With a hop, a skip and a powerful leap, Charlie Simpkins soared to Olympic glory 24 years ago in Spain. He earned a silver medal in the triple jump in the Summer Games, which were held in Barcelona. Simpkins’ best effort there was 57 feet, 9 inches.
“Of course I wanted the gold, but I was satisfied with the silver,” said Simpkins, who finished behind his American teammate, Mike Conley. “Just to compete in the Olympics was an honor.”
Today, Simpkins lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with his wife Sherry where they run a catering business. He also works for D&S Community Services in Maryville, Tennessee.
In addition, Simpkins is a personal trainer. For a while, he was as a volunteer assistant track coach at the University of Tennessee.
During the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, Simpkins finished fifth in the triple jump.
“There were expectations for me to medal and I thought I could win, so it was disappointing,” Simpkins said. “I felt like I could have done better. But losing got me refocused, and I went back to the drawing board. I asked myself, ‘What can I do differently?’”
“I was also in need of a coach,” Simpkins said. “I was kind of coaching myself, and nobody was holding me accountable. When you’re not being held accountable, you get out of your routine. You go to practice later in the day, and you start skipping a practice here and there.”
Simpkins found a solution to his problems in Dean Hayes, of Middle Tennessee State University. “Coach Hayes and I had talked back and forth over the years, and he said, ‘If you ever want to come up here and train, you can,’” Simpkins said. “I finally decided that I was going to do it, and my whole lifestyle changed. It was quieter in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, than it was in Charleston.”
In 1992, when it was time to head to Barcelona, Simpkins was full of confidence. Then, he had a vision, and his belief in his abilities grew even stronger.
“One day, I was saying a prayer, and I visualized myself jumping,” Simpkins said. “Everything happened in slow motion, and I actually saw myself getting a medal. It was daytime, so it wasn’t a dream.”
Simpkins’ path to success in Barcelona, however, didn’t turn out to be smooth. He struggled at first, barely making it into the triple jump finals.
After watching Simpkins fall behind the leaders, one of his rivals offered him some advice. “He told me, ‘Charlie, you’re better than those guys, but you’re not using your speed on the runway,” Simpkins said.
When he picked up his pace, Simpkins’ performances improved. But with only one attempt remaining, he still hadn’t made it into the top three.
“During that last jump, it was just like it was in my vision,” Simpkins said. “It felt like it was in slow motion. When I landed, I didn’t even need to look back to see how far I had gone. I knew that I had medaled.”
Simpkins’ memories of his Olympics experiences are still vivid, and he described them as “priceless.” During this year’s Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Simpkins said, he was “glued to the television.”