Every four years, athletes across the globe strive to become Olympians. At this month’s opening of the 2012 Games, 28-year-old Samyr Laine of Newburgh will achieve that goal when he competes in the triple jump for his parents’ homeland, Haiti.
Laine, who attended Newburgh Free Academy, began pursuing track and field in the seventh grade; ironically, he was cut from the team the very next year. It wasn’t until high school — when he watched the 2000 Olympics in Sydney — that his passion for the sport was rekindled. “Plastered all over my wall at home were clippings of Olympic heroes,” says Laine. “It motivated me to get myself back in shape and try out for the team again.”
Throughout his years at Harvard, the University of Texas, and Georgetown (where he earned his law degree), Laine balanced academia with athletics. “Whether it was staying up late to study because of practice or studying while at a track meet, I didn’t lose sight of what I was working towards,” he says. His dedication paid off in 2007, when the Haitian team recruited him to compete in the triple jump at international competitions.
Disappointingly, Laine failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. “Watching the games that year was pretty tough,” he remembers. “I was so close, and wanted to be out there.” But last May, he jumped 16.92 meters (roughly 55.5 feet) to secure his place at this year’s games. “It was a huge relief,” he admits. “And since then I’ve jumped farther, letting me know that I’ll be able to hold my own against the level of competition I’ll be facing in London.”
Every Olympic athlete hopes to take home the gold, but Laine is particularly driven. If he wins a medal of any color, it will be the first for the Haitian team since 1928. Such an accomplishment would be especially poignant at this year’s games, the first since the island’s devastating 2010 earthquake. “My grandparents’ home was destroyed. One of my cousins lost a leg, and he also lost people close to him,” says Laine. “But sport has the power to unite and bring hope. I hope I can play a part in that.”