Vineland native to compete in Winter Olympics
VINELAND - Anthony Watson was content knowing he'd miss the Philadelphia Eagles play in Super Bowl LII.
After all, Watson, a Vineland native and 2008 Cumberland Christian graduate, had a decent excuse for missing the big game on Sunday.
He had a flight to South Korea to catch.
Watson, 28, is set to represent Jamaica in the Winter Olympics as the country's first-ever skeleton competitor.
"I'm upset, but not that upset," Watson, a devoted Eagles fan, said of missing the game. "I'm flying to the Olympics, this could be a one-time opportunity. There will be more Super Bowls."
The Olympics berth comes four years after Watson started the journey he called "a big roller coaster of emotions."
There were physical and mental hurdles for Watson every step of the way.
"There are moments you think twice about what you're doing, there's fear, doubt, you want to quit or turn away," Watson said. "But for all the bad, I had that many more good experiences. It was all worth it."
In skeleton, an athlete rides a sled head-first down an ice track often at speeds close to 80 mph.
Watson's world ranking time was not enough to qualify him for the Olympics automatically, but he was able to claim a spot after other countries declined invitations to the games.
Watson was the last slider given one of the reallocated skeleton slots. According to the Olympics schedule, skeleton competition will be daily from Feb. 12 to Feb. 18.
"It was January 29 at 5 a.m. when I found out from our federation president that I was going to the Olympics," Watson said. "At that exact moment, I felt the biggest sense of relief. Waiting to hear was like taking a big, deep breath and holding it until you feel like you're going to explode."
Watson dreamed of being an Olympic athlete since he was 6 years old.
He figured it would be in track and field, but injuries derailed that plan. Looking to keep his hopes alive, Watson said he scoured every Olympic sport to see where an opportunity might exist.
In 2013, he landed at the United States bobsled and skeleton training combine. After three years in that program, Watson "left on peaceful terms" for a change of scenery with the Jamaicans, who he became familiar with during international competitions.
Watson's father was born in Jamaica, opening the door for him to compete for the country at the Olympics.
"I owe a lot to my family," Watson said of his parents and three sisters. "They were there for me through this entire process."
To hear Watson tell it, his path to this stage was a challenging one.
Athletes in Watson's position must support themselves financially, and traveling the world to compete gets costly.
Watson said there were days he couldn't afford to eat. Other times he was stranded in airports without a place to stay. One trip, in Utah, he spent the night outside.
"I can't sit here and toot my own horn, I didn't get myself here," Watson said. "Traveling from country to country, equipment, that all came from people's generosity. That allowed me to be in the position I am now."
Watson is proud to call Vineland home and represent the city in the Olympics.
He met with Mayor Anthony Fanucci last week, something Watson called "an honor."
"He told me what I'm doing is something that is going to help the community and put Vineland on the map," Watson said.
Of all the things that contribute to making the Olympics one of sports greatest spectacles, there is one in particular that Watson is looking forward to — taking part in the opening ceremonies.
They will be live Friday at 6 a.m. and later televised at 8 p.m. on NBC.
"That's the one day I'm really wishing would get here fast," Watson said. "Just sitting there listening to all the countries be called and seeing all the athletes walk out waving to the world, it's special. I'm going to cry, and then when I'm done crying I'm going to dance."
Anthony V. Coppola: @AVCoppola; 856-563-5258; firstname.lastname@example.org
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