by RENALDO DORSETT
The Olympics isn’t about sports.
It’s about nations, about people, about stories.
Sports is just our tangential connection to it all.
Every one of the 32-members of team Bahamas has a story to tell, but the comeback story of Leevan Sands has been well documented …and it had to be.
“Superman” has the most interactive performance of any athlete and that has endeared him to his Bahamian fanbase. It’s a symbiotic relationship – he feeds off the energy of the crowd and we get to feel as if we play a direct part in his success.
We were up there with him at the pinnacle in 2008 when he won bronze in Beijing and at the low point when a knee injury denied us a shot at greatness in London 2012.
On this day four years ago, we eulogized his career prematurely in what seemed like the way it had to end – in the pit.
That’s because four years ago, many people thought they’d never see him compete at this level again. Others questioned whether they’d ever see him take flight at all.
It was round four of the triple jump at the Olympic Stadium in London, England. Sands, who entered the final as the second best qualifier, peered down the runway, gearing up for a jump to keep pace with the remainder of the contenders in the field. We all clapped in unison, sure that this jump was supposed to be the one.
Optimism turned to our worst fears realised when we saw Sands land awkwardly, grab his knee and grimace with pain. The end result was a ruptured patella tendon.
Fast forward to Rio 2016, and Sands, 34, has done the unthinkable. He’s fought his way back to a familiar spot – the parade of athletes at Maracana stadium; his fourth Olympic Games appearance.
“These Rio games are special to me. Even something as simple as the opening ceremony stood out to me more so than usual just because of the special feeling of being back at the Olympic Games, especially after the London incident where I got injured. I’m just excited to be back in this position.”
As a senior at Auburn, Sands made his first Olympic appearance back in Athens in 2004. He’s undergone the full transition from that point in his career to a veteran team leader.
”The biggest difference is the experience level. I’ve been here many times and I don’t feel as overwhelmed as I did as a rookie. I know how to go in the games focused and not let anything distract me. I’ve learned how to handle the games better now as a veteran and I mentor most of the younger guys. I sit them down and have encouraging words with them all the time. Any one of them knows that they can talk to me and they can tell you I always give them good advice. I try to help and motivate them. Mainly it’s about just trying to get them to stay focused and I always tell them to believe in themselves because any one of us can be a winner. It’s all about instilling that confidence in them.”
In addition to being a bronze medallist from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, he also won bronze at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, France and the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England.
For many of those events, Sands was the standard bearer for the country in the triple jump.
In Rio he will be joined by the man many see as his successor in the event, Latario Collie-Minns.
The 22-years-old Texas A&M Aggie and reigining NCAA Champion, is the highest ranked jumper for team Bahamas headed into Monday’s qualification round.
“We talk about the future. Latario and the young boys always say they’re going to break my record and I encourage them because all records are meant to be broken. I tell them to follow their dreams and go out there and break it. I broke Frank Rutherford’s record when I was only 21 so I encourage them to do the same now that they’re in that position. When I’m done I would definitely want someone to take over the mantle for me.”
Following several years of rehab, Sands exploded back on the scene last year to get on the podium with a silver medal at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada and became a finalist at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China.
“With the road to recovery, I had a lot of people to thank on that. First of all, the doctor who did the surgery, Dr Cheema, he did a great job with it back in 2012. There were a lot of other people involved – Rehab Works in Auburn, they’re the guys who did the work for almost two years. Steve Kisor at Rehab Works and the rest of his team there. Dr Hank Sloan in Cumming, Georgia, played a major role in my comeback with all those painful knee injections, PRP treatments and prototherapy. Fans, family members and everyone who was there to encourage me when I needed it. My cousin SosaMan, we got together and he documented my recovery process, along with Stephen Hanna and Farenno Ferguson. I’ve been excited about it even though a lot of people didn’t think the Road to Rio was possible, but I’m excited and I can’t wait to compete again.”
Sands will turn 35 August 15 during the Olympics, but despite his amazing story, he’s not content just to be there…he’s there to win.
“The way I’m going to approach this year is the same as the last time. Right now I’m focused on getting through the qualifying rounds, that’s key. Right now I’m in good shape and feeling good. There’s just no telling what ‘Superman’ will do when I get out there. To me I can be a different person as long as the crowd as out there and I’m feeling like I’m feeling now. The sky is the limit. Getting into the finals is the key and as always the goal is to go out there and represent the 242 to the best of my ability.”
For Superman, doing the unthinkable has almost become commonplace and what’s we’ve come to expect.
That’s how this relationship works and that’s how this story is told.
We wouldn’t expect anything less.
For behind the scenes coverage of Superman’s journey in Rio follow Leevan on
Twitter – http://twitter.com/SupermanSands
Facebook – http://facebook.com/supermansands
Snapchat – @SupermanSands