he was No. 2 going into the national championship. It all depends on what you can do on that day and on that day he prevailed.”
The 2013-14 Gatorade New Jersey Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year won the 2015 Junior USA Track and Field Championships with a throw of 237-04. It was a great ending to a stellar freshman season.
Thompson never stopped thinking about what emotions he would feel if he won a national title. Although he was confident in his abilities to win a national title, he had to make sure that confidence didn’t overshadow his focus.
“When I was imagining it, I was trying to stay relaxed and not get too anxious and too ready for the meet,” Thompson said. “I really just wanted to go out there and have fun and that’s what I did. I did what I’ve been doing in practice. I know how to throw, so that’s really what I did. I just let it happen.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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