London 2012 bronze medallist in 200m proved Usain Bolt wrong about rugby
Warren Weir wants to build a legacy in a new sport at Tokyo 2020.
After injuring his hamstring at the Commonwealth Games this April, the London 2012 200m bronze medallist decided he needed a change.
Jamaica’s rugby sevens team approached him, and Weir began training with them in the off season.
But Weir caught on quick and three months later made his debut at the Central American and Caribbean Games, helping the ‘Crocs’ to third place.
The 28-year-old now aims to help the team qualify for Tokyo and potentially become a dual-sport Olympian.
Here, Weir spoke exclusively to the Olympic Channel about his fast-start in rugby.
First, how did the Jamaica rugby sevens team actually approach you?
I was at the commonwealth games in Australia and I was approached by some of the rugby team management. They said they were good but lacked speed. I then tore a hamstring in Australia during the 4x100 relays and I decided to learn rugby in the off season. I caught on really fast and they asked me if I wanted to play in the CAC Games and I said ‘no problem!’.
Were the team excited to have an international sprinter join their ranks?
Yes they were super excited to have someone different to join the team.
They were great with helping me improve my rugby skills and I have been able to give back with some sprinting tips, and leg-strengthening exercises. I like that I was able to contribute some knowledge from years for track and field.
It’s like a barter system where we all share and improve together.
Going from sprinting to a contact sport, how hard was the transition?
It hasn’t been hard for me because when I’m driven towards something, I really go for it and try to learn everything about it. I’ve been doing that in rugby and catching on to it real fast.
I made two try-saving tackles. I said to the coach, “Don’t worry about me and tackling. I’m here for rugby. Don’t worry about me being hurt because I’m here to play a contact sport.”
Athletics training is definitely good for rugby sevens. It’s 14 minutes of non-stop running in sevens but you need that pace, you need everything required for track and field.
It doesn’t make sense to go to rugby and forget about track and field because every single sport includes some athletics training.
Did you score any tries?
No, but I think I got a bad decision against Columbia in the semi-finals. My teammate kicked the ball to me, I scored it, but it wasn’t given! I contributed to a lot of other tries and a lot of defensive plays.
How nervous were you before your first game?
Against Venezuela in the group stages my teammate threw me the ball and there was nobody around me, so I could just run. But I knocked the ball on. But everyone was like ‘don’t beat it up, you’ll get it next time’.
It just takes practise and the more you play the game, the more you’ll understand the game and know how to use your speed the right way.
What was the best thing about your experience in the CAC games?
I’ve never been in a team sport before, so it was cool. The closest thing I’ve done is the relay, which isn’t fully a team sport.
In rugby you do every single thing together and there’s no solo performance, even when you’re going for a try.
I’d encourage everyone to play a team sport because I had been doing track and field my whole life and didn’t get to appreciate being in a team.
This experience has taught me a lot, and most of the stuff can be used in everyday life. Just to be a team player, it’s one goal, one team. Being there and playing has taught me a lot.
We’ve seen other sprinters like Carlin Isles experience great success on the World Rugby Sevens Series. Why are sprinters so well-suited to the sport?
Track and field doesn’t require skills, if you’re fast, you’re fast. The faster you are in sevens, the better you are. You can get strong but it’s hard to get fast.
Yeah you just get that ball and have fun. For sprinters, we can just run where we want in rugby and not be confined by any lanes. We just running.
Most sprinters would love to give other sports a go because it’s a gift that we have.
I think with practise, with training and be patient I could definitely get to where Carlin Isles is. I respect him for making that switch and being an awesome rugby player. He’s like the Messi or Ronaldo of rugby sevens!
Could you experience in sevens start lead to more Jamaican track & field athletes trying rugby, and potentially unearthing a new powerhouse in the sport?
Most definitely. You know Fedrick Dacres the Jamaican discus thrower? He isn’t for a huge discus thrower, but he is tall and powerful. Can you imagine Dacres throwing me the ball? It’s done.
We should try and get some players leaving track & field to try rugby. Imagine the speed we would have.
After my transition a lot of people have now opened their eyes to rugby. Before, most people weren’t aware we had a team. I have friends who are now saying they want to be on the rugby team? There is a whole new light on the sport in Jamaica.
What did your athletics colleagues make of your switch?
They were like ‘you’re crazy!’. A lot of my friends were excited, but a lot of them were scared because they didn’t understand the sport.
In rugby sevens you have so much space to run in, and I wasn’t scared. I told them I’m going to learn this new sport and see them back in the regular athletics season.
What did your former athletics teammate Usain Bolt make of your move into rugby sevens and do you think he will be successful in his pursuit of getting a professional football contract?
Bolt’s a good friend of mine and we see each other at the track a lot. It’s just chatting and jokes. When I told him that I was going to rugby he was like, ‘Yo, bro are you joking? You’re so slim!’.
His move is good for him, I know that he really enjoys his football and I know he really wants to play for a good club and show his skill sets so I wish him all the best.
Jamaica were not at Rio 2016 for rugby sevens, but have shown a remarkable improvement this year, with qualification for the Rugby Sevens World Cup. Do you think you could help the team qualify for Tokyo 2020?
To go to Tokyo for rugby would be totally awesome. That’s definitely my life goal, to go to the Olympics for duel sports. To help my country get to the Olympics would be a dream.
I plan to keep training for both sports and will see where it takes me. I would love to compete in either athletics or rugby for Jamaica. Both at the same Olympics would be tough, but who knows?
Marquise Goodwin is an NFL wide receiver and competed at the 2012 Olympics as a long jumper. To do both sports professionally is amazing and I respect that.
It’s not about just competing, it’s about building legacy and not being afraid.