Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series previewing Dickinson State alumni who are competing for the Bahamas at the Summer Olympics in London.
There was a point, almost five years ago, when Derrick Atkins was sixth-hundredths of a second from being on top of the sprinting world. Somewhere along the line, though, he went missing in action.
Now, after four very quiet years, the Dickinson State graduate and Bahamas record holder in the 100 meters is back among the elite of a world he almost ruled.
His next stop is Olympic Stadium in London.
“A year or so ago, he was probably questioning whether or not he was going to be back,” DSU head track and field coach Pete Stanton said.
After failing to make the finals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Atkins stepped back from the limelight that found him after he won a silver medal at the 2007 World Championships. He raced a bit in 2009, clocking times far below what he was accustomed to.
Then, sometime in the middle of the 2010 season, Atkins disappeared from the international track scene altogether. He didn’t attend any major meets and sat out the entire 2011 season.
So what happened? Nagging knee injuries, Atkins said, were at the source of most of his problems.
“It took a while for me to get going again,” Atkins said. “It cost me the whole season.”
Now that he’s healthy again, Atkins has rediscovered the spark that nearly made him a world champion.
He punched his ticket to the Olympics with a 10.09-second run at a meet in Clermont, Fla., on June 9 and by winning the Bahamas national championship on June 22.
The 28-year-old returns to the games when the 100-meter heats begin Saturday, Aug. 4. “Basically, the focus was just trying to get back to competing and being competitive,” Atkins said.
Ramon Miller, a DSU alumnus who will race for the Bahamas in the 400 meters and 1,600 relay at London, was Atkins’ roommate during the Beijing games.
He said it’s inspiring to watch Atkins pick himself up when he could have easily hung up his cleats.
“This is a sport where injuries come,” Miller said. “Sometimes they knock you to the ground. It’s just how you pick up yourself. Everything takes time, but it heals up.”
Atkins said competition has always been his driving force.
It helped him claim seven NAIA national championships during his time at DSU and pushed him to new heights in 2007, the best year of his career.
Atkins’ career-best time in the 100 meters is 9.91 seconds, which came in the finals of the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan.
American Tyson Gay passed Jamaican and former worldrecord holder Asafa Powell with roughly 30 meters remaining. As Powell slowed down, it allowed Atkins — who had been climbing toward the top of the sprinting world that entire summer — to move into second place and secure the silver medal.
Since then, Atkins’ career has been inconsistent to say the least.
He went to the Beijing Olympics the next summer with a season-best time of 10.02 seconds but could only muster a 10.13 to finish sixth in his semifinal heat.
While it has taken him four years, Atkins is finally back where he was before Beijing.
“It says a lot about his character,” said Trevor Barry, Atkins’ DSU teammate and an Olympic high jumper for the Bahamas. “If you want something, and have the determination and drive, you’ve just got to put in the work and effort.”
Though Atkins is treating these Olympics like they’ll be his last, he’s hoping they aren’t. With new focus on his health and training, Atkins is confident he can continue competing long enough to make a push for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“Trying to stay healthy is the big thing,” Atkins said. “That’s half the battle right there.”