Weir set to play rugby sevens for Jamaica
Sprinter will star at CAC Games
Sets sights on Olympic participation
Rugby is a game for all shapes and sizes but the speedsters have always turned heads.
And joining the pantheon of pacemen over the years could be the fastest player yet.
Jamaican sprinter Warren Weir, who won bronze in the 200 meters at the 2012 Olympics, will play for the Crocs – the country’s sevens team – in the coming weeks.
The opportunity came about after Weir picked up an injury at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year, causing him to miss the back end of the track season.
Weir fancied trying a different sport during the athletics off-season, and set his sights on rugby. And now he will make his debut for Jamaica at the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games in Barranquilla, Colombia, from July 19- August 3.
“It has always been my greatest honor to represent Jamaica in any form,” said the 28-year-old Weir. “When I was approached about joining the rugby team because my pace would be an asset to the sport, I gladly took up the offer.
“My inclusion at the CAC Games as a rugby player must also not be seen as any kind of decision on my association with track and field as I am still a sprinter. I have just found another way to contribute to this country’s great sporting legacy and I see no reason to limit myself.”
Weir has clocked times of 19.79 seconds for the 200 meters and 10.02 seconds for 100 meters. On top of his Olympic bronze, he also won individual silvers at the 2013 World Championships and 2014 Commonwealth Games.
American speedster Carlin Isles is often viewed as the fastest man in rugby sevens – this season he clocked speeds of 36 km/h in the World Rugby Sevens Series and top-scored with 49 tries.
But if Weir can translate his pace from the track onto the grass with ball in hand, there may – for a short period, at least – be a new speed king in town.
“As though the @WorldRugby7s wasn’t fast enough … we have a new contender for fastest rugby player on the PLANET,” tweeted former England Sevens captain Rob Vickerman. “Welcome @Jamaica_Rugby Warren Weir.”
Jamaica’s rugby dream
Jamaica is a relatively new presence on the rugby sevens circuit.
The Caribbean nation starred in its first ever Commonwealth Games earlier this year, losing to England, Australia and Samoa – three established sevens-playing sides.
Later this month, the Crocs will also make their bow at the Sevens World Cup in San Francisco as the first ever Caribbean team to qualify.
As the country continues to find its feet in sevens, Weir says he has half an eye on competing at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I’d love to be that Jamaican that went to two Olympic Games for two different sports,” he told the Jamaica Gleaner.
“That would be a major achievement for myself … if we got there and got onto the podium, that would be a wonderful story to tell.”
But there’s still a long way to go. There are no rugby pitches in Jamaica, and many of the current players have been recruited through rugby clubs in the UK.
Financing the country’s rugby project has been difficult. The team’s management has been forced to dig into their own pockets and there’s a website asking for donations and sponsorships ahead of the World Cup.
“Jamaica’s rugby has been growing leaps and bounds over the last few years and now, more than ever, needs the support of the country, both financially and in terms of moral support,” said Weir.
Promising early signs
If the sprinter’s inclusion helps to raise the profile of sevens in Jamaica, then it could prove to be a very fast step in the right direction. And the early signs, the players say, have been promising.
“It’s absolutely massive,” Crocs playmaker Rhodri Adamson tells CNN.
“If you look at how it’s worked for Perry Baker and Carlin Isles? That’s what we’d love Warren to be able to do. He only picked up a rugby ball about three months ago.
“We don’t want to pile too much pressure on him but we’re very excited about what he can do. The feedback on how quickly he’s learned the fundamentals has been good and even just having him involved is going to expose Jamaican rugby even more.”
Excitement, though, is being tempered by cautious optimism within the Jamaican squad – and a hope that more children on the island can be inspired to take up the sport.
“My biggest fear is that I don’t want the rugby world to expect huge things from him in such a short period of time,” says captain Conan Osborne, “and if they don’t see great things in a short period of time then forget about him or dismiss him.
“The idea of someone with a big profile picking up the sport is going to let kids that maybe won’t get an Olympic contract for sprinting, get them playing rugby from a younger age.
“Then by the time they’re 15 or 16, they’ve had six, seven, eight years of playing rugby. The publicity from Warren Weir is going to show kids in Jamaica that there’s another sport that they could be good at.”