Thea LaFond-Gadson On Her Historic Gold Medal For Dominica, Olympic Hopes

Out Of The Blocks

March 21, 2024

"When I step out and when I compete and when I talk to people, I want them to really get a taste of the kindness, love and power and amazingness of my home country. I hope that’s how people feel."

Thea LaFond-Gadson made history at the World Indoor Championships in Glasgow by becoming the first world champion in history for Dominica – the Caribbean island that boasts an estimated population of 72,000+ people. This was her first global championship medal after a few close calls, which included fifth place finishes at the 2022 and 2023 World Championships.

She joined Jasmine Todd on Out of The Blocks to recap her brilliant indoor season, and what it’s like being coached by her husband Aaron Gadson. She shares the story of how she surpassed 15m for the first time and what her hopes are for the 2024 outdoor campaign and the Paris Olympics. This will be the third Olympic Games for the former Maryland Terp.

The following interview excerpt has been edited lightly for clarity. You can listen to the full interview with LaFond on the Out of The Blocks Podcast – available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your shows.

What do you think led to you being so calm?

“I’ve been calm almost every competition that I’ve done indoors this year. I’ve only competed, including Worlds, three times this year. I think there was a mental shift for me. I lost someone very close to me on December 3rd. For a month before, I was just spending a lot of time with her. I ended up being at her house four days a week. Her name is Dr. Carissa Etienne and she was one of my mom’s best friends. I grew up being at her house. She’s my brother’s godmother. This woman has spoken before to royalty and they have listened to her in the medical field. It was one of those moments where you realize she’s done so much and done it so well, who am I to freak out about my little to-do? My little life is nothing compared to what she has achieved and she has done it with such grace. I remember leaving and talking to (coach Aaron Gasdon) and saying that I didn’t think I had been that inspired in a while. He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘If she can do all this. I can do all this.’

My energy going into competing changed from then on. I used to visualize meets and jumping and I would get butterflies in my stomach. This year, nothing. It’s been going from what I’ve been working on. You’ve been nervous before. You’ve been stressed before and you’ve seen the outcome so let’s just do something different. Let’s just enjoy.”

What’s it like representing and making history for Dominica at the Commonwealth Games and World Championships?

“I’ve kind of taken on this role as an unofficial ambassador for Dominica. I feel like I’m one of the few people representing us on this international athletic stage. When I step out and when I compete and when I talk to people, I want them to really get a taste of the kindness, love and power and amazingness of my home country. I hope that’s how people feel.”

You did the multis in high school and college. So how’d you get into the triple jump?

“In high school, my main four events were the high jump, long jump, triple jump and the hurdles. If you take triple out of the equation, you have three of the five events for the pentathlon. I was just good at the jumps – high, long and triple – and I got into triple because my high school coach said, ‘Oh you used to dance, right?’ I used to be classically trained in ballet, tap and jazz – with a super heavy emphasis on ballet. I was a ballerina for most of my youth. He said that the triple jump was like three leaps. It looked ridiculous. I was full-on ballerina style with a straight leg forward and a straight leg back mid-step leap as my step phase. He said, ‘OK. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. That’s not quite right.’”

What’s your mindset like heading into the outdoor season?

“The mindset is an Olympic medal and stay healthy. Those are my two major things. Now that we’ve entered the world of 15 meters – and we did it in two jumps. Even after I was done, I went to Aaron and said, ‘Can we adjust this and this? Maybe we can go 15.20 if we do that.’ He said, ‘Thea, chill. Can you just enjoy the moment?’ That was in the back of my head. That jump to me didn’t really feel like anything special. It felt really easy. So let’s take that and build on that. Let’s make sure we’re keeping my body safe and intact. Let’s go out there and try to create more history for Dominica.”

What’s it like being coached by Aaron, who is so data-driven?

“It’s really good because it ends up being logical. Sometimes that’s what you need. Aaron is my husband and coach. He is an engineer from Cornell, a data scientist who also works for a financial tech company. He’s a guy about the numbers. Because of that, it’s really easy to track my progression as an athlete…We constantly have data on the things that we’re doing. It’s not just one testing day. I can constantly see day-by-day if Tuesday was better than Thursday’s practice because of the data that we have. Whether it’s via DynaSpeed, Contact Grid or FreeLap timing, everything is done with intention and everything is logged. Aaron is not typical. He truly loves the sport. The energy and effort that he puts in not only for me but for all his athletes, he’s all about having an independent and individual plan for all his athletes. There may be some things people crossover on whether that’s the warmup or drills. But people are focusing on different things. It’s very apparent…The man just cares. I’m not just saying that because I’m his wife. This man is a true fan of the sport.”

You’ve added a new triple jumper to the group. You’re now training alongside Keturah Orji. How’s that been?

“So far so good. I’ve got to give it to Keturah. She’s gone through a lot in the past few years. She asked if Aaron would be willing to coach her at the end of last season. I told her I’d think about it because she said it’s up to me. I thought about it. I said yeah because I thought it would be a great opportunity to have another jumper in the group to push each other. I needed to make sure that someone would be there who wouldn’t let me get comfortable…I walk into practice and know Keturah is super talented and I have to be ready too."

For more, listen to the full conversation on the Out of The Blocks podcast feed.

Jasmine Todd

A silver medalist at the 2015 World Champs in Beijing in the 4 x 100m relay, Jasmine Todd still competes at the elite level in the long jump and brings a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport as a whole, but particularly the jumps and sprints to CITIUS’s event coverage.

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