This is Cathal Dennehy’s second piece on the World Indoors. He will send one more story for the World Indoor Glasgow 2024 Championships. 

Thea LaFond gives Domenica its first medal at the World Indoors Glasgow 2024!

by Catha Dennehy 

As she stood in the mixed zone after the women’s triple jump final in Glasgow on Sunday, Thea LaFond was draped in the flag of Dominica, beaming with pride.

A medal. At last. A gold medal.

Dominica had never won one of the colors at the World Indoors. The tiny Caribbean island nation, with a population of just 72,000, had just enjoyed its most significant athletics victory.

“I’m really proud to have done what I did,” she said. I’m so proud to be from this small, beautiful country, this powerful country. I really hope today was an inspiration that brought joy to my people. This will probably hit at 2 a.m., and I’ll end up sobbing in my pajamas, but until then, all I can say is how grateful I am to represent Dominica.”

LaFond was born in Dominica and lived there until age six, when her family moved to the United States, initially settling in New Jersey before relocating to Silver Spring, Maryland. Her start in athletics came about curiously, with her mother telling her in her first year of high school that she couldn’t go directly home after school and to find an activity. LaFond’s friends did track and field and convinced her to join them.

“And I’m the last one doing it,” she laughs.

Until that point, she’d primarily been a dancer. LaFond was classically trained from the age of six, doing ballet, ta,p, and jazz, but little did she know how well those skills would stand to her when it came to the triple jump.

GLASGOW, UK—MAR 3: Image of Thea LAFOND, Leyanis PÉREZ HERNÁNDEZ, and Ana PELETEIRO-COMPAORÉ at the World Athletics Indoor Championships on March 3, 2024, in GLASGOW, UK (Photo by Dan Vernon for World Athletics).

“It all played into body awareness,” she says. When you spend four or five hours in front of a mirror with an instructor telling you precisely how to fix something very technical, you learn to face criticism and make these small, refined changes. I think those tumbled into track and field.”

LaFond also played volleyball early in high school, which lasted just one semester. “After freshman year, my volleyball coaches were like, ‘I think you should stick with track, there’s something special there.’”

They were right.

LaFond won a horde of state titles in high school across a range of events and, at 16, Jamaican strength and conditioning coach Chris Paul suggested she should represent Dominica internationally. The following year, she lined out in their colors at the 2011 World U18 Championships in the high and triple jumps. She then enrolled at the University of Maryland and competed at the World U20 Championships in 2012, finishing 19th in the triple jump.

Heading into 2016, an Olympic year, her coach convinced her to focus on the triple jump, which paid dividends. LaFond jumped a PB of 13.61m indoors that year. She became an Olympian in Rio, though a hamstring issue on the build-up left her well off her best, jumping 12.82m.

“I told myself I could do better, to give a better representation,” she said. “That’s what fuelled me. I wanted to get better, be on a podium, and put us on a map.”

After that, she made a coaching change, linking up with Aaron Gadson, who lives in her hometown and is still her coach today. LaFond began to flourish in the following years, extending her PB to 14.20m in 2017, but she underperformed at the 2017 World Championships followinganemiaa. She bounced back in 2018 to win a Commonwealth Games bronze—a first medal for Dominica—which she called an “amazing end to an amazing trip.”

But her story was just beginning.

In 2019, she was a late withdrawal from the Doha World Championships due to injury, but two years later, in Tokyo, she shlepped a national record of 14.60m to reach the Olympic final, where she finished 12th. In recent years, she’s come close to a global medal – finishing fourth in the world indoor final in 2022 and fifth in the last two world outdoor finals. In the latter event in Budapest, she jumped a national record of 14.90m.

GLASGOW, UK – MAR 3: Image of Thea LAFOND at the World Athletics Indoor Championships on March 3, 2024, in Glasgow, UK (Photo by Jeff Holmes for World Athletics Indoor Championships Glasgow 24).

The 15-metre barrier was within reach, and only in Glasgow – in Sunday morning’s world indoor final – did she surpass it. Her second jump didn’t feel special, so she screamed in shock when she saw 15.01m flash up on the clock. “For the first jump, I had to chop my step quite a bit, and Aaron moved me back half a shoe and said, ‘Just go for it. No matter what, make sure you get good foot contact.’ My last jump was amazing at Outdoor Worlds, but I didn’t get full foot contact on my step. I said, ‘Do or die, I’m getting that full foot contact.’ That was the main change.”

The night before the final, LaFond watched as Julien Alfred of St Lucia—a neighboring island to Dominica—struck gold in the women’s 60m, the tiny Caribbean nation’s first-ever medal at World Indoors.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry,” said LaFond. “I messaged Aaron and told him, ‘I want this; I don’t want to disappoint.’ He said, ‘It’s okay, it’s your turn.’ After the introductions, I thought, ‘Okay, I need a one-two punch for the small Caribbean islands, and Julien was the one. I gotta be the two.’ I knew St Lucia would be so proud, and I wanted that same feeling for Dominica.”

Her second-round jump gave her gold, with a winning margin of 11cm over Cuba’s Leyanis Pérez Hernández. LaFond knows it could pave the way for others to follow her path.

“I really feel the best thing I can do for these young athletes is have moments like this where they see us on the podium, where they see it’s possible, and also to be a person of reference to get to the next step,” she said.

As she looks ahead to the summer, LaFond said she has a “chip on my shoulder” around the Olympics that she hopes to finally correct in Paris.

“I want to get a medal for Dominica,” she said. “They never won one, so I hope to be their first—but definitely not their last.”